It was with mixed feelings that I visited The Bell at Coleby.
I had previously spent several lovely evenings there – the food had always been top notch and I found it to have a relaxed atmosphere.
But that was in the pub's previous existence, before its closure a couple of years ago.
Now, though, the signs were good that it would be worth visiting the venue again as it was recently voted Lincolnshire pub of the year by readers of the Echo.
Chef patron Paul Vidic also has an admirable track record in the industry, having also worked at both the Brownlow Arms in Hough on the Hill and The Wig and Mitre in Lincoln.
Our outlook was therefore optimistic as we took our seats. We were given the restaurant's regular menu and a printed specials menu, presenting us with a very good variety of dishes to choose from.
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Perhaps only a journalist and a writer dining together would notice a number of spelling and grammatical mistakes on a menu, but we hoped these errors would not be a sign of what was to follow.
Overall the front of house staff were friendly and knowledgeable.
However, having been shown to our table, nobody came back to take our drinks order until we specifically asked – ten minutes after we had ordered our food.
Speaking of the food. To start with, I chose haggis on rustic toast, fried duck egg and 'HP' dressing, from the specials menu. It was nicely cooked with good quality ingredients and bold flavours – a quirky take on a breakfast dish.
My dining partner opted for the restaurant's signature starter of baked cheese soufflé with ham and cream sauce.
The sauce was very rich, but the soufflé light and airy – the classic flavours worked well together.
Accompanied by bread and butter, this was a very filling dish, though priced at £7.95 you certainly get your money's worth.
My main course of loin of lamb with parmesan mash was chosen from the regular menu and again demonstrated real ability in the kitchen.
The lamb was succulent, cooked perfectly and the cut had been well-selected. Served on wilted spinach and with a rosemary jus, it was a good choice and nicely presented, but I was slightly bewildered by being given the choice of potatoes or chips, given that it was already served with mashed potato.
Following the cheese soufflé, my dining pal had hoped for a less daunting main course, and chose whiting in beer batter with chips, crushed peas and homemade tartar sauce. The portion size was again generous with three pieces of fish on the plate, though I'm sure this would be welcomed by those with a larger appetite.
The batter was crisp, the fish moist and the crushed peas were well seasoned.
However, the homemade tartar sauce was not, and had a bland mayonnaise taste – a shame as with a slightly sharper flavour it would have complemented the fish well.
We both selected red wine by the glass to accompany the meal – a light and fruity Tempranillo which was excellent with the lamb and a robust Pinot Noir that held its own against both the meaty haggis and the more delicate fish.
Pudding was from the specials menu – dark chocolate tart with white chocolate Chantilly cream and hazelnuts.
The pastry was thin and crisp and filled with a light, yet rich chocolate filling. But once again, we were confused as to why both the tart and the cream were served luke warm. It gave the dessert a slightly soggy feel and didn't do justice to what was very nearly a delightful end to the meal.
The Bell at Coleby is a fine place to eat, but there is room for improvement, which could make the difference between good and excellent.
The final cost, while not excessive, bordered on too expensive, for what ultimately left me feeling a little short-changed.
We left the restaurant as we arrived – with mixed feelings. Perhaps our initial optimism was misplaced – after all, a pessimist is never disappointed.
THE FOOD: Whiting £7.50, cheese souffle £7.95, loin of lamb with parmesan mash £21.50, beer battered fish, crushed peas, chunky chips, proper tartar sauce £12.95, dark chocolate tart with white chocolate Chantilly cream and hazelnuts £5.95, large glass of house wine £6, large glass of wine from list £7.50.
FINAL VERDICT: Highly thought of, however, judging by this visit, improvements could be made.
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