Wiltshire-based landlady Becci Cole has built a home-away-from-home pub for the community of Royal Wootton Bassett, paying homage to the traditional Scotch egg with modern techniques and local flavours.
Charming, quaint and full of smiling faces, Royal Wootton Bassett is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone. But in between the independent cafes and book shops is the only thatched public house in the area – The Five Bells. Here you can sink your teeth into the homemade burgers, triple-fried chips or the evening specials, washed down with a pint from the local brewery in front of the fireplace. “I think people have realised our food isn’t just bog standard. It’s tasty”, says Becci Cole. “We have customers come back now and they’ll try things that they’ve never tried before.” Although none hold the highly esteemed reputation of the Scotch egg, which has never left the pub’s menu.
Originally built in the 17th Century, The Five Bells was taken over by Cole and her husband Simon in August 1998, after working in sandwich bars and pub in London for 10 years. I’m welcomed into the pub with a friendly smile from Cole, the kind which embodies warmth and comfort. She’s got a pixie cut hair style and bohemian style, eluding the small town, festival vibe and an obvious passion for her well-established home.
As you walk in, you’ll see punters enjoying a drinking session beneath the reclaimed original beams or outside in the comfortable beer garden. Pubs are known for being a place to catch up with friends over a drink and food, but fundamentally, they create a sense of community. Here, The Five Bells has customers from across the country taking a pit stop solely to indulge in the British delight. The mastermind behind the dish Cole tells me was her first chef, Tom Dodd. “He just said, ‘I’d like to try making a scotch egg’ and I said, ‘if you can make a scotch egg that you’re happy with and I’m happy with, we can put it on the menu.’ The recipe hasn’t changed since,” she explains.
While the classic picnic snack is challenging to get right even by some of the most renowned chefs, Cole has created a moreish twist by incorporating the subtle hint of black pudding into locally sourced pork meat that hugs a soft-boiled egg with a jammy yolk, coated in crunchy golden breadcrumbs and accompanied by locally created mayonnaise and homemade spiced fruit chutney. “The perfect scotch egg is all in the timing,” Cole says is the secret behind the snack’s success.
This life-long love affair with cooking stems back to childhood for Cole, who remembers fondly cooking with her mother and learning the importance of utilising everything in the kitchen, before working in restaurants in her hometown Blackpool. “My mum and my grandma always cooked everything; we were never microwave kids. We will always cook properly, and we still do at home”, says Cole.
With this instilled knowledge, Cole has been able to experiment with the humble Scotch egg to suit the dietary needs of new and old customers. “Over the past five years, we’ve definitely been having more celiac and more gluten-free requests” Cole tells me, but she’s no stranger to reinventing dishes to suit different requirements. Having studied food economics in college, Cole is a natural in the kitchen. “I read recipe books like people read in bed”, she shares with me. Recent innovations include the veggie Scotch egg replacing pork with mildly curried carrot and chickpeas to offer an Indian culinary experience.
As Cole spent years polishing her expertise, we fast forward to 2018 where The Five Bells won Pub of the Year with many customers describing the public house as ‘a place where staff go out their way to make you feel welcome’. Two years later, The Five Bells was awarded Pub of the Year again for its takeaway service and attention to detail in light of the Covid restrictions ensuring regular customers have a place to chat with staff at the window like old friends. “We’re very lucky that we’ve been here so long, and we’ve got a good steady flow of customers that want to support us,” Cole reflects as she shares that to ensure no food was wasted during lockdown much of it went to the local church and food banks for those less fortunate in the area.
Despite the broad spectrum of customers, Cole is able to remember people’s faces; from chatting to guests who first visited on their first date and are now married, to people visiting this pub for 45 years; developing not just friendships, but sister and brotherhoods – The Five Bells is a part of their self-identity. Cole shares that it’s the conversations and orders which remain the most memorable “It’s ‘you know such and such, they have a white wine on the weekend or that’s my scotch egg man.’ That sort of thing, you know?”
For Cole, The Five Bells is the body of Royal Wootton Bassett, but the people and the food are its beating heart. “We always wanted to be a proper pub with good food, good beer and good people. That’s it,” Cole says with a warm smile. It is the years of dedication to the menu and community which has made the pub a landmark for the town. Even more so, it’s why Cole thinks about each stage of her menu from start to finish. “Nothing in boiled in a bag – everything’s cooked,” she explains highlighting the love and care of every dish.
Maintaining, or even exceeding such a high reputation can be difficult, but Cole is optimistic about the future of the pub. “We’ve got to work with what we’ve got. Adapt, adapt, adapt,” she says, reflecting on owning a public house as a constant learning process she enjoys. Becci Cole isn’t just a woman with a love for the kitchen, she’s a woman with a genuine appreciation for the people she serves; using her creativity to make staple British classics for local people. Yet, it seems many regulars at the pub are set with some of the menu’s old favourites. “I think if we ever took them [Scotch eggs] off the menu, there would be a riot.”