Beccles: The Bear and Bells

If pubs had personalities, the Bear and Bells would be a venerable old lady, a duchess perhaps, known and respected by everyone. It's not the sort of place where fights break out, and the average age of the clientele is probably 20 years older than your typical pub.

If pubs had personalities, the Bear and Bells would be a venerable old lady, a duchess perhaps, known and respected by everyone. It's not the sort of place where fights break out, and the average age of the clientele is probably 20 years older than your typical pub. But young and old alike go there for posh pub grub, and it has garnered a reputation as the best place for pub food in town.

This has not always been the case - it was made a success by Kevin Wainwright and David Little, and when they sold it in August after two and a half years, it was the talking point of the town. Having just been voted Greene King pub of the year for East Anglia, it changed hands for a substantial sum to the Maypole Group hotel chain, who had obviously spotted its success.

No-one wants to see a place like the Bear and Bells change too suddenly - it would be like this venerable old lady donning sequins and three-inch heels - and those who loved it as it was will be pleased to know that not too much has changed. One of the chefs is still in place, though a new chef has been brought in, and the menu is much the same. There is still a choice of real ales - the Real Ale Drinker enjoyed his London Pride - and a wine list, if you ask.

Starters might include soup, sardines and portered stilton, but we decided to go straight for mains in order to leave more room for dessert. I went for one of the specials, a Stilton and spinach roulade which did indeed sound rather special, while the Real Ale Drinker ordered steak and kidney pudding.

This was something of a puzzle, insofar as it appeared twice - once on the printed menu and once on the specials board. Both came with mash and vegetables, but the one on the specials board was £1 more. An enquiry to the waitress revealed that there was no difference - although as the bill was not itemised, we never did find out which one we were charged for.

Anyway the Real Ale Drinker had no complaints about its quality - rich and meaty, a suitable amount of kidney as well as steak (he has been known to complain that some places barely bother with the kidney) and a pastry which was lighter and slightly crispier than your typical pudding. It came with French beans as well as mash, as well as a sprig of thyme which is the garnish of choice at the Bear and Bells.

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Plenty of pubs which take pride in their food come up with endlessly creative meat and fish dishes, but revert to unimaginative vegetable lasagnes and the like when it comes to catering for vegetarians. So it was good to see a meat-free option which sounded good enough to appeal to all but the most diehard carnivore. The rich Stilton sauce, while possibly a touch salty, would have done a decent job of making cardboard taste interesting, though the roulade, packed with fresh spinach, did not pose it any such challenge. There were new potatoes, too, and more of the French beans and thyme garnish.

We picked rhubarb and apple crumble and summer pudding to follow, which seemed to sum up the changing season - one looking forward to autumn, one looking back to summer. The crumble was warm and comforting as an old blanket, while the summer pudding was a more elegant dish, each spoonful intensely fruity. They were kind enough to do us a little jug of custard instead of the ice-cream advertised with the crumble, while the summer pudding came with clotted cream.

At just over £30 for two starters and two desserts, it is not the cheapest pub food in town, but the full restaurant every night testifies that people think it is worth it - and possibly that there is not a lot else in that sort of market in Beccles. Myself, I wouldn't mind a pound or two knocked off the prices. On the other hand, I've never had a bad meal there, which is not a bad track record. Long live this old lady.

t The Bear and Bells, 11 Old Market, Beccles; 01502 712291

t Is there parking? Not dedicated parking, but there are free time-limited spaces in the old market place and on nearby roads - no restrictions in the evening. Otherwise you could pay to park on Newgate.

t When is food served? Lunchtimes and evenings - at lunch there are sandwiches, burgers and jacket potatoes on offer as well as bigger dishes and specials.

t Is there vegetarian food? es, usually a spinach and mozzarella pudding and a cheese and vegetable pie as well as a couple of specials.

t Do I need to book? Yes - you might get away with it on a weekday lunchtime, but the small dining area is always full in the evenings, whether in the week or at the weekend.

t What about the disabled? There are no steps inside but the toilets are not specifically adapted.

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