Probably the best pub grub in the area

There are gastropubs of which we Brummies can rightly be proud.

Places that offer no-nonsense nosh at a fair price.
Places that serve well-crafted dishes at a slightly higher cost.
But none, I think, approaches the sophistication, value and downright excellence of the Bluebell in Henley-in-Arden in Warwickshire.
I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten better in a pub in this area.
It’s so good that it’s worth enduring the journey along the A34 past those houses of such extravagant bad taste that I suspect they’re owned by millionaire transvestites with a My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding fixation.

The place

It’s a charming and slightly wonky old building on Henley’s main street.
The floor is flagstone, there are dark beams, uncluttered walls, bare wooden tables and mismatching chairs.

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There are dining tables at the front and more in the rear and, in between, a small bar area.
There’s outside space at the back, too.
Service was friendly, efficient and perfectly pitched for a pub that seeks to blend unfussiness with ambitious dining.

The menu

Chef-patron Joe Adams – who owns the place with his sister Kate – has worked at some smart restaurants and it shows.
The menu suggests imagination, careful sourcing of seasonal and largely local ingredients and no small measure of technique.

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There are go-to dishes for those who want simple food – fish and chips and steaks, for instance.
But there are contemporary dishes, too, though by chance my selections had a distinctly retro feel – with plenty of modern touches.

We ate

The Parma ham with which I started was good quality stuff.
Some came crisp, the brittle texture and salty snap contrasting marvellously well with the uncooked ham beneath.
Types of melon were served three ways – compression giving watermelon a fizzy sharpness, barbecue charring adding depth to slices of cantaloupe and plain gala providing freshness and sweetness.

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Opposite me Cornish crab with heritage tomatoes treated in various ways, charred cucumber and sourdough crust caused much happiness for she who ate it.
There was a delicacy and beauty about the dish.
The Barnsley chop is a cut all too seldom seen nowadays, which is a great shame because it is satisfying and flavoursome.

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Here the lamb came seared so that it was almost black on the outside and blushing pink within, retaining its succulence.
It came with sweet young courgettes, a mint puree that had a good poke of vinegar and a jus with real savoury depth.
At home I’d have picked the chop up and gnawed at the bone like a ravenous beast, but I managed to show restraint and merely fiddled away with my cutlery until the meat and fat were stripped.
My wife ate cornfed chicken breast with smoked aubergine puree, sweetcorn, rosemary mascarpone and a pressed potato and smoked bacon terrine and adored the combo.

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She progressed to a deeply filled warm treacle tart with pastry that was thin and crisp and creme fraiche.
My retro theme continued with a superb baked Alaska – soft peaks of meringue, torched here and there to nutty brown, encasing rich ice cream atop a coconut macaroon.

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It was like I’d died and gone to 1970s heaven reinvented by some 21st century wizard.
This was cooking of a high order showing a real lightness of touch.

Need to know

Expect to pay around £35 for three courses not including drinks.
Eat cheaper by choosing the menu du jour, Tuesday to Friday.
There’s a Sunday lunch menu.
There’s a good range of beers, gins and plenty of decent wines by the glass.
The place is dog-friendly.
There’s on-street parking nearby.

The Bluebell
93 High Street, Henley-in-Arden B95 5AT. 01564 793049.
http://www.thebluebell-henley.co.uk