The Bell Bar & Bistro

You’ve got to love it when a restaurant or cafe’s title is so plain and simple that you don’t have to wonder what the place specialises in… Well, you can’t get much simpler than today’s review: The Bell Bar & Bistro. Mind you – having said that I will admit to being stumped as to the ‘Bell’ reference in the name for weeks after it opened. Was it the owners name? Some obscure reference to an English pub like ‘The Six Bells’ or something?? I know there is a vacant block of land nearby zoned for Community Purpose, so maybe the proprietor was anticipating a church nearby…

How hard I wanted to kick myself when I realised that The Bell Bar & Bistro is located in the suburb of Bellamack, which presumably loaned it’s nameto the Bar & Bistro – the suburb itself taking the name from one of the first local Aboriginal men to assist with the surveying of the general region in the late 1860’s, noted for his ‘remarkable ability to adopt to the European culture whilst retaining his responsibilities as a Larrakia’ (http://www.ntlis.nt.gov.au/placenames/view.jsp?id=2010).

And so, with the mystery long solved, it was time to travel five minutes down the road and meet up with family for a post-festive season farewell meal. The Bell Bar & Bistro (or ‘the Bell’ as we now know it colloquially) is a modern looking pub / bar / bistro with simple clean lines, ample parking all around, and nestled within a cluster of cafe’s , takeaways, gourmet deli & eatery and medium density residential ‘shop top’ units. In it’s eight months to date it has seen off a number of smaller competitors in the cluster – a shame really as they all had their own character.

What really impresses me about The Bell is that someone has had the courage to locate a pub and bistro in the middle of surburbia. Not keep it located in the CBD or along some cafe strip somewhere else – but firmly in the middle of middle-class suburbia. In terms of the development of the Greater Darwin Area, this must be the first one located thus since the late 1980sus. Therefore, as you can imagine, all the dots were joining to reveal a good old fashioned, hearty pub grub menu. Generous portions all based on the steak, salads, pasta, pizza, and curries formula (plus drinks, fries / chips, coffees, etc etc), and priced a touch on the high side of reasonable. At a pinch I would agree that the prices are reasonable, but boy, only if they were backed up by a knockout meal.

We grabbed a menu on the way in, found a table, and selected our meals. I selected the pulled pork bun and made my way to the food counter to order. Despite the coffee machine being located at the food counter, you have to pay for drinks, including coffees and teas, elsewhere at the drinks counter. The interior of the bistro is long and narrow and finished in all the hard surfaces that I detest – glass, polished masonary, stone, laminates, etc. There are a generous number of tables, mainly large family tables, located inside The Bell and on the night of our visit the inside of the bistro simply became an echo chamber. Most annoying.

There is an ample seating area outside the bistro as well to supplement the dining area. As we were waiting for our meals a noise suddenly filled the air – it was Quiz Night!!! The reflective interior surfaces took the voice from the speakers at one end of the echo chamber and simply added it to the cacophony already happening. We decided not to join in the Quiz Night, and weren’t sure how anyone participating could understand what was being said or quizzed upon at all.

My burger arrived and it looked a treat. A glowing glazed brioche bun, skewered to keep inside the pull pork mixed with BBQ sauce, lettuce, red cabbage, and a slaw sauce of sorts. That was it. The dense mass of pulled pork was spread across the bun side to side – no skimping here. On the same plate and located to the side was a clutch of the most scrumptious looking golden ‘rustic’ potato chips that I have seen in months. All up, it was a simple meal and one that appeared to be portioned perfectly. Despite the burger as a whole looking a bit ‘flat’ and lifeless, it appeared to be a well constructed burger – not one that I would expect to slip around when in hand.

And sure enough, it didn’t. Even with the skewer removed everything stayed put when eating. The smokey BBQ sauce shone through, yet didn’t mask the savoury sweetness of the perfectly seasoned pulled pork. The protein hadn’t been over cooked, and while the fibres had all been pulled loose, there was a nice amount of ‘bite’ to the meat. The bun was fresh, but wouldn’t have survived overnight for use the next day – in my mind the bun had arrived fresh that morning, and had sat around waiting for evening service.

What was disappointing, though, was the absence of tomato on the bun, and the red cabbage having to make do as the house slaw. This, however, was redeemed by the crispness of the hot and lightly battered hot. I saved some chips right to the end of the meal and my Beloved and I were still sharing crisp chips – albeit lukewarm – long after we had finished our mains.

So… was this a value meal? I’ve got to say no. Simply due to the pricing regime. Portion size it was adequate; I couldn’t have eaten anything else even if it had been served up with the dish, or if the diameter of the burger bun had been larger.

But, I’m looking forward to returning and working my way through the menu over time…

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