Getting a breath of fresh country air is always a pleasure for city folk like myself. So an invitation to visit Bel & the Dragon Kingsclere, a boutique inn was right up my street. Even more so because the invitation came from Laurent-Perrier, one of my favourite champagne houses. I’ve long been a fan of their champagne, savouring it at The Dorchester, 12 Hay Hill and The Corinthia to name just a few. We arrived in Kingsclere, the picturesque village in Hampshire where Bel & the Dragon is located, on a sunny Friday afternoon.
It’s a charming country inn with exposed timber beams giving a very cosy atmosphere.
Fellow foodies Angie, Laura, Lauren and I checked into our rooms, which continued the comfy theme. My room overlooking the main street was bright and airy with two large windows.
There was a Roberts radio, a good selection of vintage paperbacks and even some Sipsmith gin!
I loved the pink throw and cushions on the bed, if only all hotels had such attractive decorative touches!
The bathroom had a fabulous roll-top bath and aromatic Bramley toiletries.
We toasted the Indian Summer with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé.
Its delicate bouquet was the perfect accompaniment for the tasty platters of charcuterie, crab terrine and mackerel paté.
The pizza is a local favourite, prepared in the pretty courtyard’s wood-fired oven.
There are actually 7 Bel & the Dragon inns spread over the South of England. Co-owners Joel Cadbury and Ollie Vigors set out to create unique properties that have stylish interior design and great food – they’ve certainly succeeded.
After lunch we took a walk around Watership Down, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty iimmortalized by Richard Adams in his book, subsequently made into the iconic film.
I saw the film years ago and cried my eyes out but didn’t realize that it was a real place. The bunnies of the book and film were nowhere to be seen but I’m assured that normally they’re in abundance 😉
Next came a real highlight – a visit to Kingsclere Park House Stables with Anna Lisa and Andrew Balding. Sports run in his family as his sister Clare is the President of the Kingsclere Racing Club. Andrew is a talented horse trainer and the Queen and foreign royalty are just some of those who have entrusted their horses to him.
And that’s not just for the stabling, they also count on him to select the best horse to run on the day, depending on their current form.
It was a pleasure to see the horses, some of whom are housed in the original Victorian stable blocks.
We also admired the statue of Mill Reef, a multiple prize-winning horse, as well as the superb horse training facilities, including an equine swimming pool. Alessandra and Andrew then kindly invited us for tea in their house. With children going in and out and awards dotted around, the atmosphere was charming.
Having had a privileged insight into the world of horse training, we returned to Bel and the Dragon for a chilled glass of Laurent-Perrier Brut before dinner. Joining us in the bar was Ronnie Kimbugwe, group head chef for the Bel and the Dragon group. After working at Claridges, he’s brought his wealth of experience to oversee all of the Bel and the Dragon properties. He’s a real character with a sense of fun but a real eye for detail. Ronnie has introduced the concept of Root To Table, where much of the produce used is sourced locally, and many vegetables are grown in the garden.
It’s rare that every course of a meal is perfect but this was completely faultless. Our crab terrine starter was enlivened with apple pieces and worked perfectly with the Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut champagne. This is a good choice for anyone watching their waistline but who doesn’t want to miss out on taste, thanks to the zero-dosage, i.e. no added sugar.
Our main course of venison actually came from Kingsclere itself. Ronnie has a close relationship with local suppliers so can source some really seasonal ingredients. It was served with crispy roast potatoes and fresh homemade coleslaw.
I have to admit that I helped myself not to seconds but to thirds, this dish was so good! We finished with an apple tarte tatin, one of my favourite dishes.
Bel and Dragon Kingsclere is known for its coffee martinis, and although I’m not a coffee fan, I had a little taste before switching back to Laurent-Perrier. Each Bel and Dragon has its own cocktail specialty.
We ended our evening in the cosy upstairs games room, playing Scrabble.
I slept like a baby and woke up feeling refreshed and vowing to return with Paul. Bel & the Dragon and Laurent-Perrier are offering a perfect gourmet getaway, with an overnight stay, three-course dinner, a glass of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé & breakfast the following morning – all for £160 for two. You can even add a a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé in your room for an additional £63. Thanks to Bel & the Dragon and Laurent-Perrier for a truly sparkling stay!
Bel & the Dragon, Swan Street, Kingsclere, Newbury, Hampshire RG20 5PP