Let’s just assume that everyone has seen Four Weddings And A Funeral at least a dozen times. No? Only once? Well, even that will have been enough for you to fall in love, if not with Hugh Grant and/or Andie MacDowell, then at least with the pub they stay in, the Jolly Boatman. And that kind of place really does exist – and only 40 minutes or so outside London.
The Olde Bell is a 12th-century coaching inn with the perfect balance of (extremely!) old-world charm and modern comforts. It’s a cozy jumble of open fires, flagstone floors and huge beams – in the bar there’s even a priest’s hole that leads (according to rumor) to a tunnel that runs the four miles to Marlow. The interiors are given a modern, luxe feel thanks to Ilse Crawford’s designs – she also did the interiors for Soho House New York – and the delicious Aesop bath products in generously sized bottles in the bathrooms.
Just across the passage from the cozy bar is the dining room, where you’d better reset your dials to gluttony. The kitchen team have worked at Chez Nico and L’Escargot Marco Pierre White, and are no strangers to Michelin stars. The menu features old-style dishes and ingredients – often grown in the inn’s own garden – reworked into modern delights. That’s a cliché in most cases, but not here. Standout starters included individually priced (clever!) oysters, and a helping of crisp corned beef the size and thickness of a deck of cards. For mains we went for gloriously, gloopily unctuous confit of pork belly with pig’s head croquettes, and braised ox cheek with smoked mashed potato. And if that doesn’t trounce the cliché idea, then how about chocolate fondant with beetroot sorbet? The chocolate was delish, but the sorbet! The sorbet! Fresh, sweet, light, fruity and weirdly, deliciously, unmistakeably beetrooty. A dessert of wonder.
After that dinner, breakfast was a triumph of will over sense, but it was worth it. Homemade breads, muffins, jams, granola and muesli are laid out so beautifully on a table in the dark-panelled breakfast room that they look like a Dutch still life – even after we’d done our worst. The cooked breakfast defeated me, but my fellow guest said the bacon and eggs were sensational. You can walk it off with a look around the inn’s gardens, including a beautiful walled vegetable patch, or rent a bike and take a trip along the river Thames – this is perhaps one of the most picturesque stretches of that mighty river. You’ll need the exercise.
Oh, and the resemblance to the Jolly Boatman is no coincidence – its real name is the Crown in nearby Amersham and it’s owned by the same people!
The Olde Bell, High Street, Hurley, Berkshire SL6 5LX tel 01628 703 510 theoldebell.co.uk