ON a wet and windy winter’s night, there can be no warmer welcome than the sight of The Bell Inn.

Located in the heart of the New Forest, just a stone’s throw from the A31, the twinkling lights and packed car park of the independent, family run pub and restaurant with rooms made for an instant cosy feeling, before we even walked through the door.

Inside, we were greeted by a roaring open fire and friendly staff, with the sounds of chatter and laughter.

The hotel has been tastefully updated, while still retaining its original, rustic charm, and has clearly made a name for itself as one of the best places to eat in the New Forest, with a traditional menu featuring a range of classic, seasonal dishes, presented with a modern twist.

We ordered a portion of the crunchy pork scratchings (£3), to nibble on, followed by the smoked haddock croquettes (£6.50) and orange scented duck liver parfait (£7) to start. For our main courses, I chose the Hampshire lamb (£21), while my husband opted for the steak and chips (£24.50).

Despite the restaurant being pretty much full, with one larger party, our food arrived promptly, and was attractively presented.

My croquettes were piping hot with a strong, smokey flavour, paired perfectly with a delicate curried mayo, chilli and refreshing diced mango. The generous portion of duck liver parfait, served with brioche toast, plum chutney and a herb salad, was smooth and creamy, with a pleasingly rich flavour.

Both plates were polished off pronto, and we had a suitable break before the arrival of the main event.

The lamb dish consisted of some slow cooked shoulder, crispy belly and roast loin, accompanied by Dauphinoise potatoes, winter vegetable brunoise and a mint jus.

It was hard to decide which of the variations of meat I liked best as each had its own distinct flavour and was served in an entirely different way, but I think the crispy belly had the edge, purely because I have never seen it on a menu before. The creamy potatoes added a ‘comfort food’ touch, while the sticky jus was divine.

My husband’s 10 oz prime Hampshire sirloin steak was, again, generous in size, and cooked to perfection. It was served with crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside, hand cut chips, watercress, grilled tomato, a large mushroom and a choice of garlic butter, peppercorn or red wine sauce.

We also enjoyed a side order of light and crispy Flack Manor onion rings.

When it came to dessert, we were spoilt for choice, finally settling on the baked vanilla cheesecake (£7.50) and seasonal sorbets (£6).

I was fascinated by the choice of home-made sorbet flavours, and decided on strawberry, cucumber and watermelon, which made for a wonderfully refreshing end to the meal.

My husband’s creamy cheesecake featured a ginger snap base, which provided a hit of warmth, a light mandarin gel and pistachio puree - a surprisingly complimentary mix of flavours.

All in all, a warm welcome and superb food - well worth a visit.