A PUNTER’S VIEW OF Ye olde bell hotel & spa, in barnby moor, retford, nottinghamshire, BY SAVOUR WRITER AND REVIEWER DAVE MACKAY
Are you sitting comfortably? Good, because we’ve a lot to get through.
Ye Olde Bell Hotel and Spa is, in my opinion wrongly named, it ought to be called Ye Olde Bell Spa and Hotel because the biggest selling point is the spa which is, frankly, wonderful.
The Spa was opened in 2017 and was awarded “5 bubbles” by the Good Spa Guide in its first year. Spa reception is light and airy and beautifully appointed and the staff are fantastic and extremely attentive. On arrival, you are booked in and they take your lunch order at the time so it is ready for you when you are seated (more later).
There are plenty of lockers (which have PIN codes so there is no need to remember a quid) and each contains a robe, flip flops (yours to take away) and a bag to put your wet bathing suit in. Gents with larger feet might want to think about taking their own flip flips, I am a size 9 and they fitted me well, but I can’t see a size 12 being comfortable in them.
The Spa itself has a series of rooms which get hotter and hotter as you work your way around from the mild to the sort of heat that would have Carol Kirkwood using the word “unprecedented”. To counter that, there is a progressive shower which gets colder and colder as you go on, a bucket shower and even a “Snow Storm” experience. There is also a salt inhalation room and a Sabbia Med room which recreates a day at the beach but without a load of locals trying to sell you “Ray Berry” sunglasses.
The lounging options are many and varied from seating to loungers, day beds and even four heated sun loungers around the indoor/outdoor pool. The pool itself is designed for soaking and relaxing, not for swimming and there is a circuit of varied water jets designed to target various different parts of your body.
Lunch is held at the Spa’s Herb Garden Brasserie which is headed up by head chef Richard Allen, who as well as being a chef is a qualified personal trainer and nutritionist – so expect dishes full of flavour but also in keeping with the healthy ethos of the spa. Two courses are including in your day package but you can add dessert for an added cost. The fact that lunch is pre-ordered means that there is no waiting around and the whole 22 cover restaurant, whic is adequately covered by one waiter.
The menu is limited but does not lack variety and there is a separate plant-based menu.
Mrs Punter started with the curried lentil cake followed by the mushroom and spinach risotto. I went for the BBQ chicken terrine and then the caramelised shallot tart. Both of our starters were delicious and my starter was the dish of the whole day. It was beautifully balanced and the sweetcorn puree was excellent. My main was tasty and the shallots were sweet and sticky. The tart itself was a little dry but the salad and dressing countered that and it was polished off with gusto.
The mushroom risotto was a tad lucklustre. It lacked seasoning and seemed almost as if it had been made with water instead of stock. A lovely bottle of Gavi was just the ticket to go with lunch and we opted not to go for pudding but those that we saw coming out of the kitchen looked lovely.
We headed back into the Spa as we both had treatments booked. A Turkish massage for me (thanks to Kelly for listening to me rabbit on for the whole half hour) and Mrs Punter had a very relaxing facial and came away loaded with advice and free samples. A bit more lounging, some more pink fizz and a couple of cocktails rounded off the day. A quick note about the robes, if you are staying over make sure you hand the robes in at the end of the day as you don’t want to have them charged to the room.
We then headed to our room and had been allocated one of the two lodges. It was set over two levels with a living room downstairs with a kitchenette, fridge and dining table. Tea and coffee making facilities were provided as were bottles of water. The décor is a pleasing mix of old and new with some lovely old pieces. The TV, thankfully, was modern. The second floor is accessed by an open tread oak staircase leading to the bedroom and bathroom. The blend of old and modern continues upstairs with a (very) large bed and enough storage for a night or two. There was a large bath and good-sized shower and plenty of towels. The only down side to the room was the lack of air conditioning or fan which meant that we had to sleep with the windows open, and given that the hotel is next to a main road it led to some noise throughout the night.
Dinner was held in the 1650 Restaurant which put us in mind of The Ritz or other such venues. Dark wood panelling throughout, dark table cloths and beautiful chandeliers. The very lovely Julie kept us smiling throughout our meal and we have to thank her for her recommendations, too.
The dinner menu contained expanded versions of the lunch menu and plenty more. A bottle of Riesling was the option to accompany the evening’s dining. Mrs Punter started with a caprese salad which was as you would expect from salad leaves and mozzarella but the tomatoes, I am told, were ‘divine’. My starter caused a real problem. I had the salmon with beetroot and wasabi mayonnaise and I spent a good half an hour trying to decide if it was favourite dish of the day. Eventually it lost out to the chicken from lunch but it was a tough choice and I did nearly take the ceramic off the plate trying to get the last of it.
My main was the confit duck and black pudding hash. It was a hefty portion with just enough greens to stop it being wholly carnivorous. Mrs Punter went with Julie’s recommendation of the Sri Lankan chicken curry (the chef being from Sri Lanka) and she too was left with a difficult choice to make – was it the best curry she had ever had? “No” was the answer, it was the 3rd best. To put this in context, the best two she has ever had were a Thai green curry and a butter chicken, both of which were made by Mrs Punter. As with lunch we declined pudding, we were just too full.
In the morning we were able to see a bit more of the hotel and it is a real contrast from the ultra modern Spa. It could easily be the setting for many a period drama. Breakfast was held in the function room and there was a really good choice. Plenty of pastries, juices, cooked meats and cereals and there was good choice from the cooked breakfasts as well. I have said before that (with one notable exception) all hotel breakfasts are the same and this was no exception. It was plentiful, hot and cooked well but sausage, egg and bacon is sausage egg and bacon.
One last word though, watch out for the wasps, they had clearly heard about the food and drink because were a permanent fixture during the day trying to get a taste. Fortunately, I am deeply possessive about my food and they didn’t get any of it and, thanks to my reflexes, some of them won’t be troubling anyone anymore.
Ye Olde Bell Hotel and Spa is based in Retford, Nottinghamshire. The Spa is heavenly, the staff are great and the food is delicious.