Restaurant review: Bel & The DragonBy Hilary Scott
May 17, 2012
It’s summer time and I’m about to rave about a cosy log fire.
Mad I know, but after the brief peep of the sun at the weekend, as I write this on Monday morning it’s cold and wet again.
Which is why you need to pop down to a place that's probably best known for its summer al fresco dining – the Bel & The Dragon at Blake’s Lock.
And that’s because with a new open-sided fire between the bar and restaurant you can remain warm and dry in our drab summer while still getting a good look at the waterfront of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
I’ve only been once to the Bel since the bar was expanded about a year ago and the fire only adds to the atmosphere of one of the airiest, roomiest restaurant/bars in Reading.
The high ceilings only add to the feeling of space and every time I come here I think I must come more often.
And that's also because I’ve never been disappointed – the food matches the atmosphere.
The menu has been created by Ronnie Kimbugwe, previously senior sous chef of Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, and longstanding head chef Steve Rooney, and they boast it’s fine but modern British cuisine.
They’ve even got an on-trend Josper Grill and cook fillet or sirloin or lobster on there.
Or you can have rotisserie meats -– Creedy carver duck (a free range duck from Devon), a whole roasted coquelet (like a poussin) or roasted suckling pig which comes with a braised cheek.
The starter menu is not enormous which is good – Devonshire Mussels in Scrumpy Jack Cider and Bacon Broth (which I’ve had in the past and it’s a more robust dish than the white wine version), Pink Peppercorn Squid, Smoked Mackerel and Bacon Salad, Wild Garlic & White Onion Soup, Salad of Duck, Spring Onion and Radishes.
I made my dining pal Karen order the Marinated Beetroot & Burrata, Basil Pesto and Roasted Pine Nuts (£9) because I thought it sounded great and she didn’t hold it against me when it came.
Pretty as a picture, the colours and flavours were zingy and fresh with candy beetroot as well as the usual red.
I had the Seared Scottish Scallops Cauliflower Purée and Local Garden Cress (£12), not cheap, but top-notch scallops and a really creamy and smooth cauliflowr puree meant I was soon regretting not ordering as a main which comes in at £18.
Main courses I think are great value – you can have a lovely fish pie for £11 which is cheaper than my scallop starter or a Rabbit, Chorizo and White Bean Stew for just over a tenner too.
Bel and the Dragon’s speciality main is the sharing platter of Hereford Rib of Beef on the Bone, Vine Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Confit Garlic which feeds two to three for £66.
I loved this when I had it before so this time decided to try the Jopser grilled lobster, a half Dorset Blue at £25.
Fat and juicy, it oozed buttery goodness and came on a wooden platter with some roasted veg including samphire and I ordered a side of thrice (note not your common or garden triple!) cooked chips (£3).
My only complaint was the menu said it came with warm garlic butter which I presumed would be in a ramekin like the drawn butter they eat in New England but it didn't. But to be fair the buttery lobster didn’t need much extra.
Karen was allowed her own choice of main and went for the day’s special halibut which was grilled and sat atop roasted veg, again including samphire, and mash with a rich hollandaise and she was proud of her own choice, saying it was just gorgeous.
Now that she’d got her own way once there was no stopping her and she dived headlong into the pudding menu (all great value at £6) choosing the Warm Gooey Triple Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio Ice Cream – she adored the ice cream and the unusual pairing.
I had British farmhouse cheeses from the board, Godminster, Stinking Bishop and Ticklemore which came with celery, grapes and a lovely cinnamony fig chutney. Godminster was a first – it’s an organic cheddar from the Somerset town of the same name with a burgundy wax coating and was strong and tangy.
A couple of glasses of port later and the fire was calling. We could easily have pulled up our chairs to it and dozed contentedly.
But it might have frightened the regulars – of which there are a lot – so instead we pulled on our winter coats and stepped outside into the rainy night, looking forward to the day we could return to sit outside in summery clothes and sunglasses.
But would you put money on it?