Bellstone, Shrewsbury

Rating: *** Our visit to the Bellstone was a happy accident. My wife and I were shopping in our home town and planning lunch in one of our favourite brasseries, The Armoury. However, as we walked through Shrewsbury we passed an inviting bar and decided to drop in.

The Bellstone is a bustling bistro-style eaterie that was packed with Saturday shoppers. Couples were enjoying fancy sandwiches, families were chatting about their daily lives and friends were catching on up one another's gossip. Breezy waitresses floated around the room; taking orders, filling glasses and bringing plates of food.

It was evident from the Bellstone's menu that we were not to expect a gourmet feast. Our selections were based on contemporary choices that are staples on many bistro menus. There were flavours from around the world jostling for attention, though little that trumpeted the produce of local food and drink suppliers.

We perused the menu with flavours from Thailand, Italy, Morocco and the four corners of Britain before making our selections.

The menu was long and varied and we took our time deciding. Gradually, we whittled down the selections until we were ready to order.

We skipped starters and my wife opted for a black pepper tortilla wrap with hot cajun chicken, tomato salsa and minted creme fraiche served with salad and fries. The dish was reasonably priced but pretty dull. The chicken didn't pack the punch that locally-farmed organic chickens usually pack. The salsa was thin was bland. The salad and fries were fine.

I opted for the fresh-baked croissant with ham, brie and sun dried tomatoes. Again, it was a fair-to-middling dish, though almost overwhelmingly greasy.

It was clear that The Bellstone will never win any awards for food that is served with speed but an absence of real craft. Certainly, there are bistros within walking distance, like Frank and The Armoury, that offer higher quality.

But The Bellstone offers a good atmosphere, good value and a scintilla of excitement. It's a vibrant venue whose staff put something of a buzz into lunchtimes. We enjoyed fresh fruit juices and bright, crisp glasses of wine and enjoyed watching the world go by outside the Bellstone's huge street-side windows. It's a perfect spot for a break before going back into battle with the Saturday crowds.

We felt no guilt at skipping dessert. The selections were reasonably appetising with plenty of chocolate, tarts and British classics jostling for space. But our main courses had been no better than average so we opted for coffees, which were served by the charming and efficient staff within moments.

There is an atmosphere that is distinctly agreeable at The BellstoneAt most eateries staff in the front of house trail in the wake of star-studded kitchens, which dazzle and delight. At The Bellstone, the pattern is reversed. The unremarkable food is three-out-of-five average but the staff lift the dining experience and make visits memorable.

We enjoyed our hour among the lively crowds of lunchtime diners and found ourselves relaxing in pleasant surrounds.

There was plenty of selection on the menu, good service and an atmosphere that we found distinctly agreeable.

Though we've eaten far better food at other venues, we weren't put off The Bellstone. It was a lively and enjoyable venue for lunch. We'd happily call in again for a light bite or a quick refreshing drink during a shopping trip.

The waitresses were attentive and made regular visits to ask whether we were enjoying our food.

Equally, it's not a place that we'd choose to visit for three course dinners or larger meals. Greater skill is required in the preparation and construction of dinners and the standard of ingredients could also go up a notch.

By Andy Richardson

ADDRESS:

Bellstone, Shrewsbury

Tel 01743 242100

MENU SAMPLE

Starters

Oven baked crab cakes (£5.75), Crispy duck pancakes (£6.75).

Main courses

Char grilled fillet steak with dijon mustard, smoked bacon and green peppercorns (£17.50).

Sides

Bowl of mash (£2.50)

Desserts

Hot double chocolate pudding (£5.25), Banana and peacan tart (£5.75)

ATMOSPHERE

Fast-paced, good place for meeting friends for lunch

SERVICE

Pretty good, though lacking in any real finesse. Young, bustling waitresses

DISABLED FACILITIES

There is a separate disabled toilet

SMOKING POLICY

Smoking in the bar but not in food area