Have you ever had an incredible meal, told all of your friends, gone back and been completely disappointed? Or have you been back to a spot you always loved, only to find it’s not all that great anymore and your memories of it are ruined? It’s a fear I’ve always had about Bell’s Diner and Bar Rooms, one of my favourite spots. I think it’s safe to say after what may be my 10th visit, this unique spot never disappoints!
From the outside, Bells Diner isn’t necessarily the kind of spot I’d usually pick. It’s in Montpellier, one of the most quirky areas in Bristol. And me? Well, I’m anything but quirky. But here’s the thing. Bell’s Diner isn’t just any spot!
Adding to the ambiguity about what Bells Diner is, I can tell you even more about what it’s not. It’s definitely not a diner and there are few bells and whistles, but it’s relentlessly good every single time. It’s the kind of place you leave with an ear to ear smile and that you’re torn between telling everyone you know all about it, or keeping it as your little secret spot.
Somewhere between the sound of the vinyl and the seriously good wine list is a seasonal menu where every dish will is just sure to impress. They’re not showy dishes but they are always packed with beautiful flavours and fresh ingredients. Bell’s Diner is filled with the kind of dishes that bring a table to silence before the inevitable sounds of of “oh my god”, “this is amazing” and “mmmmm yum” spilling from everyone. I’d go as far as saying it’s one of my favourite restaurants in the UK. And I can guarantee you’ll wish this was your local. You’ll wish you could turn up here on a lazy Sunday lunch or for a last minute weekend dinner. It’s safe to say I definitely do.
The Doc used to live in Bristol and I had clients there, so we have spent plenty of evenings eating here strolling in and ordering our favourites (harissa chicken oysters and an outstanding blood orange tart which transports you instantly to exotic hideaways abroad). So when we were driving through Bristol on our way back from a weekend in Plymouth, we couldn’t help but make the detour. So much so that we waited an hour for the restaurant to open to get our dinner!
As soon I had my first bite of our first course I knew it was going to be yet another amazing meal at our favourite spot! The Ox cheek croquettes were filled with perfect, soft melt-in-the-mouth ox cheek and the crispy coating containing it was fresh with zingy lemon zest, flaked salt and parsley. Bell’s croquettes are satisfyingly (and audibly) crunchy too!
We’ve been to Bell’s Diner around 10 times over the last few years and always look forward to their homemade sourdough bread. Regular readers will know I love sourdough (especially if it’s got a scandi twist)! It’s delectably soft in the centre with a delicious, chewy, tangy crust. Usually we have it with the salted butter but the new addition of “whipped Jamon Iberico” was a delightful surprise. There’s no actual butter in this but just melt-in-the-mouth Spanish Iberico ham whipped until it’s spreadable. It marries perfectly with Bell’s bread although I advise you to resist overeating as there are still so many incredible items yet to come.
Along with a glass of South African Rose for me and a French Sauvignon Blanc for the Doc arrived the most gorgeous of salads. Juicy, sweet white peaches married with ripe heritage tomatoes in a spectacular array of colours. The hint of Parmesan provided a savoury saltiness and it was layered in divine pangritata (sourdough, lemon and herb breadcrumbs) which added crunch and vibrancy to the dish.
Our final savoury course includes one of my favourite fish, hake. The hake was pan-fried and served in an umami, savoury sauce. It had depth of flavour from wild girolle mushrooms. We ended up doing what we always do with mains at Bell’s Diner, dunking the bread in the sauce to mop up the heavenly sauce. In this case it was slightly lemony and perfectly savoury. It’s knee-weakeningly good. It is so good you want to drink it up. I mean it’s so good you’ll want to bathe in it, but probably best not to! The sauce contains lots of butter, quality olive oil and lots of fresh tarragon too, resulting in a silky sauce which is both warming and slightly salty (in the best damn way!) I think this sauce, along with some great bread for dunking, would be in the list of things to eat if I were ever on death row!
For pudding, we shared a Cherry Frangipane tart. It’s usually served with clotted cream but considering we were just on our way home from a weekend filled with beautiful scones and clotted cream, we requested a swap for the cream. The staff at Bell’s Diner were happy to oblige, switching out the clotted cream for Bell’s Diner ice cream.
We’ve always loved the ice creams here – they have beautiful dreamy creamy ice creams with flavours such as toasted marshmallow, passion fruit and chocolate and Pedro Ximenez. They’re always sensational and really much better than 99% of ice creams in restaurants. On this occasion we went for homemade strawberries and cream ice cream with our tart. The combination was a truly lovely thing with the sharpness of cherries peeking through the crunchy frangipane and balanced by the most beautiful of ice creams.
Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms is nothing like a diner. It’s exquisite in flavour, affordable, clever with its combinations of textures, comfortingly mismatched in its decor and a real pleasure to dine at. Whether it’s your first time, or like us your umpteenth, I just know you’ll love it! We love it there and I have no doubt we’ll be going to Bristol to eat here for years to come still! Maybe see you there?
Bell’s can be found at 1-3 York Rd, Bristol BS6 5QB. Website here.
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