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Restaurant review - The Six Bells, Preston: ‘Stick this on your list of Suffolk pubs you need to eat at’

PUBLISHED: 17:11 20 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:11 23 July 2018

The Six Bells pub at Preston. Picture: MARK HEATH

The Six Bells pub at Preston. Picture: MARK HEATH

Archant

Mark Heath and his wife Liz ventured into the West Suffolk countryside for lunch at the Six Bells in Preston, a gastro pub picking up some rave reviews.

The bread and pork crackling butter at the Six Bells. Picture: MARK HEATHThe bread and pork crackling butter at the Six Bells. Picture: MARK HEATH

Food

Is there anything better than venturing out into the Suffolk countryside for a spot of lunch at the weekend?

Not much, is the answer – and especially if you discover a gem out in the wilds.

The Six Bells, a former grade II listed brewery, certainly shone brightly when we walked through the doors one recent Saturday lunchtime.

Firstly, of course, drinks were in order – and an excellent selection were on hand. I went for the delicious Dry Hopped Adnams Lager – a particular favourite of mine, and a delight to find on tap in such a remote setting.

My faithful dining companion went for Amstel, but there were several other choices – lager, ale and good wines – which appealed.

And so to the food. For starters, I plumped for the day boat fish soup, while Liz ordered the Blythburgh pork knuckle croquette with apple chutney.

Before we get to those though, I must mention the superb bread which we were treated to while we waited, a whole mini loaf, complete with two spreads to choose from – a traditional butter and a rather exciting pork crackling version.

Mark's starter at the Six Bells - day boat fish soup. Picture: MARK HEATHMark's starter at the Six Bells - day boat fish soup. Picture: MARK HEATH

This was akin to eating pork flavoured popping candy – just watch your teeth! A fantastic, and surprising introduction to the Six Bells cuisine.

Starter-wise, Liz was very happy with hers. Simply served on a wooden board, and packed with meat which flaked apart, it was complimented nicely by the chutney, which was mildly spiced to bring out the flavour of the pork.

Mine too was good. A very fishy soup in which I was surprised and delighted to find chunks of fish, scallop, octopus and more. And with plenty of samphire too, which was a very nice touch. If one was looking for negatives, it was quite filling – but I’m clutching at straws there, especially for £5 a bowl!

Onto the mains, and herein lay the true test of our hosts’ culinary credentials - Liz went for the ale battered haddock with handcut chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce, while I (typically) opted for the most expensive item on the menu, the 35-day-aged Longhorn rump steak, with aforementioned chips and salsa verdi.

Now, if you’re a gastro pub worth your napkins, there are certain dishes you best do brilliantly – and steak and fish and chips are two of them.

Pleasingly, the Six Bells passed the test, which of course they didn’t actually know they were taking.

When my steak arrived, my first thought was that it was burnt. But when I cut into it, the meat was cooked beautifully – medium rare, of course – and I realised that the outside was in fact charred, which gave it the most wonderful smokiness and added texture. I consider myself something of a steak connoisseur, and this was right up there with the best I’ve ever had. Absolutely sensational. Cracking chips too.

As for Liz, she was presented with a whale of a fish! Delicious, fresh and with a light batter, not greasy as so many can be.

Liz's starter - pork croquette and apple chutney. Picture: LIZ HEATHLiz's starter - pork croquette and apple chutney. Picture: LIZ HEATH

As a mushy pea expert, she reliably informed me they were among the best she’s had in a while – served piping hot, which is not always the case, and with a freshness which is sometimes absent in a mushy pea!

By now feeling somewhat stuffed – happily so – we decided to share a dessert. On the recommendation of our excellent young waiter, we went for the Gooseberry custard tart with creme fraiche sorbet.

My lord, what a way to finish the meal. Beautifully presented, the tang of the berries cut through the sweetness of the custard most pleasantly, while the pastry was of fine construction and dimension. Delicious.

A fitting end to a beautiful Saturday lunchtime. And, with one feeling rather full, what finer location to take a post-lunch walk than the leafy Suffolk surroundings?

Drinks

As previously mentioned, an excellent selection of lagers and ales on tap, plus cider.

Wine list wise, glasses range from £4.10 to £12.20, with the cheapest bottle of wine a £15 Tekena from Chile (both red and white).

Mark's main - the 35-day aged longhorn rump steak. Picture: MARK HEATHMark's main - the 35-day aged longhorn rump steak. Picture: MARK HEATH

If you fancy pushing the boat out, £140 will get you a bottle of Chateau Canon, a fine French red.

Service

Superb. Attentive, polite and one excellent recommendation – that delicious pudding.

A large group of ramblers finished eating while we were there and insisted on all paying separately – but our hosts were happy and smiling in the face of what must have been a logistical nightmare.

Parking

A large car park to the rear of the pub should suffice for all but the busiest of times.

Liz's main - ale-battered haddock and hand-cut chips. Picture: LIZ HEATHLiz's main - ale-battered haddock and hand-cut chips. Picture: LIZ HEATH

Pitch a tent

Somewhat unusually, but rather charmingly, the pub has a field for camping at the rear. A fine meal, a few ales and then a totter back to a tent – sounds good to me!

Large beer garden at the rear too, as well as tables out the front.

Surroundings

The bar and dining room are stocked with A LOT of skulls and stuffed animals. A bit quirky and perhaps appropriate for the rural setting, but not for me.

I did, however, enjoy all the proper ale tankards hung on the ceiling in front of the bar! Wonder what the story behind those is?

Dessert - the gooseberry custard tart. Picture: MARK HEATHDessert - the gooseberry custard tart. Picture: MARK HEATH

Highlight

I will long remember both my steak and the custard tart, with perhaps the tart just taking the top prize. For Liz, her fish and chips proved a winner.

Summary

Excellent food, far better than you’d expect to find at any old pub - a real reason to head out into that beautiful Suffolk scenery. Priced well too – I’d happily pay £20 for that steak any day of the week.

Stick this on your list of Suffolk pubs you need to eat at. Not at the top, but right up there.

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