Windsor’s Bel of the ball
Royal brides are like buses in Windsor but there's only one bel of the ball. So it’s hello and make mine 3 courses at the Bel & The Dragon.
I finally got the call. Her Majesty, the Queen invited me round to Windsor Castle to honour me for services to journalism and food… OK, so I’m working on that, but wouldn’t it be wonderful? Nonetheless, I am within bread roll throwing distance of the Windsor’s most famous residence to check out The Bel & The Dragon. Part of a small chain of boutique inns, the Bel in Windsor is in an historic building on the approach to Eton Footbridge.
Relaxed, friendly and extremely welcoming, this restaurant and tea room has been serving food and drink since the 11th Century, but leave your tankards and pipes at home. It’s very chic.
Inside is a vision of modern rustic loveliness, recently given an interiors reboot with a lick of paint in richer tones to make the many nooks and crannies, furnished with well-worn English antiques, knick knacks and artwork look warmer and elegant with the obligatory roaring fire.
There are four rooms to dine, each slightly different in size. The two rooms at the front are bright, perfect people-watching perches while the bigger room at the back would lend itself to larger groups and parties. Plus a small private dining room upstairs, great for workie lunches and intimate family dinners.
The Windsor branch offers solid, seasonal English grub done well: there’s a rotisserie (suckling pig with perfect crackling), a Josper grill, and a fab children’s menu, featuring healthy, homemade takes on classic favourites. Happy kids, happy parents and that’s before you’ve sunk your first sauv blanc. Oh and they offer a cracking afternoon tea, if you can’t get through the day with a cuppa and a scone.
So what’s on the menu? Starter… smoked salmon served with toasted sour dough bread, horseradish créme fraiche and pickles. A dish like this can seem bland but the pickles and horseradish packed a punch making a light starter, utterly memorable.
Moving onto the main: it’s winter, so hug in a bowl is eating out perfection. I went for the Veal Bologanese. I know it falls into the same category as chicken. Why order something you have at home? Answer: because it’s better than to my poor relative to this beauty – fresh wide ribbons of parley pasta, smothered in a rich veal bolognese sauce. Yum.
Pud… Did someone say tart? No not me, cheeky. Caramelised passion fruit tart with mascarpone ice cream. I have no willpower when it comes to pastry and the sharpness of the passion fruit stopped this from being too sickly. The spotless plate, tells you everything you need to know.
It’s worth noting that there are separate menus for brunch, afternoon tea, vegans, kids, feasts and parties. All perfectly complemented by an innovative wine list. I knocked back a of Bel and the Dragon’s White Burgundy (from the legendary wine producers Olivier Leflaive), the same wine served at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, no less. It’s delicious.
Out & About
OK day trippers, there’s a lot to squeeze in – for good shopping head to Windsor Royal arcade – Whistles, LK Bennett, French Connection, Benefit, Le Creuset, Daniel’s department store and much more. Windsor Castle is within striking distance, so don’t miss the opportunity to have a nose around the Queen’s residence, followed by a a stroll down Long Walk. Epic views of Great Windsor Park, roaming deer and the kids can run free. Let’s do the timewarp and hop across Eton Footbridge. Spot the tail-coated kids from the famous Eton College, lots of great indie shops and historic buildings for history nerds to ooh and ahh at.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Family weekend brunches and lunches, cheeky mid-week meet-ups with friends, pre-theatre dinners, cosy weekend meals and those needing a reliable pit-stop on the way home.
Not for: Anyone wanting a garden to boot the kids into. There are a few pavement tables when the weather is nice, but when you have the Queen’s backyard to play in, it would only lead to disappointment.
The Damage: Excellent. Portion sizes are good. You’ll not leave hungry. The Express Lunch Menu is available during the week and, with prices starting at £4, it’s amazing value. Kid mains started £6/£9 (2-course Sunday lunch menu is £10); Starters £6-£11; Mains £9-£33 and puds from £6.
There are two other locations in Berkshire – Cookham and Reading; plus Churt in Surrey; Odiham and Kingsclere in Hampshire.
Bel & The Dragon, Thames Street, 1 Datchet Road, Windsor Berkshire SL4 1QB. Tel: 01753 866056.