Nearly a year after closing its doors, The Bell Hotel in Saxmundham has re-opened this week with new owners and a bright, fresh new look. 

Snapped up by family-run Beales Hotels in spring, every part of the hotel, its lounge, bar and restaurant has been renovated, with bookings now available for dining, and for stays in one of the seven bedrooms currently ready for guests. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

East Anglian Daily Times:

Ashley Beale heads up the operation, and has worked with local companies including Cotton Tree Interiors and Brooks Architects to sensitively restore the property. 

While executive chef Garry Cook has been working his magic in the kitchen, enlisting some of Suffolk’s best suppliers, and even bringing his own home-grown produce to the table. 

Originally hailing from Northumberland, Garry has worked across Suffolk during his time here, including a spell at Hintlesham Hall, and being co-owner of 152 Aldeburgh for nearly five years, before taking on The Crown at Snape with his wife, until just before lockdown. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

He says no expense has been spared in creating a modern kitchen at The Bell. “We’ve knocked down a couple of walls to open the space up in there, and everything is really nice now. It’s taken a while to get it sorted, but we have induction in there, and a plancha and Rational oven. Some really nice bits of kit. It’s a very state-of-the-art kitchen!” 

Garry can’t wait to serve his first customers, nor to work with local producers he’s come to know and respect over the years. 

The dining room seats 26, but food is, he adds, available across the building – in the bar (where there’s also a light bites menu), the lounge, and eventually the outdoor terrace. A private dining room for eight is coming in phase two of the renovations. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

East Anglian Daily Times:

“Cotton Tree Interiors have done a fantastic job. A lot of thought has gone into all the rooms. The restaurant has been re-named The Heath, and we have The Coast bar. Everything is themed around our location.” 

Dining is available seven days a week, from breakfast, through morning coffee and cake, to lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. 

For the time being, Garry says breakfast is a short and sweet affair, offering a full English using Salter & King bacon and sausages, a continental-style buffet, smoked salmon and eggs on toasted sourdough, porridge with Hillfarm honey, and boiled eggs with sourdough soldiers. 

The main menu runs through lunch and dinner, with the chef putting his own stamp on British and European classics, while keeping Suffolk ingredients front and centre. 

Snacks include Butley Creek oysters, served classically with a shallot vinegar, or with a touch of ponzu gel for those who fancy something a bit different. 

There’s Harvey & Co bread with Fen Farm raw butter, smoked almonds, and homemade pork scratchings. “Which are a bit more like Quavers. Light and crispy so they don’t break your teeth. We dust those with cider apple vinegar powder so you get a really intense flavour.” 

Garry is happy to be serving Sunday Charcuterie amongst the starters. “I met them at Aldeburgh food festival. I liked the look of their stuff, brought some home and thought it was really really good, so we have some of their meats on with cornichons and olives. Simple, but very high quality. 

“I also like our seared smoked haddock. That comes with a crispy hen’s eggs, some leeks and a wholegrain mustard cream. 

“And with it being winter, we’ve got some game on as well – a pheasant terrine. For that we confit down the legs and cook the breasts sous vide, then layer it all up and serve with some medlar jelly and pickled green tomatoes. I had so many tomatoes in my polytunnel this year. I was searching for a recipe to use them all up and found this pickle. It’s very nice!” 

Vegetarians have a choice from glazed goats’ cheese with Garry’s homegrown beets, toasted sunflower seeds and beet gel, or, again, his own Jerusalem artichokes, cooked down into an unctuous soup with pickled mushrooms, white truffle oil and sourdough croutons. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

“The main courses are quite classic,” says Garry. “So we’ve got steak and chips, but using Salter & King’s grass-fed, Suffolk beef, with mushrooms, vine tomatoes, onion rings and triple cooked chips. And there’s fish and chips, but we elevate that. We use the best Maris Piper potatoes for our triple cooked chips, and we turn our mushy peas into a smooth puree. The cod comes in a gluten-free batter. I’ve been doing that for a while now – it’s a good recipe and people don’t really notice the difference.” 

Monkfish tail is wrapped in pancetta, served in a winter broth with haricot beans, root and sea vegetables. Partridge comes with parsnips, sprouts, a redcurrant and Port gel, and confit legs. 

East Anglian Daily Times:

And there’s a burger – despite Garry not being, by his own admission, a burger fan. “I’ve tried to avoid doing them in the past, to be honest,” he laughs. “But people do like a good burger. For ours we mince rump and chuck steak, and layer that with Emmenthal, gem lettuce, homemade burger sauce, and homemade pickled cucumbers and red onions, piled up high in a nice soft bun from Harvey & Co.” Garry can’t abide by the trend for brioche with burgers. “A decent burger should be 20 % fat. You want to taste that richness and flavour – not the bun!” 

Moving onto desserts, and diners can choose from a plate of three to five East Anglian cheeses (Norfolk Dapple, Baron Bigod, St Helena, Binham Blue and Norfolk White Lady), lemon posset with blackberries and shortbread, sticky toffee pudding, or a very special chocolate marquise. 

“We finish that off with hazelnuts and a chocolate caramel shard that tastes a bit like a Dime Bar,” says Garry.  

East Anglian Daily Times:

The kitchen team also make their own ice creams and sorbets – currently vanilla, strawberry, praline an eggless milk ice cream, and strawberry, pear, mandarin and dark chocolate sorbets. 

As for afternoon tea? Bookings are already coming in for the selection which includes traditional finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and cakes (at the moment a brownie, tea loaf and lemon curd tart), with unlimited tea or coffee. 

“We can’t wait to get going,” Garry says. “It’s good to be working with Ashley, he’s young and forward-thinking and we get on very well. Hopefully The Bell will become the place to go in the area.” 

Lunch is served from 12noon to 2pm, afternoon tea from 3pm to 5pm, and dinner from 5.30pm to 8.30pm daily. 

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