THE ‘Bel & The Dragon at The George’, located in Odiham, Hampshire, is, if you pardon the wine pun, a ‘corker’. But more about the wine later!

We stayed in the ‘Damson’ room (£115pn including breakfast), one of 10 rooms in this Grade II listed inn, and it was quite a ‘cathedral’ of a room with a lofty arched ceiling, exposed beams and a large 16th century mural of ‘A Parliament of Fowls’. To complete the ‘Damson’ theme there was a bottle of Sipsmiths Damson gin with two crystal old-fashioneds in the room, which we were invited to help ourselves to.

The furnishings in the room were largely restored and reclaimed last century, and were chic without being shabby. The king-size bed was one of the most comfortable I had slept in with high quality cotton linen and duvets and pillows with goose feather and down fillings.

Interesting ‘Francis Frith’ photos of Odiham of the past graced the walls of both the bedroom and bathroom, and this was a theme repeated often in the public rooms and passageways.

Bathrooms are modern/ retro and well-tiled, offering a freestanding bath together with a separate large walk-in shower and attractive sink unit. Placed around the room and bathroom there were old editions of adult and children’s classic fiction and travel books.

The dining room offered up a complete contrast in decor. It is a large modern extension aided by light on an early April evening to bathe the entire room.

Tables were well spaced out and the kitchen with its pass was clearly visible for all diners to view the chefs at their craft. The young and enthusiastic staff were excellent throughout our meal, and, in what would normally be a quiet Tuesday night in any other inn, here the room was humming with diners who appear to have made up much of the footfall that evening. It was good to see high quality napkins rather than the usual paper serviettes that are utilised in many establishments at this level.

For starters I had a very large portion of crispy cornish whitebait with mayo on the side (£6) — each of the whole fish enrobed in a good, crisp and not soggy tempura style batter which, on enquiring of the chefs the next morning, they make with soda water and a little beer. The fish was full of flavour and a few more would have made a most satisfying main course in its own right. My wife ordered the crayfish and potted lobster (£12). It came nicely chilled and was again a generous serving.

Our main courses were a marinated and chargrilled fillet steak with violet artichoke and sauce béarnaise (£29) and a grilled atlantic lobster with garlic butter and zucchini frites (£33), both cooked on a Jopser Grill. My wife enjoyed the excellent quality, fresh flavour and texture of the lobster and the frites came lightly coated and offered a crispy alternative texture to the meat of the crustacean.

My steak and accompaniments were served on a board and the fillet was cooked to my order (rare). A good piece of meat with much of the flavour coming from its cooking medium; the Josper Grill cooks at a high temperature, sealing the meat without over-scorching.

For dessert I had the warm gooey chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream and passion fruit glaze and my wife had the white chocolate panna cotta with crushed honeycomb, raspberries and pistachio (both £6). The fondant was ‘textbook’ and good for that, pointed up by the salt/sweet flavour of the excellent ice cream. The panna cotta was creamy, comforting, smooth and rich and the use of honeycomb, pistachio and raspberry added a welcome foil of texture and flavours.

Now to the wine. The oenophile will find him or herself in seventh heaven, and there’s no need to ‘break the bank’. This is because ‘The Bel’ has a very progressive margin policy on wine. If the diner / imbiber is trading up they will not face the common ‘custom & practice’ of three or four times mark-up on the retail price but instead what is employed here is a modest flat-rate monetary margin plus about 50 per cent per bottle. At entry level they offer three house wines (white, rose and red) en magnum from only £3.80 for 125ml / £5 for 175ml or the whole magnum for £38, and I very much enjoyed their ‘own brand’ Oliver Leflaive white and red Burgundy at £9 per 175ml.

There was only one dessert wine available by the glass (and all the other dessert wines by the bottle were Sauternes too which really isn’t suitable to go with chocolate), but, at only £6 for a 75ml glass of Chateau Filhot, I couldn’t resist this relative bargain, so I reserved this for an after meal drink before moving to coffee.

Breakfast was served in the same dining room and cooked to order with the option of a buffet for cereals, muesli and fruit together with make your own toast. A short cooked breakfast menu card offers up such delights as a blueberry pancakes with rindless streaky, caramelized banana and clotted cream.

The Bel & The Dragon offers much to both locals and those from further afield, whether it is for lunch, dinner or a night or two away in this most charming of Hampshire villages. The other branches can be found in Churt, Cookham, Reading and Windsor and I shall look forward soon to searching out my nearest one to home, a few miles away, for me, at Kingsclere.


Derek Kane


Fact box

The Bel & The Dragon at The George, 100 High Street, Odiham, RG29 1LP Tel: 01256 702696. E-mail: Website:

Rooms, including breakfast: from £95 to £125 per room.

Express Lunch: menu items from £6 to £13.

Lunch and Dinner: starters from £6 to £14; main courses from £9 to £33; Puddings from £6.

Wine list: house wines (by the glass 175ml), £5; a further selection from £6 to £9. Bottles from £20 to £45. Cellar selection from £43 to £98. Champagne from £9 a coupe and £48 to £66 per bottle.