A pub that’s ready to party
A party atmosphere, food so good you'll want to share, killer cocktails and the friendliest staff - Bel and the Dragon in Reading has got it all going on.
Bel and the Dragon Reading is a former biscuit factory on the Kennet and Avvon Canal, slightly off the beaten track but a short distance from the town centre. The building is a a stunner. It’s more like a chapel than an industrial building, with ornate windows, vaulted ceilings and wood panelling. It’s cosy yet dramatic with a large bar, restaurant and five boutique en-suite bedrooms. It even has it’s own boat (as you do), The Majestic Bel, with a retractable roof – perfect for watery alfresco & private dining.
Scoff and quaff
My partner in crime was one of my oldest gal pals and I thought the Bel and the Dragon was a great place to catch up and, because we were staying over, hit the cocktail list with abandon. Largely because we were going to be making our own. The Bel and the Dragon offer cocktail masterclasses and under the expert tuition of bar manager Tyler we attempted to make a classic mojito and Porn Star martini (you can choose your favourite). Mixing drinks, how hard can it be? Actually quite hard. It was safe to say my concoctions were drinkable but not a patch on the pro’s. I know which side of the bar I will be staying in future. Happy to report, the Porn Star martini is my new favourite drink, so thanks for the intro, Linz.
Before we tuck in the napkin, loosen our belts a notch and get stuck in, Group Head Chef Ronnie Kimbugwe is wortht a mention. He trained with firecracker Gordon Ramsey at Claridges, and is now the beating heart of The Bel & The Dragon. He is larger life, has a mega-watt smile, loves food (not in a pretentious ‘food is my life, you wouldn’t understand’ kinds way). As you would expect, he sources the best local, seasonal ingredients with an emphasis on provenance and quality.
So what’s on the menu? All three courses were made for sharing. Not something I have ever really done before. Mr M NEVER shares food, but I like it. No food envy. We started with pink peppercorn crispy squid with sweet chilli jam, one of my absolute favourites, Maple-glazed sticky wild boar sausages and crispy whitebait. I loved the grazing informality of it all. Its the sort of food I am 100% on board with.
Main course… Turbot served with a luxurious lobster sauce, crispy kale, samphire and pak choi (£42, served 2-3). Not everyone will like having a whole fish sat in front of them. But I’m not remotely squeamish about that sort of thing. Dig in, I say, it’s delicious. The greens were really good and crispy kale is yum.
Pud that comes with an ASBO. The Flaming Baked Alaska (£8pp) was brought to the table, dosed in booze and blow torched. I reckon there was enough pub for four. but the Italian meringue, salted caramel and chocolate ice cream were heaven, rich but not too heavy. Not enough drama for you. Forget the usual coffee to end the meal, we had Espresso Martinis made at the table.
The menu is perfectly complemented by an innovative wine list. Fully loaded on cocktails, we opted for a half bottle of the Bel and the Dragon’s White Burgundy, the same wine served at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, no less. You don’t often have the option of half bottles so it’s a nice touch. The Bel & The Dragon team are in with the best in the biz, so you’ll find Olivier Leflaive, one of Burgundy’s top wine producers, and Champagne House Laurent-Perrier on the menu, so you can sink the world’s most sought after wines at excellent prices both by the glass, bottle and magnum.
Absolutely! The kids are welcomed with open arms. The relaxed atmosphere, discreet play area and friendly staff make it great to enjoy a family meal together without wanting to kill each other by the end of it. The kids menu is just a delicious as the grown ups, there’s not play area and the water may worry parents of marauding toddlers but, at the table, little ones are given kept entertained with crayons and colouring paper giving parents 5 minutes peace.
If you’re thinking of ditching the turkey timings you can party with the family for Christmas lunch, no turkey timings or clearing up, just roll out and try and avoid making a splash.
Boutique vibes all the way, baby. A little bit eclectic, with bold accessories and pattern toned down with muted walls and contemporary framed prints. Metro tiled bathrooms are pretty standard these days but the full size Bramley bath products, made in Somerset using ingredients from the British countryside, was a nice touch. Best of all, because clearly we hadn’t knocked back enough booze for one night, the rooms are kitted out with lush decanters of Sloe gin and whiskey. A little rock ‘n’ roll, I like it. The only downside is the entrance to the rooms is not particularly pretty. It didn’t bother me, after the amount I had had to drink, it’s amazing I could see at all, but you do have whizz past the chef’s entrance to the kitchen.
Out & About
Right outside is the bijou Riverside Museum. it’s only open from April to September and has hosted some really superb exhibitions. There are also some nice riverside walks and, if you’re heading into town to do some shopping, swing by the newly refurbished Abbey Ruins. There’s also plenty of cultural events: The Hexagon theatre has a fantastic programme of comedy, theatre and live music, plus the annual festival’s Reading Fringe, Reading Festival (who needs to rough it, when you can stay here) and the relatively new Reading on Thames Festival are all worth visiting. Plus you’re only 30 minutes by train into London Paddington.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: pretty much everyone. It’s the perfect place to party with work colleagues, friends and family. Enjoy a date night, girlie get together, entertain clients or sneak off for a romantic recharge and stay overnight. Relaxed, welcoming. Home from home but better.
Not for: those looking for formality. It’s not how they roll at the Bel & The Dragon. You won’t be baffled by the cutlery, the menu doesn’t need an interpreter. It’s not fine dining, but the food is mighty fine and the staff are wonderful.
The Damage: Reasonable. Portion sizes are good. You’ll not leave hungry. Starters £6-£12; Mains £13-£69 (beef on the bone for 2-3 people to share is the most expensive thing on the menu) and puds from £6. Fancy staying the night? Rooms start at £87.50.
There are two other locations in Berkshire – Windsor and Cookham; plus Churt in Surrey; Odiham and Kingsclere in Hampshire.