For visitors exploring north Northumberland or locals out and about enjoying the countryside, there may come a time when you start to feel rather peckish.
If you have planned ahead and made a booking at a restaurant, then that’s fine. but there are times when you just want to drop into a local hostelry to sate your thirst and hunger.
And you could do far worse than doing so at Belford’s Blue Bell Hotel, already at an advantage before you step in the door due to its close proximity to the A1 and many of the region’s tourist attractions.
Full à la carte dining is offered in the evening in the pretty restaurant overlooking the garden, but during the day, there is a bar/lunch menu served in the slightly less attractive bar area.
It’s not unpleasant, but perhaps a little old-fashioned and certainly not as smart as the dining areas.
However, we were aware that food was only served in the bar area at lunchtime and were quite satisfied with our snug and comfy table.
Being a hotel that serves food, the bar menu is perhaps more extensive and wide-ranging than at a pub, as you can eat everything from sandwiches and light snacks to a full three-course meal (the light bites double up as starters).
Sandwiches are either gourmet or hot, with plenty of local ingredients such as cheese from Doddington Dairy and bread from Rothbury, and cost around the £6/£7 mark.
The light snacks range from £4.25 for soup to £6.25 for ham hock and sausage terrine.
As the food was being prepared in a hotel kitchen, we were expecting good things and decided to go all in and have a starter and main course.
I chose the spears of grilled asparagus with camembert, wrapped in bacon, served with hollandaise sauce and topped with a poached egg (£6.25), while across the table it was the bread-crumbed brie oven-baked and accompanied with a crisp salad and Aunt Margie’s apple and date chutney (£6.25).
Both were served on grey slates, very in vogue in pubs and restaurants theses days, and were presented very nicely.
However, in the case of my starter, by the time you had some water from the asparagus, egg yolk, melted cheese and hollandaise sauce, a flat slate is not necessarily the easiest surface to eat off.
Disregarding that exceedingly minor gripe though, the taste was great.
I was worried that the asparagus may be a bit soggy, but it still had crunch to it and the hollandaise had a nice tang to cut through the richness of the cheese and the egg yolk.
The bread-crumbed brie too had a nice crunch to the outside and tributes must go to Aunt Margie – whoever she may be – for the quality of her chutney.
In all honesty, that would have been a perfectly adequate meal in the middle of the day, particularly as both were served with fresh side salads and a few parsnip crisps.
But we ploughed onwards nonetheless; I went for the 5oz Northumbrian sirloin steak, topped with stilton and caramelised onion, served in a Rothbury baton with chunky chips (£8.95).
Again, it was daintily served, on a wooden board with a steel cup for the chips, which were homemade and delicious.
The steak was pretty good, but the whole sandwich with the cheese and onion was just what the doctor ordered.
If you had ordered it without having had a starter, it was certainly big enough to fill most stomachs, even after a walk or cycle in the north Northumberland countryside.
My dining partner went for the ham shank with pease pudding and wholegrain mustard sauce (£8.95).
She was a little dubious initially as, despite us living in the North East, she remains unconvinced by pease pudding. I most definitely have taken it to my heart.
But there needn’t have been any worries as it was delicious. The ham shank was huge and the meat tender, salty and very tasty.
The mustard gravy was also great and so rich that I could smell the mustardy tang as soon as the plate was placed on the table.
Despite being a very large plate, it also came with a generous portion of vegetables – boiled potatoes, carrots and green beans.
All washed down with a pint of real ale, we left after our lunch rather full, but very satisfied.
GOOD LUNCHES MAKES DINNER VERY TEMPTING
The quality of the food during our lunch, as well as the service, albeit we ordered food at the bar, makes me think that the dining experience in the evenings in the slightly more salubrious surroundings of the restaurant would be an enjoyable affair.
Having said that, walkers, cyclists, visitors or locals looking for a cosy pub with good, fairly-priced food and a good array of drinks should look no further.
SELECTION FROM THE BAR MENU
All served on Rothbury bread......£6.95
Northumbrian roast topside of beef with cider and horseradish mustard; Eyemouth smoked salmon with chive and cream cheese
Selection of hand-picked mushrooms, with feta, tarragon and cherry tomatoes served on toasted Rothbury bread......£5.95
Ham hock and sausage terrine served with a rich tomato and onion chutney......£6.25
Seafood platter (daily selection) with tartare sauce and bread......£10.95
Wild mushroom and stilton risotto with truffle oil......£8.95
Steak and ale pie......£7.95
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......9
Value for money......8
Use of local food......8
Children catered for......8
Access for disabled......8
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: Great food, well-presented, from a wide selection for a bar menu.
Contact: 01668 213543 or www.bluebellhotel.com