It’s always a bit of a lottery, going out for a Sunday roast.
It should be such a treat, but I’ve picked half-heartedly at too many lacklustre vegetables, hard roasties, and over-cooked beef. And it’s always a bitter pill when you have to pay for something you know you could have done so much better at home.
So to find a pub that serves a roast to equal Mum’s Sunday best saw my spirits rising almost as high as its towering Yorkshire puds.
The Bell Inn is a cosy 18th century coaching inn in the tiny New Forest village of Brook, flanked by two 18-hole golf courses.
Passed down through the same family since 1782, the pub is country chic with a modern twist: think flagstone floors and squashy sofas in front of huge inglenook fireplaces.
Country farmhouse smart, the recently refurbished Oak Room restaurant is all mellow wood, chalky paint, soft heather-coloured tweeds and stylish William Morris fabrics.
The Bell’s menus, when they arrive, demonstrate a food ethos that will chime with anyone passionate about provenance.
A food map on the back details produce sourced from across the forest, from eggs gathered at the wonderfully-named Fluffetts Farm in Fordingbridge, to game, wild boar and steak from either Swallowfields Farm in Bramshaw or the family’s own estate in Scotland.
There’s plenty to choose from, with starters like velvety chicken parfait with a sweet caramelised chutney, wild mushroom fricassee scented with truffle on buttery brioche, and Lymington crab brulee.
For the main event, you could choose Blackwater Farm Gloucestershire old spot sausages with creamy mash, or a fillet of chalk stream trout, but this is a Sunday, and this is a roast you won’t want to miss.
Lamb and beef are served pink and juicy, golden roasties are crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, and billowing Yorkshire puddings have a perfect hollow centre for lashings of gravy – there’s plenty on the plate, but everyone is given an extra jug, just in case. We all pile on sweet, crunchy carrots, cabbage and broccoli spears, and tuck in.
It’s not often there’s silence around our dining table, but we’re far too busy for small talk.
We revive somewhat to discuss puddings. We know we shouldn’t, but who can say no to warm chocolate stout cake with caramel sauce, and creamy ice cream flavoured with orange, raspberry and flecks of vanilla?
Afterwards, the ancient forest backdrop, dog-friendly bar and open log fires mean you can combine a really decent Sunday lunch with all your other favourite Sunday things – whether that’s relaxing with the papers in front of the fire, walking the dogs with family, or having a glass of wine with friends.