Hotel review: Bel & The Dragon, Reading

Bel & the Dragon Reading
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Tim Firmager

Tim divides his time being a Digital Consultant in The City and as a food and travel writer across the globe. When he's not working as one of the Lifestyle Editors here at Vada, he's planning his next trip, or on the lookout for the latest food crazes or unusual foods in London's markets.
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Bel & The Dragon the restaurant group based in the south of England (including the towns of Cookham, Churt, Odiham and Kingsclere) is increasing its BnB offering. Bel & The Dragon Reading, located in a former biscuit factory and boat house has recently opened five new en-suite rooms. We at Vada decided to stay over on a Friday night to find out how this would work for our readership.

Bel & The Dragon Reading is located on the waterfront of the Kennet & Avon Canal and just a short distance from the town centre (15 minutes’ walk to the train station). The main restaurant is open throughout the day, with a separate bar, lovingly restored from its former uses as a boathouse and biscuit factory. The rooms are located upstairs, above the back of house kitchen area. There is a also a boat, which the venue use for private events and as an extended dining area.

Dinner

Laid out with a mixture of booths and tables, the scrubbed wood surfaces are set with second hand books. Tall ceilings with hanging, modern lights give a quirky homely-cum-industrial chic feel to the venue.

To start we chose the Smoked Mackerel Pate (£9) with cucumber and watercress. The pate was well blended and full of flavour. Presentation was excellent in an individual jar, topped with lightly pickled cucumber.

For main course we moved from richness to more richness, in the form of Roasted Duck Breast & Kentish Cherries (£18) served on a bed of green beans. The duck was perfectly cooked, moist and served with just enough jus and cherries for a delicious balance of flavour. We of course had to indulge in sides, it was Friday after all, so had some roast potatoes (any other way is criminal), and cauliflower cheese i.e. Cauliflower baked with smashed garlic and Pecorino (£4).

Staying with our rich theme, dessert was an elegantly presented Valrhona Chocolate Mousse (£7) with popping candy and raspberries, chosen as Valrhona is this writer’s favourite type of chocolate. Valrhona, is a brand from near Lyon known for high-grade chocolate and focussing on products made from a single harvest. It’s flavours are always incredibly rich, so work well in this mousse. Served with edible flowers, cress and berries as a freshness to cut through the creaminess of the chocolate. We were heavily encouraged by the staff to indulged in after dinner cocktail, as it was happy hour, so chose an Espresso Martini (£9) to round off the evening.

Bed

Bel & The Dragon Reading offers five rooms, with assorted furnishings, comfy beds and en-suite bathrooms. They have 1 single room, 3 doubles and 1 premium double room available. We stayed in the latter, named Southcote, which is priced at £125 on Friday nights.

To get to the rooms, guests need to go up some stairs above the back of house kitchen areas. This part is briefly less-than-glamorous; however once inside, the rooms were pleasantly modern and well decorated. The super king sized bed was particularly comfy – we didn’t check mattress (although bedding was Blue Dragon branded), but did not find it hard to drift off to sleep quickly. By way of technology the room has an HD flat-screen TV, phone, alarm clock, and radio (which was set to play when we entered – a nice touch). There is of course wifi as standard.

As a welcome amenity in the Southcote room, there is some Sipsmith Sloe Gin for two, and also vodka and scotch whiskey available in the additional communal tea & coffee making area.

Soft furnishings mixed with recycled wooden furniture, roman-style blinds, and a modern, clean bathroom (with powerful shower), all made for a cosy, comfortable and luxurious stay.

Breakfast

Breakfast can be pre-booked for £12.50 per person before arrival, else menu prices apply. Breakfast is served in the bar area of the restaurant. At 9-something am we had ours, being the only guests there at that time meant a very peaceful way to wake up to the world on a weekend, with staff providing minimum of fuss.

On the breakfast menu, there are a variety of eggs (poached, scrambled with spinach), bacon sandwich or a full English. We chose the organic scrambled eggs with cured salmon (£13 if not pre-booked), with a pot of mint tea – a pleasant surprise to be made with fresh leaves.

Overall thoughts

We went to Bel & The Dragon Reading with preconceptions of a very average BnB stay with not much to offer. What we found though broke these misconceptions: a well executed accommodation offering (aside from the access area), and a thriving restaurant with excellent food, wine and service. The location on the river is ideal for an evening of relaxation, and makes Bel & The Dragon Reading unique enough to stand out. For LGBT readers needing accommodation for work purposes, Bel & The Dragon Reading is comparable in price to the chain hotels, but offers a much more boutique stay, or else as a weekend break (even for local couples).

Single rooms are available from £87.50 + cost of breakfast, and the Southcote (Premium Double) room from £105 during weekdays.

Bel & The Dragon Reading is located at Blakes Lock, Gas Works Road, Reading, RG13EQ, United Kingdom

For more information and to book, visit belandthedragon-reading.co.uk.