February heralds the desire for many to flee to romantic destinations with great food and wine. Luckily, Bel & The Dragon in Kingsclere offers all of this in abundance. It really is a hidden treasure nestling in the Hampshire countryside.
The area is renowned for its links to the classic Richard Adams novel Watership Down. Adams grew up in the high surround hills and it is claimed these very hills were the inspiration for the novel’s setting.
On entering we were greeted by warm roaring fires and even warmer smiles. Also (and we love this), the Bel & The Dragon Kingsclere seemed like a destination where locals and visitors from afar can feel at ease.
Bedrooms are styled in a modern country style with king sized beds, ensuite bathrooms and underfloor heating. Aside from a timeless style and relaxed feel, the rooms each come with an assortment of modern touches. Including HD flat screen TV, Alarm clock, Roberts radio, Hairdryer and Tea & coffee making facilities.
Plus, at Bel & The Dragon Kingsclere, there is a guest drawing room. In the drawing room you can find board games, papers, books, more tea and coffee, plus complimentary Sipsmith Sloe Gin & scotch whisky. A unique touch which made us feel at home and gave us a couple of opportunities for alternative evening activities.
Away from the main bar area, the dining areas are warm, rustic and very comfortable indeed. Two log fires provided a homely dimension– it really is the kind of restaurant you can enjoy and relax in for the entire evening. On the evening we visited, there was also a vibrant atmosphere with lots of energy – quite a surprise for what is a relatively sleepy village!
To start the meal we were indulged by a delicious pink peppercorn squid nibble platter, accompanied by sweet chilli jam. Deliciously seasoned and light, the squid was a tender and dangerously moreish. A glass of Laurent Perrier for each of us topped off a wonderful welcome.
Each Bel & The Dragon restaurant (which there are a few across the South of England) practices a “Root To Table” concept, which is all about reducing the chain from root to table. This is usually achieved by speaking to local and artisan producers and growing a produce on site, something which happens in the chain’s Kingsclere restaurant.
The allegiance is to the concept means that they regularly meet the farmers, visit the animals and establish relationships with producers that support sustainable agriculture practices. This is a relatively common practice for restaurants in the South; however, the concept is executed particularly well. Plus, each member of staff knows the providence of the dishes they are serving and they had thorough knowledge of the produce.
Upon the recommendation of the manager my partner went for the poached duck egg and avocado. The star of the dish however was a homemade bacon chutney. Rich with bacon and a zingy finish, this chutney could be enjoyed every day of the year. If this was sold in shops I would have to make it a regular purchase, delicious! I opted for the sweet seared Scottish scallops with an ensemble of smoked pancetta & cauliflower. Once again, well balanced and cooked superbly, the dish sang with flavour.
Each course was a hit
Cooked in a Josper Grill, my partner enjoyed the chargrilled sirloin steak with thrice cooked chips and a sauce Béarnaise. The Josper Grill allows the chef to sear the steak at very high temperature to retain all of the flavour and ensure the best results. It certainly worked a treat here. My dish of choice was a roasted suckling pig with crispy crackling and spiced apple chutney. Hearty and offset by the spiced apple chutney for a wintery twist.
To accompany the sirloin, we opted for the Bel & The Dragon Red Burgundy (£38). This wine has been produced exclusively for the chain by Olivier Leflaive, one of Burgundy’s most respected producers. Interestingly, the wine was served in stemless wine glasses which took a little getting used to at first!
In a meal studded with great dishes, we certainly were saved the best until last. To finish we were served a stunning classic apple tarte tatin with a vanilla bean ice cream. The apples were perfectly sweet and caramelised. One of the best tarte tatin we have ever tried. To match the sweetness of the dessert, we were treated to a 2007 Château Rieussec Grand Cru Classé, Sauternes.
Following all of this indulgence, we then retired to the bar for an espresso martini night cap. A great night and a great meal!
Duncan (manager of Bel & The Dragon Kingsclere) and his team were very welcoming, warm and professional throughout. We loved the level of knowledge the team conveyed and their passion for what they do. We also got the impression that the Kingsclere Bel & The Dragon team is extremely close knit. This is a particularly important element to any meal or stay, and one that often goes unnoticed. Food is of a particularly high level and the surroundings warrant a visit. One to watch!
Room rates from £115 per night inclusive of VAT and breakfast. Premium room rate (Fridays & Saturdays) £125 per night inclusive of VAT and breakfast. Dog-friendly room rates from £130 inclusive of VAT and breakfast.
Disclosure: For this blog post we were able to gain access to a sample product or service.
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