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Visit www.thebellrickinghall.co.uk

Reviewed in Feast issue 42 December 2019/January 2020

Good places to eat in South Norfolk are nearly as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth, so I was keen to venture just over the border into Suffolk and try The Bell Inn at Rickinghall. Found just off the A143 past Wortham, it has just launched its winter menu, making it the perfect time to visit.

The Bell is owned by two local women, Lindsey Booty and Jordan Fox, who took over in May 2016. Awards have been aplenty, including being shortlisted for the Eviivo Awards 2019 Hidden Gem in the South East and a silver award for their eight beautifully-renovated bedrooms. A function room completes The Bell, making it the perfect place to eat, drink and sleep.

Pulling up outside on a dreary November evening, it looked inviting, with lights twinkling at the windows and smoke coming from the chimney. Inside, this 17th century inn is split into two main areas – the bar and the restaurant. The bar was bustling with locals, always a good sign, and there was a table of four sat by the fire enjoying some of the nicest looking fish and chips I have seen in a while. My friend and I ate in their restaurant, with background music and laughter from the bar all blending to create a convivial atmosphere.

The menu, the brainchild of head chef Josh Atkins, a Norfolk boy who cut his teeth at Tatlers and has been at The Bell Inn for three years, is a mix of regular pub favourites and à la carte offerings. My friend and I could easily have eaten any of the starters, but I was intrigued by the smoked mackerel and horseradish fishcake with a pomegranate salad, while Louise went for scallops with textures of beetroot and a Parma ham crisp. The fishcake was generous and piping hot; the flavours a welcome change to the traditional offerings, and the pomegranate brought a freshness to the dish. The scallops, three in total and a decent size, were perfectly cooked, and the beetroot gel especially flavoursome.

On to the mains: I was severely tempted by the butternut squash, chickpea and fennel seed vegan burger as I love those flavours, but I went for the pan-roasted cod with a jacket potato croquette, roasted leek, buttered spinach and a parsley velouté. The latter had a hint of star anise in it, making it a deliciously rich sauce and the perfect foil for the beautifully cooked cod. Louise went for the lamb, served both oven-roasted and then braised with pomme Anna, served with celeriac (purée and roasted), spinach and a red wine jus. She declared it delicious, and we both had very clear plates at the end!

Dessert did tempt. I can never resist an apple tarte tatin and this, served with Lakenham Creamery cinnamon ice cream, was light and full of caramel, and I enjoyed every mouthful. Louise opted for the dessert from the specials board – strawberry and raspberry pancakes with honey yoghurt; she said it was a very refreshing way to end the meal.

The food was all locally sourced – something that our part of the UK is so famous for – and it was all cooked perfectly. The portion sizes were also well considered; we didn’t leave feeling stuffed to our gills, rather that we had enjoyed a delicious meal.

Going into the festive season, The Bell has a lot going on, from breakfast with Santa to Christmas party nights in the function room. New Year’s Eve sees live music and I imagine that it will be a very entertaining evening!

It may well just be one of those hidden treasures that we all need to share. There really is something on the menu for everyone, and service was with a smile. With its relaxed, welcoming vibe, a chef with big plans, and two strong women at the helm, this is a place that is sure to go from strength to strength and it is well worth a visit.

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