Ringing in the changes at The Bell

Ringing in the changes at The Bell

Freespirit Pubs, steakhouse, Ladbroke, The Bell Inn
From left – Dave Paul (front of house), Dani Mitova (GM), Bonny Cannon (front of house) and Kelly Jeacock (front of house)

A popular village pub in Warwickshire has reopened its doors as a steakhouse following a takeover by the Freespirit Pub Company.

The Bell Inn in Ladbroke is welcoming visitors again a few weeks after the departure of its previous landlords on New Year’s Eve.

The Bell is the fifth and latest business to join The Free Spirit Pub portfolio, which is under the ownership of Mark Higgs. The others are The Sun Inn, Hook Norton; The Red Lion at Hellidon; The Castle at Edgehill and The Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon.

Mark said: “The pub had operated as more of a restaurant experience for the last few years and we have changed it to a steakhouse and Village Pub.

“The plan is to really connect back with the local community, hold regular live music and foodie events. We’re very much looking forward to the summer ahead.”

The meat cuts are sourced from Carpenter’s Farm near Warmington and dry-aged for maximum flavour. But the menu all features a selection of classic pub favourites including Haddock and Chips, Burger, Chef’s Pie as well as  vegetarian and vegan options.

The bar stocks a variety of local ales, draught beers and ciders alongside a wide selection of wines, spirits and cocktails.

Mark added: “The steakhouse is a new idea on the food front for Freespirit and we want to push the wonderful connection we have with local farmer Robert Leech from Carpenter’s Farm, where he raises his own Short Horn Beef Herd and butchers himself within his Farm Shop.

“We will showcase his fabulous beef alongside other Home Comforts and Day boat fish from Devon and Cornwall.”

Freespirit Pubs, steakhouse, Ladbroke, The Bell Inn

The Bell team is being headed up by General Manager Dani Mitova, who has grown up in hospitality, her parents running steakhouses for 30 years.

Dani, who has spent five years with Freespirit since moving from Bulgaria, said: “I think people are really happy to have their pub back. We believe it’s not just about the service. We like to deliver an experience to people.

Freespirit Pubs, The Bell Inn, Ladbroke, steakhouse

“The Bell Inn champions the traditional British steak house – familiar, unpretentious and above all else, welcome to all. We want to become the best independent steak house in the region.”

The Bell Inn is currently open Wednesday to Sunday, serving food 12-2.30pm and 6-8.45pm.

Visit here for further information.

Freespirit Pubs, The Bell Inn, Ladbroke, steakhouse

The best things come in small packages at The Seven Stars

The best things come in small packages at The Seven Stars

The Seven Stars, Marsh Baldon, Free Spirit Pubs, Oxfordshire
Head Chef Patrick Smith

SMALL dishes are set to be a big favourite at a popular Oxfordshire country pub, where a new Tapas-style Menu has just been unveiled.

The Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon has added an exciting new offering to mealtimes in the form of their Small Plates Menu, to complement the pub classics.

It has all been created and painstakingly prepared under the expert eye of returning Head Chef Patrick Smith, who is keen to introduce diners to a wider range of dishes, ideal for sharing.

Patrick, who counts Gary Rhodes and Sat Bains among his inspirations, also drew much of his culinary influence from his recent travels around Europe.

“I returned full of inspiration and ready to pick up my knives again with the Seven Stars and now the new Freespirit Pubs company,” he said.

“The thing about being a chef is you never stop learning. You get to constantly evolve, be it with changing seasons or a new ingredient. I love the challenge of creating something new for our customers every year.

“This new menu offers an array of dishes with big bold flavours on small plates! If you’re anything like me and can’t quite decide what you want, then this menu gives you the option to try a selection of different dishes rather than settle for just one.”

Using locally sourced fresh seasonal ingredients, Patrick recommends two-three small plates per person from a menu which includes, From The Land: Braised Pig Cheeks; Dry-Aged Sliced Sirloin; Baldon Fried Chicken; Shoulder of Lamb Shepherd’s Pie; From The Sea: Cured Salmon Pastrami; Salt & Pepper Chiperones; Roasted Pollock Fillet; Garlic & Parsley King Prawns; and From The Allotment: Cajun Sweetcorn Ribs; Caramelised Roscoff Onion, Cheddar & Mico Leaf Salad and Blackened Cauliflower.

The Seven Stars, Marsh Baldon, Free Spirit Pubs, Oxfordshire

There is also the usual Stars ‘Home Comforts’ and Sunday Lunch Menus plus a tasty selection of Sides and Nibbles for those looking for more of a lighter bite.

Patrick added: “My personal favourite dish is probably the Pig Cheeks with the Celeriac and Rhubarb Jam, just because it’s like a dish I was inspired to create many years ago. I love the sharpness of the rhubarb and the richness of the pigs’ cheeks with the micro fennel to give it that anise kick. Though I do love a good shepherd’s pie too!”

The pub also stocks a variety of local ales, draught beers and ciders alongside a wide selection of wines, spirits and cocktails.

The Seven Stars, Marsh Baldon, Free Spirit Pubs, Oxfordshire

The Seven Stars is one of five businesses which form The Free Spirit Pub portfolio under the ownership of Mark Higgs. The others are The Sun Inn, Hook Norton; The Red Lion at Hellidon; The Castle at Edgehill and the recently acquired Bell Inn in Ladbroke, near Southam.

Of the new menu, Mark said: “We wanted to bring something different to the area. There are lots of wonderful venues in and around Oxford and we believe with our very talented team, both front and back of house, we could showcase more dishes with bolder flavours that entice our guests to try something a little different.”

For more information or to book, visit The Seven Stars at: https://sevenstarsatmarshbaldon.co.uk/

Dad’s marathon effort for Warwick charity which helped his son’s cancer battle – just months after losing his wife

Dad’s marathon effort for Warwick charity which helped his son’s cancer battle – just months after losing his wife

A Hereford dad is fundraising for a charity which supported his young son through cancer – just months after losing his wife to the same disease.

Breaking the news to eight-year-old Freddie that he had leukaemia was one of the darkest days of Jamie Gittins’ life. His sons were still grieving the death of mum Emma who had lost her four-year battle with breast cancer at the age of 41.

Molly Ollys, Jamie Gittins, Freddie Gittins, leukaemia, breast cancer
Jamie, Noah, Fred and the late Emma Gittins.

Despite receiving the all-clear in August 2018 after several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Emma, who worked in HR, passed away on 30th March 2021 surrounded by friends and family in Hereford Hospital.

Now the dad of two is in training to take part in the Cardiff Half Marathon next month in aid of Molly Ollys, a charity he was introduced to whilst Freddie was undergoing treatment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

The Warwickshire-based charity granted a special wish for Freddie and his older brother Noah, 11, to receive VIP tickets to see WWE live wrestling as well as offering support in the form of their Olly The Brave cuddly lion and illustrated books.

Molly Ollys, Jamie Gittins, Freddie Gittins, leukaemia, breast cancer
Freddie Gittins with Olly The Brave.

Over the years, Olly The Brave has helped support thousands of children, normalising the effects of chemo and comforting them when they were afraid. Olly has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane with different coloured manes to change Olly into.

Jamie, 40, said: “We took the decision early after Emma’s terminal diagnosis that we weren’t going to hide anything from the boys which is what we’ve done throughout.

“But telling them she had died was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. As soon as Em had had her terminal diagnosis, I played that conversation over in my head a million times. It absolutely broke their hearts. All the family were there because I said I didn’t think I could do it on my own. It’s not something you ever want to have to do.”

Molly Ollys, Jamie Gittins, Freddie Gittins, leukaemia, breast cancer
Noah, Freddie and Jamie Gittins

As well as cataloguing her cancer journey via a blog Boobs Behaving Badly, (https://www.facebook.com/boobsbehavingbadly) Emma spent the months leading up to her death, preparing special memory boxes for her sons.

“These are a massive help to them now,” said Jamie. “They include Build a Bear teddies with her voice recorded. They can squeeze the paw and listen to their mum. And keyrings with her thumb print on them so they can always hold her hand and some Brave Boys’ Club badges with motivational messages engraved on the back saying ‘you’re brave, you’re kind, you’re strong,’ “ said Jamie.

“Emma’s brother and I also pulled together some photos and the boys chose their own items such as a candle which had a scent which reminded them of their mum, as well as pieces of jewellery.”

Molly Ollys, Jamie Gittins, Freddie Gittins, leukaemia, breast cancer
Freddie and Noah Gittins at the WWE organised by Molly Ollys

Just three months after the funeral, which was restricted to 30 people by Covid regulations, more devastating news was to follow.

He said: “Freddie would come home from school and put the telly on and within five minutes he’d be asleep on the sofa. He had no energy and I just put it down to the fact that it was coming up to the end of the school year and everything that had happened with his mum. But then he started to get a yellow tinge on his skin and his eyes. I rang 111 and they told me to get him to hospital immediately.

“At that moment I was given the news about Freddie, in my head I thought, that’s it, he’s going to die. I went outside and spoke to family and friends and just said ‘I can’t do this. I haven’t got the strength.’ And I just sat all night watching him while he was sleeping.

“The oncologist told me that if you’re going to get leukaemia, the type Fred’s got, it is the best one to get. The success rate is over 90% for his age. It will be rough for a few months, but he will be OK. And at that point I was able to go, ‘OK, fine. I’ve just got to get on with this.’ “

There is now light at the end of the tunnel for the youngster who has undergone six months of intensive chemotherapy, but is now focusing on coming to terms with the huge hole in his life.

Jamie said: “We’ve just organised bereavement counselling for the boys because it has only just properly hit them that Em has gone. For Fred, throughout this, the one thing he’s been yearning for is a cuddle from mum.

“From my point of view, it’s been hard not having Emma to bounce off. In many ways, I wish she was here for support, but I’m also glad she’s not because I wouldn’t have wanted her to see Freddie go through this, especially when she had her own illness to contend with.”

Jamie, who is head of Kings Caple Primary School in Hereford, is hoping to hit his target of £2,000 at the half marathon on March 27th.

“Molly Ollys is amazing. With what they’ve done for us, I wanted to show my appreciation and give something back. There’s lots of big charities out there that get lots of funding, but it’s the smaller charities that really need our support.

“Olly The Brave is the most amazing thing for children going through cancer. Both the boys have always wanted to go to a live WWE show and they felt like VIPs. We were six rows back from the ring so everything was up close and personal and they got high fives from the wrestlers. It was an amazing experience. Seeing their faces when they walked into the arena and seeing all the people they’ve watched on telly for years, was just magical.”

Molly Ollys was set up following the experiences of Molly over the five years she received treatment for kidney cancer at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Molly Ollys, Jamie Gittins, Freddie Gittins, leukaemia, breast cancer

Between 2017 and 2020, the Charity funded Birmingham’s first paediatric palliative consultant as there was no such consultant for the region. That position has now become permanent and is currently funded through the NHS.

The Charity works alongside the NHS to support projects within the hospitals and the community. One key project was the creation and refurbishment of Magnolia House at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. This is a safe and non-clinical space where medical teams and families can have important discussions.

Rachel Ollerenshaw said: “We can often think that the lot we have been given in life is hard, but you only need to hear stories such as that of Jamie and his family. They have faced the unimaginable and yet still find time to give back. Jamie is truly inspirational and all the team at Molly Ollys are in awe and very grateful. They understand that it doesn’t always have to be grand gestures, something small can make a big difference to a family’s emotional wellbeing.”

Molly Ollys, Jamie Gittins, Freddie Gittins, leukaemia, breast cancer
Freddie and Noah Gittins

With a final round of treatment starting next week (Feb 21st), sights are now set on brighter days ahead.

Jamie said: “Fred being leukaemia-free is amazing and once we get through this next treatment block, I will be able to relax a little bit. It’s been a horrible year, but the Easter holidays is when he gets his lines taken out and gets a little bit of independence and normality back. He’ll be able to shower himself again or go swimming, which he loves.

“Life is never going to be the same for us with everything we’ve gone through, but I’m looking forward to getting back to normality without all the stresses and worries we’ve had throughout the last year.”

To donate, visit here

You can keep up to date with Freddie’s progress via here

Visit Molly Ollys here

Live events announced for local Cidery taproom

Live events announced for local Cidery taproom

A packed programme of spring entertainment has been unveiled at Napton Cidery as the business continues its post-pandemic return to hosting live events.

Music, comedy, quizzes and food and drink are all on the menu at the cidery’s taproom in Napton-on-the-Hill, as well as a brand new wine tasting experience.

It will be hosted by a specialist from Tomelier from Rugby, which offers bespoke wine tasting services, and is accompanied with a cheese board from Earlswood-based artisan cheese makers Fowlers.

Napton Cidery, live events,Napton on the Hill
Napton Cidery is teaming up with Tomelier for their wine tasting event

The evening gets under way at 7.30pm on Saturday, March 5th and tickets are £38 per head.

Tom Newbold, of Tomelier, said: “As a small local business we’re incredibly excited to be working with Napton Cidery, a thriving family-run company. Cider and wine have a lot in common and we can’t wait to start hosting tastings to showcase these products.”

The cidery now sees the return of its popular live music events on Saturday, February 26th courtesy of The Hatstand Band and also includes a visit from the Tacos El Pap food truck, runs between 12-6pm.

Plenty of facts will be flying at the cidery’s latest quiz night on Friday, March 11th, when teams of up to six players can compete for bragging rights from 7pm. Tickets cost just £2 per person and refreshments are available from the bar.

Napton Cidery, Napton on the Hill, comedy nights

Look out too for Napton’s regular comedy nights, pictured above, which sell out fast. Let a trio of comedians tickle your funny bone while the cider tickles your tastebuds at these popular events, now sold out in March. More dates to be added soon. The evenings run from 7-10pm and tickets cost £18 a head.

An exclusive afternoon Tea and Tasting event is lined up for Mother’s Day, on the weekend of March 26th and 27th.

A delicate afternoon tea platter freshly prepared by Napton Village Stores is washed down by five of Napton’s most popular ciders, with tea, coffee and full taproom menu also available. Tickets for this event, which make the ideal gift for mum, cost £20 per person.

Napton Cidery, live events, Napton on the Hill

The Cider Tasting and Ploughman’s and Cider Tasting Tours, pictured above, also continue in earnest. Visitors are guided through the cider-making process and given the chance to sample a variety of Napton’s ciders and Apple Brandy. Check dates and make bookings here: https://www.naptoncidery.co.uk/cider-tasting and here: https://www.naptoncidery.co.uk/ploughmans-cider-tasting

Charlotte Olivier said: “We’re delighted to be able to host more events which are a fabulous way of bringing the local community together. There is something for everyone and we hope to see plenty of new – as well as familiar – faces joining us in the coming weeks.”

Napton Cidery, live events, Napton on the Hill
Live music events are popular at the cidery

The cidery team harvests, presses, bottles and distributes more than 100,000 litres of craft cider a year, using 17 types of apples from six orchards across the Herefordshire region. They also produce limited-edition ciders and perry as well as juices, spirits and vinegars.

The cidery has also unveiled a raft of new products including branded glasses and its cider in cans and kegs. Over the next 18 months Napton will be bringing the remainder of their signature ciders onto draught as well as extending the popular taproom to host larger events.

See all Napton Cidery’s upcoming events here

Casual sophistication at The Belgrade Café and Bar

Casual sophistication at The Belgrade Café and Bar


Nineteen58 cafe bar, Coventry, Belgrade Theatre

Last April The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry unveiled its new-look café bar.

Certainly where I’m concerned, this has been one of the city’s best kept secrets – and I do wonder how many others have also missed out. . .

Belgrade Café and the upstairs Nineteen58 bar is now the perfect complement to the city’s popular live arts venue and fast becoming a destination in its own right.



Previously occupied shops on Corporation Street have been taken over as part of this £5.5m redevelopment project which now offers both quality and quantity in hospitality terms.

Designed by Lazzeri Creative Interiors and inspired by the Theatre’s origins, the décor, by Corstorphine + Wright Architects, is decorated with vintage show posters and artwork from across the decades – a stylish and comfortable space from which to watch the world go by.

A shout out too to the friendly café team which plays a big part in creating such a convivial experience here.

Nineteen58 cafe bar, Coventry, Belgrade Theatre
Nineteen58 cafe bar, Coventry, Belgrade Theatre

The Menu, which is available from 11.30am-5pm every day, offers a good range of hot and cold dishes, from a selection of sandwiches, toasties, wraps and paninis through to jacket potatoes, soup and, for the more health conscious, Salad Bowls.

But be sure to also keep an eye on their Specials Board. The Hot Dishes of the Day – Cottage Pie and Vegetable Casserole went day a treat on a chilly February day for my friend and I.

If you missed breakfast, there’s also the option to grab some brunch. Choose from bacon or sausage sandwiches, smashed avocado on toast, filled croissants, teacake or granola.


Light bites can be purchased in the form of hot and cold snacks – including an irresistible range of sweet treats- and everything fairly competitively priced for the area.

I also noted what seemed to me like a wider than average range of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu – unlike, it has to be said, many other establishments I have frequented with veggie companions.

Whiling away, as we did, three hours on the upper floor of this charming, but sophisticated, café bar is easily done. And I’ll definitely be back soon to while away a few more.


Nineteen58 Belgrade Cafe

If they had a suggestion box I would be dropping in a polite note about extending opening hours to encourage the pre-theatre crowd. But, in the meantime, I’d say it was definitely worth a trip at any time of day. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, do try and check it out. You’ll soon be shouting encore.

You can check out all the shows coming up at The Belgrade Theatre here