IT’S been a difficult couple of years for everyone but especially so for the hospitality industry.
Even pre-pandemic pubs were having a hard time, with thousands a year calling time for good. Long gone are the days when it was just a case of the landlord or landlady unlocking the door and waiting for the customers to roll in.
Now pubs have to win customers and then make sure they keep them – and none know that better than the Freespirit Pub Company.
Under the ownership of Mark Higgs, it now has five venues in its portfolio having just given a new lease of life to The Bell Inn in Ladbroke near Southam, after taking it over in January.
A warm, welcoming and comfortable traditional village pub with a tasteful modern touch, it boasts a large restaurant, one which is set to be busy on the evidence of our visit.
Mark said: “The pub had operated as more of a restaurant experience for the last few years and we have changed it to a steakhouse and village pub.
“The plan is to really connect back with the local community, hold regular live music and foodie events. We’re very much looking forward to the summer ahead.”
And it’s attention to every detail, including quality food, which is why customers are, and will be, returning to The Bell.
Branding itself a steakhouse is a brave move offering no wriggle room for anything but the finest beef.
Enter Carpenter’s Farm near Warmington from where the Free Spirit sources its meat, which is dry-aged for maximum flavour.
Mark added: “The steakhouse is a new idea on the food front for Free Spirit and we want to push the wonderful connection we have with local farmer Robert Leech from Carpenter’s Farm, where he raises his own Short Horn Beef Herd and butchers himself within his farm shop.”
Of course, you can have the finest ingredients, but you still need to know what to do with them. The kitchen at The Bell certainly has that knowledge judging by the perfectly cooked and seasoned medium-rare sirloin served to us, matched with sides of your choice – in our case earthy truffle mash and seasonal buttered greens.
If steak is not your bag, then The Bell offers other classic pub favourites including haddock and chips, chef’s pie as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
And the fish of the day option we also chose – baked salmon with prawns – clearly demonstrated this is not a one trick kitchen.
That had already been proved by our starters including beautifully cooked sweet scallops served with bacon and garlic butter, and wonderfully moreish Cajun sweetcorn ribs.
We finished with a vanilla crème brulee, served with raspberries and home-made ginger biscuit, and a lemon lava cake with fresh strawberries and strawberry ice-cream.
And it’s always reassuring when the staff are so clearly enthusiastic and also knowledgable about the menu – Bonny and Sam respectively during our visit.
The Bell team is being headed up by general manager Dani Mitova, who has grown up in hospitality, her parents running steakhouses for 30 years.
Dani, who has spent five years with Freespirit since moving from Bulgaria, said: “I think people are really happy to have their pub back. We believe it’s not just about the service. We like to deliver an experience to people.
“The Bell Inn champions the traditional British steak house – familiar, unpretentious and above all else, welcome to all. We want to become the best independent steak house in the region.”
Visit bellinnatladbroke.co.uk for further information.