Now in his seventh month as head chef at the Bell at Sapperton, Ivan Reid is really getting into his stride. Tucked away in an idyllic spot near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, the Bell has been fully renovated by owners Pat LeJeune and Paul Davidson, who were Reid's bosses at the Bird in Hand near Witney, Oxfordshire, winner of the Les Routiers British Inn of the Year award in 1998.
At the Bell, Reid has developed a diverse menu but is determined to steer away from the gastropub label. "We don't want to scare customers," he says. "We have a mixed clientele that ranges from the local polo set to ramblers, business people coming for lunch and locals who've known the pub for years."
Using local suppliers wherever possible is central to Reid's cooking. "I always try and buy from the Cotswolds, and I'll only move further afield if I can't get what I need in the area," he explains. Bread is baked near by, and meat is supplied by two local butchers. "Lots of our customers ask where we buy our meat from and what breed it is, as they know we've sourced it locally."
Reid is currently reading US chef Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook and says he is influenced by its principles of using local produce and only what's in season. "I believe in food being simply presented and well cooked, with three core items on a plate," he says. "I don't have an ego about it, and I'm just as happy to do steak and chips as long as it's cooked beautifully."
Reid's five-strong team is busiest on Saturdays, with about 90 covers for lunch and 120 in the evening across the Bell's five seating areas, which include a private dining room and an enclosed courtyard.
The menu is changed once a month and offers a number of robust pub favourites, such as purebred Hereford sirloin steak with a peppercorn and brandy cream (£15.95), as well as more Mediterranean- and Asian-influenced dishes, such as deep-fried spinach and polenta fritter with sweet red pepper pesto (£11.95) and grilled squid with sweet chilli sauce (£7.75). Black pudding and potato terrine with bacon and a free-range egg (£6.50) is an ongoing winner with customers, however. "They won't let me take it off," says Reid. "It's the starter equivalent of an all-day breakfast."
Roast rack of Forest of Dean lamb is served with rosemary and syrup of fresh damsons (£17), which are poached with sugar, star anise, cardamom and cinnamon. The lamb is presented as four cutlets on the plate with side dishes of olive oil mash, and baby English cauliflower and carrots. His use of fruit to enhance meat flavours extends to a slow-braised Gloucester Old Spot pork belly dish served with celeriac roasted with fresh orange juice and zest (£13.75).
With six fish deliveries coming up from the South Coast every week, seafood specials get extra attention on the blackboards. "Obviously we can't buy fish locally, but we try to make sure we use British cold-water seafood," explains Reid. Choices might include grilled sardines served with rock salt, lemon and olive oil (£7.50) or gilthead bream fillets lightly pan-fried and served on a bed of Portland crab, shallots and pickled cucumber (£15.75). "This was a real hit this summer - ideal for a light lunch on a hot day." Deep-fried cod in crisp beer batter, chips and peas (£12.95) is a staple, making up 15% of orders when it's available.
Puddings (£5.50) echo the local supplier principle, with Hattie Wilson, a local farmer's daughter, making the ice-cream. Recent flavours such as lavender and lemon curd have proved popular, while more traditional desserts include sticky toffee pudding with cream. Cheeses, from the Fine Cheese Company, are changed each month, with each meriting its own detailed write-up on the menu. French cheeses such as Fourme d'Ambert are served with Pinot Noir jelly, while the locally produced single Gloucester is accompanied by home-made chutney.
"At the end of the day, we're a country pub," says Reid. "I like revamping old ideas, but not to be arty-farty - it's more about doing things properly."
The Bell at Sapperton, Sapperton, Gloucestershire GL7 6LE. Tel: 01285 760298. Website: www.foodatthebell.co.uk
What's on the menu - Chicken liver parfait with home-made brioche, £5.95
- Deep-fried breaded goats' cheese, aubergine roulade, fennel and celery citronette, £6.75
- Confit of duck leg, sweet potato pur‚e, lime and ginger dressing, £13.50
- Chargrilled rump of English veal on summer truffle risotto, £15.95
- Roast monkfish, saut‚d new potatoes, shallots and pancetta, £15.75
- Black coffee jelly, vanilla fudge ice-cream and caramelised walnuts, £5.50
- Mango panna cotta with local raspberries, £5.50