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Bristol review: Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms Sunday lunch

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Jessica Carter feasts on a Sunday lunch with a differece at this well-established Bristol restaurant 

Among all the commotion that Bristol’s torrent of new and exciting restaurants whips up in its wake, there are still those stalwarts of the local food scene, the old faithfuls that it can get all too easy to take for granted – especially seeing as we’re so darn spoilt for great food and top value in this city.  

Bell’s Diner & Bar Rooms is one such mainstay of Bristol’s restaurant scene. Having been around in some guise or other since the mid ’70s, it was reincarnated in 2013, into the small-plate hero that we now know it to be.  

As is the case with all successful, long-established joints, Bell’s hasn’t stood still. Quick to adapt the small plate concept on the brink of its take off, the guys here keep the dishes fresh and imaginative, taking inspiration from the likes of Spain, Italy and North Africa, and applying their contemporary style. And the wines are equally as intriguing as the food. This is not a place to stick to what you know when choosing what to fill your glass with; the down-to-earth wine list features some real gems, all of which are specifically picked for their great quality and ability to tempt diners away from their usual. 

After four years of small plates, Bell’s recently launched its brand new Sunday Lunch menu – a three-course affair. Okay, so you’re not obliged to have the full three courses, but we’d challenge you to not. While this means the portion size is larger, the style is very much the same as the small dishes that have earned this place its many, many loyal customers. 

A handful of nibbles are on offer to kick things off with – think the likes of Bell’s much talked about salt cod fritters (£5.50) and jamon butter with fresh bread (£3). The rich, lardy butter comes flecked with salty meat, and we slather it over our bread in the very thickest of layers. 

The meal proper begins with the arrival of Cornish mussels and clams with bomba rice (£5), and the braised baby artichokes (£5). The former sees the fresh seafood, still in its shells, get comfy in a pile of perfectly cooked Spanish paella rice, punctuated with fresh green herbs. Beneath this colourful mound, which has buckets of Mediterranean attitude, gathers a pool of the most awesome juices, which call eagerly to be mopped up by the rest of that bread.

Across the table, the light, tender baby artichokes are all but in the past now – the sweet vinegar in which they were braised and a scattering of fresh dill, make this plate fresh and zingy. An ideal warm up act for the main course. 

Speaking of which, the stuffed pepper dish (£12.50) which caught my eye from the selection of three mains (one veg, one fish, and one meat) is soon to appear. Having been grilled over charcoal, the skin is blistered and blackened in places, meaning it carries a smokiness in flavour and delicate crispness in its texture. The long red pepper has been split and stuffed with pilaf, pimped up with sweet, soft apricot and savoury, crunchy pine nuts. The dish is finished off with a heap of tender, slow-cooked courgette and a drizzle of yoghurt. The whole assembly is bang-on the money – and I’m pretty smug with my choice. 

That said, a hunk of ox cheek (£12.50) which has been slow-cooked with Rioja and chorizo does sit opposite me; the meat flaking apart, and the rich, gently spiced sauce about as dreamy as it gets. 

Dessert? A coffee custard tart (£8) with Madjool dates and mascarpone – the layer of pastry perfectly thin, delicate and crisp – and a fruity, slightly tangy rhubarb fool (£5) that was an ideal thank you and goodnight for the palate.

Bell's Sunday offering promises a really, really great lunch that I'd take over a roast (gasp) anyday. 

 

Bell’s Diner has a special event coming up Wednesday 21 June: learn the basics of flower arranging from Best of the Bunch and make your own bouquet, and tuck into a gorgeous lunch cooked by the Bell's chefs. Tickets £50 – call 07929 253942 to book, or get in touch with the restaurant directly; bellsdiner.com

Did you know, Bell's also offers a trade discount of 25 percent on food on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on the entires bill total on Sundays?

"While the portion size is larger, the style is very much the same as the small dishes that have earned this place its many, many local customers"

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