Bel & The Dragon, Odiham, hotel review

There are seven country inns in the Bel & The Dragon group, four of which have rooms for overnight stays – Cookham, Churt, Kingsclere and, the one that I stayed at in Odiham.

Formally The George Hotel, the Bel & The Dragon group refurbished the Grade II listed building in 2014 and turned the hotel into a pub with fifteen rooms and a restaurant.

Bel & The Dragon, Odiham, hotel review

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The refurbishment retained many of the original features from as far back as 1540. In the pub, the wood-panelled bar is cosy with a roaring log fire, and on my visit with my boyfriend Dan and dog Miso, the place was packed to the rafters (rather, gorgeous beamed ceilings) with locals having a beer or two on a chilly Friday night. There’s also a snug area with more comfy sofas and the restaurant is at the back of the building.

What about dinner?
As soon as we arrived, hungry after a long rush hour drive from London, we quickly put our bags (and Miso) in our room and rushed straight back to the restaurant for dinner. The bright, spacious room was filled with families from the town and guests staying at the hotel.

Sitting next to the wood-burning stove, we had five minutes of silence while trying to decipher the vast menu. It was almost too much to take in. There were nibbles and starters, starters that could also be mains, main mains, mains from a rotisserie, mains from a josper grill, mains to share, and side orders. Sometimes I wonder why restaurants don’t make it easier for themselves – and their guests – by serving a smaller menu with really, really good dishes. It would be easier for the kitchen to make and, I think, better for the customer to know that passion and skill has gone into creating top-notch dishes instead of average dishes without care and attention.

I digress… I had the crayfish and potted lobster to start, while Dan had the seared Lyme Bay scallops. For mains, I had the Cornish lemon sole and Dan opted for a chargrilled sirloin steak.

Out of the four dishes, two were good – but the other two, not so much (my previous comments about the menu stand true). My potted shrimp was served ice cold so the clarified butter was rock hard and crumbled under the pressure of the knife. It was also obvious that the bread, served with the starter, had been pre-charred so although it had a wonderful smoky taste, it had gone soft instead of having that lovely toasted texture. However, Dan’s scallops, served with pancetta and puréed Jerusalem artichokes, were a triumph – excellent fresh produce being cooked-to-order and well.

The chef cooking on the fish station that evening was on a roll – my sole was also perfectly cooked and served with fresh samphire, capers and parsley. But Dan’s steak, served with triple-cooked chips, was overdone and the accompanying béarnaise was thin and lacklustre.

And the drinks?
The wine menu is terrific. Special attention has obviously been paid to creating a tome of excellent wine choices including the Bel & The Dragon Cellar List, which has great vintages of wine by the glass. They use the Coravin system, which allows wines to be poured from a bottle without removing the cork – there’s no risk of oxidation on the remaining wine in the bottle, so it can be kept for much longer than an un-opened bottle.

What’s in the room?
Full from dinner and tired after a hectic working week, we retreated to our room to indulge in trashy TV shows and a mint tea in bed. This was our first moment to fully take in the beautiful room, in one of the outbuildings behind the pub. It was perfect for unwinding: quiet, comfortable and the best king size bed with crisp white linen, heavy wool blankets and plump cushions. There was also a bottle of sloe gin to help ourselves to.

The bathroom was modern with clean white, subway-style tiles, a walk-in shower and Bramley toiletries.

Miso was also a happy hound with his own dog bed, water bowl and complimentary pot of dog biscuits.

How was breakfast?
The breakfast menu was small, simple and to the point (hallelujah!). There were eight items on there including a ‘proper’ bacon sandwich, a full English breakfast, poached duck egg with avocado and – my choice – the blueberry pancakes with crispy bacon, clotted cream and caramelised banana. It was so good: pillowy pancakes, salty bacon, sweet blueberries and rich cream – the breakfast of champions.

There was also a bread station with fresh cut-your-own loaves, good butter, preserves and pastries, plus a selection of cereals, yogurts and fresh juices. We could have spent the whole morning grazing on the great food.

Where is Bel & The Dragon Odiham and how do I get there?
Situated in the picturesque Hampshire countryside, Odiham is a historic village between Basingstoke and Farnborough. The nearest railway station is Hook, which is well connected on the London and South Western railway. Or if you’re visiting by car, the village is close to the M3.

What else is there?
Within walking distance is Odiham Castle, built between 1207 and 1214, which is definitely worth exploring. If you have a car, Alice Holt Forest is nine miles away and is good for walks, bike rides and picnics (when the weather is warm), and there’s a Go Ape ropes course in the trees for daredevils. There’s also Birdworld, one of the UK’s largest bird parks, 10 miles away and, a little closer to Bel & The Dragon, is Basing House with its museum, garden and The Great Barn, built in 1535.

What’s the damage?
A gourmet getaway, including a three-course dinner for two, a glass of Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rosé, overnight stay and breakfast the next morning for £160. That’s just £80 each – a bargain and great way to unwind after a busy working week.

Anything else to add?
Pav, who looked after us on our stay, deserves a very special mention – he was brilliant. He showed us to our room, looked after us at dinner, brought fresh mint tea to our room and was even there for breakfast the next morning. He was welcoming, kind and informative without being too over-the-top.

Bel & The Dragon at The George
100 High Street, Odiham, Hook, RG29 1LP
01256 702696

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