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The Caterer

The Bell Inn, near Leominster, Herefordshire

16 February 2006
The Bell Inn, near Leominster, Herefordshire

It took award-winning chef Claude Bosi and his wife Claire - proprietors of Ludlow's two-Michelin-starred Hibiscus restaurant - a search of some 12 months or so before they found their ideal second business, the Bell Inn at Yarpole. It's a typical country inn with roaring open fires and an old cider press in the dining area. Just 11 miles from Ludlow over the county border into Herefordshire, it had an established market, potential and was within a practical working distance of their base.

They bought it last October, asked Bosi's brother Cedric to manage the business - he'd worked with them at Hibiscus and also at Bayview Manor in Cork, as restaurant manager - installed Robert Walker, another ex-Hibiscus man who's also worked at Ludlow's Mr Underhill's, as head chef, and began trading immediately.

Just before Christmas, Walker was joined by Mark Jones, ex-Shropshire's Overton Grange and Stapleford Park, to share the head-chef position - "so we can go up from a six- to a seven-day opening", explains Bosi - and with the help of two junior chefs the two are now putting out some great, tasty, unfussy food. The menu, a collaboration between Bosi, Walker and Jones, is a mix of French bistro and traditional British pub grub.

"I want this to be a proper pub - very English," says Bosi. So, for instance, there's always a classic such as battered plaice and chips (£7.95) or fish pie (£10.25), made with a mixture of whatever fish is around on the day.

There's a flavour-charged rib of Hereford beef served with spinach, seasonal veg and mushrooms and either château potatoes or chips, too; at 32oz it's for a very hungry, meat-eating duo and good value at £34. And, when I visited, there was a juicy, smoked belly of Gloucester Old Spot pork (£13.50) with a crispy top served with good old-fashioned bubble and squeak and a cider gravy.

The belly has morphed into a rack of pork these days, with a bit of smoked butter from a local producer montéd into the sauce to bring the sweet appley taste of the cider to the fore. Like the butter, the meat and cider are local, the meat from a butcher in Craven Arms, two miles down the road, and the cider from a Wye Valley producer. "We're trying to be as seasonal and local as possible," confirms Jones. That mantra, often a lip-service assertion among chefs, refreshingly extends to the extent of not using tomatoes in winter.

Even some of the wine is from around the corner - a German-grape white from Croft Castle, just two miles away, is on at £14.50 or £3.25 a glass (six house wines, a Champagne and three pud wines are also offered by the glass).

The test of a good menu is if most of its dishes sell evenly across the board, and happily for the Bell this seems to be the case, although in the last week a rustic, cockle-warming cassoulet has probably edged it, says Cedric. Customers, many of whom have followed the Bosi trail from Hibiscus, are often tempted by fish dishes, too. Escabèche of Cornish mackerel with orange and mushroom salad (£6), for instance, or the fish of the day - last week turbot accompanied by salsify, spinach, sautéd potatoes and a parsley dressing (£14.95). Fish, incidentally, comes from Helstone-based Kelynack Fish in Cornwall.

Puddings, all at £4.50, are comforting but not solid or boring - think bread and butter pudding layered with a dash of chocolate and you'll get the drift - while cheeses continue the entente cordiale theme. Hereford Hop - a creamy, mature Cheddar-style cheese wrapped in hops - Shropshire Blue, and a Brie come with home-made chutney and a chunk of crusty rustic loaf (£5.75).

It all adds up to a tempting prospect for the good people of the Welsh Marches - or any passing weekenders. And with room for 50 inside and at least as many again outside in the beer garden come the summer, the future looks bright for the Bosi family.

"I just want to be very, very busy - good food for a good price is what we're aiming for," laughs Claude.

What's on the menu

  • Classic prawn cocktail, sliced brown bread, Welsh butter, £5.25

  • Warm salad of black pudding with hen eggs on garlic croûton, £5.75

  • Sweet potato and carrot soup, £4.45

  • Pan-fried fillet of cod, crushed new potatoes, cream leeks, £13.95

  • Braised shoulder of Hereford lamb, fricassée flageolet beans, garlic confit, £14.50

  • Coq au vin - corn-fed cockerel cooked in red wine with baby onions and smoked bacon, £12

  • Sticky toffee pudding, £4.50

  • Cold rice pudding with poached apricots, £4.50

  • Coffee panna cotta with chocolate home-baked madeleines, £4.50

The Bell Inn, Green Lane, Yarpole, near Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 0BD Tel: 01568 780359

BOXTEXT: What's on the menu

\* Classic prawn cocktail, sliced brown bread, Welsh butter, £5.25

\* Warm salad of black pudding with hen eggs on garlic croûton, £5.75

\* Sweet potato and carrot soup, £4.45

\* Pan-fried fillet of cod, crushed new potatoes, cream leeks, £13.95

\* Braised shoulder of Hereford lamb, fricassée flageolet beans, garlic confit, £14.50

\* Coq au vin - corn-fed cockerel cooked in red wine with baby onions and smoked bacon, £12

\* Sticky toffee pudding, £4.50

\* Cold rice pudding with poached apricots, £4.50

\* Coffee panna cotta with chocolate home-baked madeleines, £4.50

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