There was once a time when taking a leisurely drive in the English countryside was a fairly predictable affair. You would cruise along winding, hilly roads, admiring the verdant countryside polka-dotted with grazing sheep, until finally you stopped at a pleasant-looking country pub . . . for a wholly unexceptional lunch of days-old stew or previously frozen fish and chips.
Mercifully, those days are fast becoming a distant memory. Thanks to the two decade-old phenomenon known as the “gastropub”, today a meal at many a local English pub is a more palate-pleasing experience. Take, for instance, The Bell at Sapperton, located in the heart of the Cotswolds. There, the bill of fare includes include locally raised meats, day boat seafood, organic greens and eggs gathered from the farm just down the roadway.
While not itself a gastropub—one suspects when talking to co-proprietor Paul Davidson that he would recoil at the very idea of adopting the title!—The Bell is very much an heir to the standards pioneered by early gastropubs like The Eagle in London. In other words, while his kitchen does turn out typical pub fare like burger and chips and ploughman’s lunch, the former is made from Prime English Longhorn cattle and the latter features Colston Bassett Stilton.
What’s more, Davidson brings that same pride to his beer selection, recommending locally brewed Cotswold Brewing Company Premium Lager to accompany the Soused Cornish Herrings, or cask-conditioned Otter Bitter from Devon with the made-in-house Corned Beef. And like the food menu, he is happy to change his beer offerings according to the season.
The general ill fortunes of the British pub have very much been in the news of late, with up to 35 closing their doors for good each week. For pubs like The Bell, however, where good food, fine beer and abundant hospitality walk hand-in-hand, the future appears far more bountiful than bleak.
Soused Cornish Herrings
Recipe from The Bell at Sapperton
I T olive oil
5 oz white onion, finely diced
7 oz white wine vinegar
5 oz. water
1 T whole peppercorns
1 T whole coriander seeds
1 T whole mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
2 sage leaves
1 carrot, thinly sliced
8 herring fillets
In a large pot over medium-high heat, add all ingredients except the herring fillets and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
Arrange herring fillets in a deep tray (approximately 12 x 18 inches) and cover with the hot liquid. Allow to cool slightly at room temperature, then cover the tray with foil and refrigerate for 48 hours. Serve with onion and potato salad.