Bel & The Dragon
An eerie wood parted its ribs, an unearthly building stood, rusted dragons adorned its frame. They called it the ‘Pride of the Valley’, valley of the dead perhaps. This was the setting for a dying hotel at the end of a winding road in sleepy Churt. A place which understandably finds its place in many of my memories from my youth as my local pub. The place had a chilling character about it, mismatched adornments, twisted iron sculptures, creaky floorboards, its soul was certainly present but it forever seemed to be fading.
As a teenager I enjoyed entertaining the idea of a haunted hotel in a lost forest, something akin to a tavern in Sleepy Hollow. It reflected my emotional and personal experiences at the time but as I grew older, this darkened image of the forgotten forest of my mind altered, my perception changed, it brightened. As sun beams broke the shadowed ground, and redolent glades emerged, a new place to rest your head arose from the ashes. Not the kind of eternal rest adopted by the house on haunted hill but one which welcomed warm smiles in new breaks of dawn.
‘Bel & The Dragon’, a fitting country inn for such a beautiful setting. Woods where Hollywood films like ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Robin Hood’ were filmed. The building has been restored, it’s brighter, warmer, more welcoming; and even as part of chain, it stands alone in this spot quite nicely. There is a freshness about it, albeit it is brand new, but its charm is evidently present. The staff are fantastic, the hospitality feels genuine, no false pretences or bullshit, just nice people.
Let’s talk food. The menu is clean and concise, simple, small and uncomplicated; I remember thinking there’s something very ‘Gordon Ramsay-esque’ about it. I later discovered that the group executive chef is Ronnie Kimbugwe, former sous chef of Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. The produce is recognisably British and local, something not uncommon at present but that which should be applauded. The majority coming from Laverstoke Park, Jody Scheckter’s fantastic organic/biodynamic farm in Hampshire. Some produce is even sourced from the infamous ‘foie gras’ butcher of Selfridges, Jack O’Shea. Regardless of your opinion on foie gras, I had some of his Hereford ribeye, roasted to perfection, and it was some of the finest I have ever had. You should definitely pop in for a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, each part is executed perfectly and the result is a damn good plate of comfort food.
So if you ever feel the need to visit this part of the country, have a walk in the famous woods, enjoy the fresh countryside air, why not stay here? The rooms are beautiful, the food tasty, the beer cold; and with wonderful service, who could want more from a country inn. I’d come back just for a pint and the crispy Cornish whitebait.
Bel & The Dragon