The Five Bells, Clyst Hydon
We last paid a visit to The Five Bells Inn when its new custodians James and Charlie took to the helm. Back then, the young couple discussed their hopes of bringing the Devonshire pub back to its former glory, with a simplified menu and a focus on the local community.
As well as introducing a number of locally sourced drinks behind the bar – including a Devon gin shelf – they hoped to encourage more people to return to the inn by rethinking the menu and offering classic pub dishes and traditional British fare.
So, what did we think when we visited last week?
New Chef, New Menu
A quick glance at the new Five Bells menu told us that James and Charlie were serious about taking their restaurant in a new direction. There’s now a ‘Pub Classics’ menu, as well as a regularly changing specials menu. Prices are notably more ‘wallet-friendly’ (including a Tuesday-Friday lunchtime deal of £15 for 2 Courses, £20 for 3 Courses) and very little seems to have changed in terms of quality and commitment to provenance.
The Five Bells has also recruited a brand new Head Chef, Liam. We were big fans of their former Head Chef Ian, but his classical training was best suited to fine dining and this was arguably a different direction to what James & Charlie had in mind for the inn.
For dinner, I started with the Cured Loch Duart Salmon with Pink Grapefruit, Lump Fish Caviar & Fennel (£8.50) from the specials menu. This was a wonderfully summery sounding dish and I was not disappointed when it arrived. At first glance, the presentation was not dissimilar to what I have come to expect from The Five Bells. It was a beautiful plate of food, presented very nicely and showcasing fresh and delicate ingredients. I would happily order this starter again and even by this point in our meal, I was getting the feeling that The Five Bells knew what they were doing.
My friend also opted for a starter from the specials menu: Steak Tartare, Cured Egg Yolk, Smoked Onion Mayonnaise, Watercress & Sourdough (£7.75). Having never tried Steak Tartare before, I’m not sure that she knew what to expect and it’s fair to say that she wasn’t too keen on this dish. I however really enjoyed this starter and I don’t think that fans of tartare would be let down. Once again, the presentation was very nice and not dissimilar to the fine dining quality of food that we came to expect from previous meals at The Five Bells (something which I think is characteristic of their new specials menu).
For my main course, I ordered the very tempting Venison Sausages, Caramelised Shallots, Mashed Potato, Spring Cabbage & Red Wine Sauce. Priced at £14, this wasn’t the cheapest dish on the menu, but I was keen to see how Liam would present such a hearty plate of food.
Venison at The Five Bells is sourced locally and you can really taste the difference in flavour. My plate was delicious and I was very pleased with the size of the portion. If you’re heading to The Five Bells and you like the sound of this dish, I recommend you give it a try, because I enjoyed every mouthful.
Meanwhile, my friend went for another pub classic Otter Ale Battered Fish & Chips with Mushy Peas & Tartare Sauce (£12.50). It’s difficult to get a dish like this horribly wrong, so i’m pleased to report that Liam and the kitchen team can produce a pretty mean plate of fish and chips. Apparently, the batter was light and crispy and the hand-cut chips were some of the best she’s ever eaten – praise indeed!
When James and Charlie inherited The Five Bells Inn, the pub was arguably suffering from something of an identity crisis. Was it a fine dining destination restaurant, or was it a quality local pub? In reality, I think the answer is somewhere in between and the inn’s new direction has realised this well.
These days, when you enter The Five Bells you’re met with a much wider range of clientele, predominately made up from Devon locals and largely composed of families. While the restaurant still borrows a lot from its earlier fine dining days, there is a far more obvious emphasis on wholesome, pub fare and a price tag to match.
I was impressed to learn that every dish that we enjoyed on the evening was Gluten Free, and it seems that The Five Bells are keen to cater for all dietary requirements moving forward.
Overall, I would encourage you to give The Five Bells a try next time you’re on the lookout for somewhere to eat with family or friends.
Sorry to report that the Steak Tartar was ghastly in every respect. One of my most relished plates, since learning how to prepare it in 1959, using the tried and tested Escoffier.