Bells of Peover lunch, Cheshire

An idyllic and historic setting, plus great food...what more could you ask for a lovely lunch?

The Bells of Peover is one of Cheshire’s iconic pubs, much photographed down the decades and ever-present in countless glossy guides to the county.Not only does the famous hostelry boast an idyllic setting at the end of the quaint cobbled lane leading to the picturesque, half-timbered mediaeval church of St Oswald, whose records date back to 1269, but the Bells rejoices in its own history, albeit most notably of much more recent events.The clue is in the positioning of the Stars and Stripes alongside the Union Flag on the pub’s wisteria-clad gable end. What possible connection could there be – though I suspect one might have to be a visitor from Mars to ask the question – between this delightful corner of Cheshire and the United States of America?So for passing Martians, I’ll explain: Old Glory’s presence commemorates the strategy meetings that took place at the Bells during World War II between General Dwight D Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander, and the flamboyant General George Smith Patton, whose US Third Army was billeted in mid-Cheshire before moving south for embarkation for D Day. The Bells, therefore – and by the way the name of the pub, originally known as the Warren de Tabley Arms, derives not from the St Oswald’s peal, but from the Bell family who ran it from the 1890s – played its part in the liberation of Europe.

The main course was epic, the best lamb I’d tasted for a very long timeNow, to the delight of food lovers, there’s been a second significant liberation – that of the Bells of Peover itself. After languishing for years as part of a national pub chain, the Bells was acquired by the Stockport brewer Frederic Robinson in May 2009 and last September, new tenants moved in.Brothers Darren and Grant Mercer are locals with, literally, a world view. The former’s business runs the Beijing welfare lottery; the latter is a high-flying advertising executive for Saatchi and Saatchi in Asia and their common aim is to restore the Bells to its former glory and recreate a destination not just for history buffs, but for gourmets. As a measure of their intent they lured general manager Chris Buckley from Paul Heathcote’s London Road Restaurant in Alderley Edge and Ian Rudge, former student of Gordon Ramsay who has cooked at the two-Michelin Star Whatley Manor in Wiltshire and more recently been a senior member of Nigel Howarth’s team at the Northcote Manor and Ribble Inns, as executive chef. The reviews so far have been euphoric and, as guests at Cheshire Life’s May luncheon discovered, entirely justified.The Mercers of Peover have most definitely not set out to create another gastropub; indeed they wince at the very term. Though the Bells remains very much a village inn with charming nooks and crannies and a superior bar menu offering dishes from Cheshire Smokehouse platters to share, fish and chips and grills to sandwiches and salads, the Upstairs restaurant (there are only about three stairs) is a venue for fine dining.After enjoying welcoming flutes of rich, creamy Champagne Gruet accompanied by delicately fashioned canap�s, guests took their seats Upstairs in the Bells’ refurbished dining room: elegant, stylish and unfussy, whose contemporary touches are totally at ease with the centuries old surroundings. The ambition here is underpinned by the excellence of the best of British seasonal ingredients, handled with confidence, skill and imagination and presented with creativity and panache. Ian Rudge’s starter embodied all these enviable qualities, with sweet nuggets of chargrilled native lobster set upon tender young leeks and complimented by silky parsley pur�e and deliciously subtle smoked garlic velout�; exquisite. The accompanying premier cru white burgundy from Chassagne Montachet was also top drawer, supplied as were all the day’s tipples, by Robinson’s own wine arm.The main course was epic; the best lamb I’d tasted for a very long time. Exceptionally tender and flavoursome roast saddle of Launceston lamb, Cornwall’s finest, came alongside melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked lamb neck, sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichoke pur�e, hot pot onions and roasted salsify, arranged beautifully on the plate. With it came one of the legends of the wine world, a mature Chateau Musar from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, delivering seductive hints of smoke, spice and prunes; an inspired match for the lamb.Dessert provided a fitting finale to a memorable afternoon: sublime chocolate and Talisker Whisky tart with coffee delice and milk foam, classically accompanied by sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.Guest of honour was Darren Mercer’s business associate Lord Mancroft, whose father was on Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s staff during the war and acted as chief liaison offer between Monty and Eisenhower. Lunch was historic too. 

Cheshire Life Luncheon MenuTo start Chargrilled native lobster, leeks, parsley pur�e, smoked garlic velout�Chassagne-Montrachet, Morgeot 1er Cru 2007, FranceTo continue Roasted saddle of new season Launceston lamb, slow-cooked lamb neck, sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichoke pur�e, hot pot onions, roast salsifyChateau Musar 1998, Bekaa Valley, LebanonTo finish Chocolate & Talisker whisky tart, coffee delice, milk foamMuscat de Beaumes de Venise 2007, Charpoutier, France

Fact fileThe Bells of Peover, The Cobbles, Lower Peover, Knutsford, Cheshire WA16 9PZTel: 01565 722269; menu Mon-Sat noon-2.30pm; 5.30pm-9.30pm; Sun noon-8pmUpstairs Restaurant open Tue-Sat noon-2pm; 6pm-9.30pm; Sun noon-8pm. A la carte starters �7.50-�15.50; mains �22.50-�29.50. Sunday lunch �23.50 for two courses, �29.50 for three.

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