By royal appointment
Gawd knows we love good pub grub, so it’s hello and make mine 3 courses at the Bel & The Dragon Windsor
I finally got the call. Her Majesty, the Queen invited me round to her Windsor gaff 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 in the shadow of Windsor Castle in the pretty, historic town to check out The Bel & The Dragon. Part of a small chain of boutique inns, the Bel in Windsor is in an historic building near Windsor and Eton train station, on the approach to the river and Eton Footbridge. The royal credentials attract a lot of tourists, but with a great selection of shops (Whistles, Sweaty Betty, Zara etc), epic walks, the Theatre Royal and a pop-up ice rink – it’s certainly shaking its pom poms at you to get your attention.
Relaxed, friendly and extremely welcoming, this historic restaurant and tea room has been serving food and drink since the 11th Century, but leave your tankards and pipes at home.
Inside is a bright, light vision of modern rustic loveliness – with a number of comfortable nooks and crannies, furnished with well-worn English antiques and knick knacks – more curiosity shop then co-ordinated. It’s casual, cosy and very chic – a harmonious blend of natural wood, duck egg blues and dark walls with pops of colour from the art and accessories. Obligatory roaring fire to warm yourself up from the cold and Manager Rosie and her fab team catering to your every need.
There are three 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.
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 afternoon tea, if you can’t get through the say with a cuppa and a scone.
So what’s on the menu? Starter… Pink peppercorn squid with a sweet chilli sauce, served on a wooden board. I think if I was choosing my last meal this would be on it. The batter wasn’t greasy and the squid was soft (overcooked and it feels your eating an old car tyre).
Moving onto the main: I decided to choose something a bit seasonal – Hampshire partridge, braised red cabbage and game chips. When it was served it was like a Henry VIII feast. Easily enough for two, but just greedy ol’ me to get stuck in. The partridge was moist, no game chips but the crispiest roasties EVER (if chef could come and do them on Christmas day, that would be magic). It felt very autumnal. My only wobble, was the wooden board it was served on. It gave me gravy angst. To pour or drizzle? It is a dilemma. In case you’re interested, I drizzled for fear of making a right mess and wearing sauce for the rest of the day. The menu has since switched to the Winter offering.
Pud… I’m a Devon gal, so I’ll take any opportunity to harden the arteries with a dollop of clotted cream. Plus I have no willpower when there’s a caramelised lemon tart being wafted under my nose. It was a slice of heaven.
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. If you prefer your culture light but heavy on laughter, book up for Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal (starring 5 Star’s Denise Pearson and The Chase‘s Jenny Ryan) or Windsor On Ice in Alexandra Garden’s – all minutes away from the Bel & The Dragon.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Family Sunday 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: Those wanting to sit 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 (the rotisserie partridge was £16) 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. belandthedragon-windsor.co.uk