What is the story?
April Fool’s Day is not the most auspicious date to open anything. Luckily, that’s the only misstep at this gorgeous gastropub in Chickpea, a West Country liquor store chain that’s garnering attention for its affordability and fun approach to fine dining. Last mention is an Acorn award from the industry bible The trainer for chain co-owner Ethan Davids, making him one of the best under 30s in the business.
What do we like?
Don’t be put off by this 200-year-old coaching inn’s proximity to the A303. Traffic noise is muffled and the nearby B3092 leads to Stourhead Gardens as well as the sleepy village of Zeals.
The pub’s ground floor is a winning series of snug, low-ceilinged dining rooms rooms, decorated in inky blues and bottle greens and offering a list of feel-good features, including flagstone floors, roaring fires, wooden beams, and window seats. Bare tables lit by candles and swags of dried hops add to the laid-back atmosphere.
However, this inviting vibe is mainly due to the friendly team of staff, led by their manager, Zoe Guild, who have enough warmth to heat up a small town. “Try the martini of the godmother of Guildy [£9.50]“, she confides. “I made it up.” The cocktail’s touch of Disaronno nicely enhances a standard espresso martini.
Likewise, the menu makes a clever pivot between burgers for the locals and Ottolenghi-style flourishes like broccoli flower rice for the DFLs (those in London). Portion sizes are ridiculously generous and, on that note, the half-English fried breakfast is more than enough for anyone other than a World’s Strongest Man competitor; my arteries are grateful that I opted for the very good shakshuka instead. The breakfast menu has the first negroni in the house (but we still haven’t).
The menu offers burgers and refined vegetarian dishes
The six rooms of the Bell & Crown are sober and tasteful. Each has a neutral color scheme, a comfortable king-size bed fitted with crisp Egyptian linens, and just enough room for an antique nursing chair. Handmade lampshades by local Compton Marbling, colorful artwork, and Moroccan rugs add verve. En-suite showers are small, but even so, these rooms are a bargain.
The Palladian mansion and beautiful parks of Stourhead are a five-minute drive north (£18; nationaltrust.org.uk), while the Saxon town of Shaftesbury, home to Gold Hill, the steep cobbled street made famous in the 1960s 1970 by Ridley Scott’s TV Advertisement for Hovis Bread – is a 20 minute drive south east.
Susan d’Arcy was a guest at the Bell & Crown, which offers double bed and breakfast rooms from £100; mains from £14 (bellandcrown.com)
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