We visit a 300 year-old hidden gem country pub in Birmingham with winter comfort food & folk music

The Bell in Harborne is one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets offering countryside vibes in the heart of the city

The dark winding road suddenly lit up with a beam of light from an ancient church.

Next to the clock tower we spotted a charming white and black inn, with hanging baskets and a warm, welcoming orange glow shining from its windows.

The sky was pitch black and we could barely hear a sound. It was like being in a countryside village, and it took me a few minutes to remind myself that I’d only been in the car for 15 minutes and hadn’t left south Birmingham.

We had arrived at The Bell - Harborne’s best kept secret put - in fact it’s not particularly known across Birmingham, yet it truly is one of the city’s hidden gem pubs.

Three centuries ago - back in the 1700s - The Bell was a coaching station inn and the Grade II listed building hasn’t changed too much from those times gone by.

Although the variety of beers, wines and spirits are a bit more varied these days - it’s still offering some hearty meals to warm you up through the winter. 

The Bell is situated next to St Peter’s village church on Old Church Road where worshippers have gathered since Saxon times. You would never imagine you’re just a stones throw away from bustling Harborne High Street with its upmarket restaurants and Home Bargains.

Being 300 years-old, I guess it’ll be no surprise if I explain that The Bell is a small venue - but what it lacks in room it packs out with stacks of charm while oozing with atmosphere.

There were several groups enjoying drinks when we arrived on a chilly Wednesday evening, with some tables enjoying meals. We had booked ahead for dinner, always a good shout with a small venue like this, and a bartender showed us straight to our table as we arrived.

We were near the huge front window in the cosy, warm lounge with comfy seating. You have to order food and drinks at the bar and we were pleasantly surprised by the huge choice on the menu. 

As we set about making our choices, we spotted a steady flow of people with musical instruments walking through the corridor where the bar is. Turns out we had arrived on folk night as musicians gathered in the back room to play a few tunes - it all added to the unique ambience, without drowning out the gentle hum of chatter.

But back to the business of food. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the specials - with a starter of camembert served with onion chutney and toast (£6) standing out. It was impossible not to choose this cheesy feast - we were on a mission for winter comfort food after all.

And we weren’t disappointed. The dish was one of the best warm plates of camembert ever - so much tasty softly rich savoury gooiness with just the right amount of sweet chutney to dollop on top of lightly toasted bread.

The mains proved pretty easy to choose too. Both me and my friend opted for Beef Bourguignon with mash and seasonal vegetables (£16) which was also on the specials.

However, despite it only being 6.30pm there was only one dish left - guess it is a small venue after all. My pal opted for sausage and mash on the main menu instead. It had an award winning badge next to it - and she made a lucky choice with a plateful of succulent pork and caramelised red onion sausages served with butter chive mashed potato, braised red cabbage, rich beef gravy and red onion chutney. I had food envy, I have to admit. And may have to return to experience the mountain of gorgeousness that she was presented with.

My beef bourguignon was also a triumph, however. The tender meat dropped from the bone as soon as it saw my fork. It was packed full of flavour and was delicious with or without the thick and flavoursome gravy, helpfully served separately in a boat. The chive mash added an extra cushion of luxury and it was fabulous to enjoy a generous portion of carrots and parsnips included.

The Bell is so old that you have to head outside for the loo - which isn’t ideal in the winter, but all adds to the Georgian charm. There’s a bowling green out the back too - along with a rack of seating. So definitely one to put on the bucket list for summer too.

The venue is run by the Stonegate group these days, which manages thousands of pubs across the UK and has recently acquired pubs from Mitchell & Butlers. They pledge to keep the put at the heart of British culture, and they’re certainly achieving that goal at The Bell. Here's our pictures from our visit to The Bell:

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