Reading is a large town in Berkshire, in southern England. Its close proximity to London – just 25 minute by train – makes it one of the most popular bases for London-bound commuters.
But this town isn’t just popular amongst mid-week rat racers, in recent years Reading has been transformed into a hub of consumer activity having attracted luxury, high street shops and even opened its doors to IKEA back in 2016.
Bel & The Dragon is a chain of swish gastro eateries, which also offer a place to rest your head. The owners promise characterful country inns and fine food and wine and they do not disappoint. The restaurant and rooms in Reading, are situated on the waterfront of the Kennet & Avon Canal, a short 10-minute walk from the rail station. The building itself is full of charm and has retained the character of its former use – a biscuit factory.
Bel & The Dragon offers guests the chance to make a weekend of it and stay the night. There are five rooms on offer – one single, three doubles and one premium double – all of which have recently been made over and tastefully decorated.
The bedroom suites are separated from the main building. Shown to our art deco room, we were taken to the outhouse building and led up a private stairway to the suites. Entering the room was like taking a step back into the 1950s. A large white bed fitted with fluffy pillows and artistic cushions took centre stage. The room came with complimentary coffee, water and gin. Choosing the latter we poured ourselves a glass and settled into the beautiful room.
Each bedroom has its own heated floor en-suite with large shower and toiletries. What made the room so special was the attention to detail. The furniture has been carefully considered. In our room, a large armchair was nestled into the corner next to an ornate dresser with a digital radio, mirror and beautiful lamp on top and to finish, a large television hung on the wall opposite the bed.
The bar and restaurant
Seven years ago the building underwent a complete refurbishment. Tastefully finished, the main bar is fitted with intimate tables and booth benches overlooking the open kitchen and bar with the room divided by an open fire – the perfect setting for a blustery cold night.
The restaurant itself sits off the bar. Having retained the charm of the former factory, the high ceiling room has kept the structural elements on show. Long hanging lights make the room feel less vast with booth tables around the edge of the room preventing the restaurant feeling too empty. Larger tables fill the centre of the room and I was surprised to look up halfway through our meal to find the room packed and buzzing with a lively atmosphere.
The food and drink
Our waiter service could not have been more welcoming. Seated in one of the booths, we were talked through the menu. Head chef Ronnie Kimbugwe offers visitors a full menu focused on classic British dishes with a twist, each with a focus on local, sustainable and, above all, high-quality ingredients.
The restaurant offers a varied selection of wines at competitive restaurant prices. Their house wine is served from a magnum priced at £43 but guests only pay for what they’ve drunk. Thanks to the invention of the coravin, a selection of seasonal iconic wines are available by the glass meaning that the wine that remains in the bottle will continue to evolve naturally.
To start off our meal, we opted for a platter of peppercorn squid with chilli jam to share and were pleasantly surprised with a vast plate of battered fresh squid, exquisitely cooked arrived. Sticking with a fishy theme, my starter of muscles was equally divine and arrived with wholesome, toasted bread.
Opting for the confit duck leg, the celeriac puree was smooth and creamy and the meat itself, cooked to perfection. Unfortunately the lobster – the popular choice – was sold out, however, the chicken and rocket risotto was a suitable alternative.
For dessert, a wide selection of sweet treats was available from lemon tarts to gooey chocolate. We opted for the gluten-free brownies. These arrived on a tray of six bite-size squares. Soft in the middle with an outer crust, these were the perfect finish to our meal.
Guests at Bel & The Dragon have the option to add a breakfast to their booking for £12.50 per person – something I’d highly recommend. Do not, however, expect a bland and boring array of cereals. Whether that’s a hearty bacon sandwich or oatcakes, avocado and cottage cheese, the range of breakfast options is sure to set you up for the day.
The yoghurt and fresh fruit I ordered was exactly that, fresh whilst the blueberry pancakes were thick and packed with berries. Unlike a stodgy American pancake stack, these were more like small cakes topped with crispy bacon – delicious.
Whether you're in need of a place to stay in the area, or just fancy a night away nestled away from the city overlooking the canal, the welcoming staff and cosy setting will make for a comfortable and relaxed weekend – ours was certainly a breath of fresh air.
To browse the menu, book a table or enquire about your stay, visit the Bel & The Dragon.Last modified: June 10, 2021