Neil Thomas is impressed after a visit to a new eaterie in the market town.
***** Neil Thomas is impressed after a visit to a new eaterie in the market town.
My nine-year-old son Sam was insistent that The Smithfield Bell be awarded five stars out of five. He was very taken with Welshpool’s newest pub and believed it deserved a rating which implies perfection.
I had suggested four stars, which in themselves denote excellence, but he would have none of it. The full five, he insisted.
For a family-orientated place like The Smithfield Bell, Sam’s judgement is probably more valid. Children tend to be frighteningly honest – if they think the pub you’ve dragged them to is rubbish, they’ll say so. They see right through you, kids. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes.
So yes, The Smithfield Bell gets five stars. That said, we very nearly didn’t go at all. I tried to book a table over the phone for Sunday lunch for four to be told they only took bookings for parties of seven or more.
I queried it, as seven seemed a pretty random number but the very friendly lady on the line confirmed I couldn’t make a booking.
Still, the more you think about it, perhaps seven is not so random. There are seven wonders of the world (ancient and modern), seven deadly sins, seven colours of the rainbow, seven days in a week. There’s the Magnificent Seven, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and, of course, seven dwarfs. To that exalted list you can now add the seven diners required to reserve a table at the Smithfield Bell.
And we were four. The kind lady on the phone, possibly sensing my frustration, assured me that we would have no trouble finding a table if we turned up ‘on time’. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but my days of desperately waiting outside pubs for opening time are well behind me.
It might sound like I’m making much of this but we enjoy our Sunday lunches – the only time often when the family can sit down to eat together – and it would have been galling to have arrived to a packed out pub and no spare tables. Too late then, possibly, to get in somewhere else and certainly too late to drive the five miles home and get a joint in the oven. Maybe worth rethinking the policy?
Anyway, we decided to take a chance and I’m delighted that we did. As it turned out there was plenty of room – and not because the pub is unpopular either. The place is massive. Absolutely cavernous – and with extra tables outside too, should you fancy a little alfresco dining. There is also a children’s playground.
We arrived at around noon and, while there were already plenty of diners happily tucking into an early lunch, there was no shortage of spare tables either.
We were warmly welcomed at the door by two smiling young ladies and that set the tone for the service throughout.
The menu offers an abundance of choice, with, as is the modern way in pubs, an international flavour. My lamb and feta cheese meatballs (£3.95) were delicious and my wife Vanessa and eldest son Tom polished off a combo to share (£7.45) which comprised a giant plateful of smoky chicken wings, garlic bread, potato wedges, breaded mushrooms and onion rings with garlic mayonnaise and barbecue dips.
Sam also ‘went Tex Mex’, with his cheesy nachos (£3.55). This was a deep bowl of crisp tortilla chips topped with melted Cheddar cheese, accompanied by salsa and a sour cream and chive dip. He devoured it very quickly.
Traditional roasts (£11.95) are offered on Sundays and very good they are too. My turkey was beautifully tender, as was Tom’s roast beef and they came with new and roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and a selection of fresh and seasonal vegetables.
Vanessa’s hickory chicken (£12.95) offered deliciously smoked tender fowl, while Sam’s Rodeo burger (£9.15) was a prime beefburger in a floured bap with crispy bacon, melted cheese and delicious chips. A big meal for a little man. I felt compelled – reluctantly of course – to help him out.
So generous are the portions that one helping of sticky toffee cheesecake (£3.75) between the four of us was all we could manage. What lightweights! It was as delicious as the rest of the meal.
This is a Marston’s inn which means there is a range of great beers including the incomparable Pedigree.
The service was slick and friendly from a very youthful staff, who seemed unfazed as the place rapidly filled. Managers Mark and Sarah Watson clearly know the meaning of hospitality and we were well looked after by their team.
The pub, which only opened last month, is on the site of the town’s old cattle mart and is a great use of redundant space. It’s what Welshpool has been missing.
And one more thing in its favour – it’s a ‘two for one’ pub. It means for every main course, you get another one free. That’s terrific value. No wonder I counted so many parties of two, four, six and eight.
Funnily enough, there were no sevens.
Contact: The Smithfield Bell, Mill Lane, Welshpool SY21 7BL.
Telephone: 01938 559472
Golden breaded mushrooms with either barbecue or garlic mayonnaise dips (£3.75)
Prawn cocktail with brown bread and butter (£3.75)
Pedigree beer battered fish and chips with mushy peas ( £10.20)
Farmer’s spring lamb stew – marinated slow-cooked lamb with broad beans and spring onion, served with mashed potato and vegetables (£11.55)
Traditional apple pie served hot or cold with custard (£3)
Sticky toffee cheesecake served with double cream (£3.75)
Lively – a nice buzz. Very family oriented
Excellent – slick and smiling
Good. Wide doors, no steps, plenty of room between tables