This place has been on my restaurant wish-list ever since I moved to Bristol. Widely acknowledged to be one of the best restaurants in Bristol, Bell’s Diner is tucked away in a small corner of one of my favourite Bristol neighbourhoods, Montpelier. Montpelier is renowned for its artsy vibe, with beautiful graffiti and brightly painted houses lining its winding, labyrinthine streets. It’s also known for its fantastic selection of cafes and restaurants: Katie and Kim’s Kitchen (read my review here) is a couple of doors down from Bell’s, and the Thali Café, Bristol’s legendary Indian café, is nearby too.
From the second you walk into Bell’s, you can tell it’s going to be a special experience. The décor achieves that elusive balance between alternatively quirky and understatedly elegant. Crisp white tablecloths adorn dark wooden tables, with jars of blowsy fresh flowers on each table. Water is served in vintage ‘Dairy Crest’ milk bottles, the light of a single tea-light shining through them. The waiters, friendly and professional, glide from the open kitchen to the tables, ferrying plate after plate of the most delicious looking food imaginable.
The menu is a slight to behold: it was honestly a struggle to not take a cursory glance at it and order the whole lot. How anyone could resist roast scallops with with leeks slow-cooked in yoghurt and chilli butter is beyond me. For starters, we ended up refining our selection to salt cod fritters with alioli, and peas in their pods with Iberico ham and Manchego. Popping the delicate, sweet peas from their pods, and nibbling the salty ham and crispy fritters, we began to relax, safe in the knowledge that we were in for a treat. And we were. Next came roast hake with mussels and garlic butter, pork belly with white beans and piquillo peppers, and the scallops. All the dishes were cooked in a confident yet unfussy way, allowing the ingredients to shine. For pudding, again I could have happily ordered the whole lot, but we went for a silky white chocolate and mascarpone tart topped with a scarlet stain of crushed raspberries, and some oozy salted caramel truffles. They made the perfect end to what has to be one of the best meals of my life.
What I loved about eating at Bell’s was that the food is so inspiring: each dish had some elusive taste that was hard to place, leaving us dissecting every element in the hope that we might be able to recreate it. It motivated me to experiment in the kitchen, with different flavour combinations and ways of cooking, to see if I could, even vaguely, recreate any of these intriguing tastes. However, I will keep coming back to the restaurant, to gain new inspiration from the constantly changing menu. All in all, it was such a wonderful experience: a restaurant that gets everything so right it almost beggars belief.