checking in | bel and the dragon

Bel & the Dragon has six properties across Surrey and Berkshire, and they’ve recently upgraded the Reading site by adding five new bedrooms, so we dropped in to check them out. Just a 25-minute train from Paddington, Reading is a great stopover if you’re heading further west or you need a base to explore the countryside, like taking a long walk up the Kennet & Avon canal. Bel & the Dragon is right on the water and it certainly makes the most of the fab location, with a BBQ area, fire pit, outside bar, al fresco seating and the private hire Majestic Bel barge. You can even pull up by boat if that’s how you roll.

Unlike the other country inns in the group, this Bel & the Dragon is actually an old biscuit factory and many original features, like a series of pulleys, have been kept. The rooms – one premium double, three doubles and one single – are all decked out in a homely country style, with checked blankets, playful prints and piles of old books (so you don’t have to worry about bringing one with you). Each one also has a HD flat screen TV, Roberts radio, an en-suite bathroom with underfloor heating, and there’s a complimentary stash of tea, coffee, Scotch whisky and Sipsmith Sloe Gin at the end of the corridor.

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If you’re more of a wine drinker, there’s an impressive list down at the bar featuring a mix of vintages and staff faves, and whilst they serve their house wines by the magnum, you only pay for what you drink. Although sat by the wood fire on a cold evening it wouldn’t be too difficult to polish off a whole one. It’s worth heading into the main restaurant too; not only can you really get a sense of the history of the building but group head chef Ronnie Kimbugwe has created a great modern gastropub menu that changes seasonally.

We polished off a plate of burrata with beetroot and blood orange and some excellent cured trout with pickled cucumber and horseradish creme fraiche, before meaty mains of roasted suckling pig with spiced apple chutney and some very crispy crackling and glazed confit duck leg with celeriac puree and a sticky fig jam. Both came with duck fat roasties on the side and the portions were so generous that we could only split a slice of lemon tart for dessert. There are proper sharing puds on the menu if you do manage to leave yourself more room – we saw a baked alaska pass by our table and it looked pretty epic.

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Bel & the Dragon is a great place to have up your sleeve if you’re passing through Reading, especially on a Sunday where you can get a discounted room rate if you eat there… a roast, a bottle of wine and a lie down sounds like the ideal way to end a weekend.

Blakes Lock, Gas Works Road, Reading, RG1 3EQ