Muddy reviews: Bel & The Dragon Odiham
You know those all-rounder types that are good at pretty much everything? Yep, that's the Bel and The Dragon at The George - a stylishly appointed restaurant and inn on historic Odiham High Street.
The Bel & The Dragon has country inns dotted across the Muddy counties and this outpost, in the picturesque market town of Odiham, between Farnborough and Basingstoke, is typical of the group with its historical charm and chic relaxed interiors.
Set in The George, a smart Grade II-listed former inn, the original features at Bel & The Dragon Odiham date as far back as 1540 and the venue is tastefully refurbished to make the most of this legacy. The front of the building is occupied by a snug guest lounge (comfy sofas, old books by the bucketload and heritage colours) and Cromwells bar – a stylish update on a quintessential English tavern with flagstone floors, exposed beams, gorgeous dark walls and wooden panelling framing a large fireplace. We arrived on a very drizzly, dark Thursday evening and the space felt instantly welcoming and buzzy.
In contrast, the restaurant at the back offers a totally different style; bright, airy and with farmhouse-style accents – think wooden furniture, industrial lighting, shabby-chic duck egg blue cabinets and pops of red from the salt and pepper shakers. There were cute touches like the pretty artwork of plants and herbs found in the English countryside and vintage books lining the shelves.
It’s hard to fault the vibe here – the space does well in offering something for everyone whether you’re staying for a romantic weekend, dinner with friends or a family meal. The atmosphere is grown up, but not pretentious – kids are definitely welcome and there’s a decent children’s menu. There’s also a sizeable garden and a separate room for private dining, primed for post-pandemic celebrations.
Two words: TOP NOTCH. Food here, I’d say, is a step above your usual gastro fare with a refined à la carte menu of predominately British dishes with excellent presentation.
For starters, we chose two dishes from the sharing-style Nibbles menu – grilled flatbread with harissa and garlic hummus and sweet chilli popcorn shrimp – and the marinated fig, charred broccoli and baby gem salad from the Starters menu (although Devonshire mussels were a close second choice). The nibbles were tasty and the salad, which you can also order as a main, was delicious – perfect for a light lunch on another visit.
For the main I opted for the roasted sea bream with lentils and curried cauliflower while my +1 chose the roasted Gressingham duck breast in maple syrup with carrot puree.
My dish was punchy but with well-balanced flavours and the duck was apparently sublime. Both arrived quickly and with Insta-worthy presentation, if you care about such things!
Dessert was an easy choice: sticky toffee pudding with a dollop of salted caramel ice-cream. Fluffy, rich, gooey – all the right adjectives.
Booze-wise the offering here is strong (literally, The Bel Espresso Martini was deadly delicious) with an ever-evolving curated list of fine wines, local ales, cocktails and British gins. The Bel & Dragon also has its own drinks brand, plus there’s a great selection of non/low-alcohol tipples if you’re designated driver.
Lovely. Each of the inn’s 15 rooms are totally unique, styled by local gal and interior designer Nicola Harding, and are bursting with their own quirks. We stayed in Damson (all the rooms are sweetly named after English flowers and fruits) which featured an elegantly thrown together collection of vintage and antique furniture and a stunningly restored 16th-century wall painting of Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowles on the chimney breast – catnip for history buffs. The bed was king size, decked out with fresh, crisp linens and scored a 10/10 for comfort.
Our room also had two – yes two! – bathrooms, a smaller toilet on the left with gorgeous floral wallpaper and a super-sleek, modern washroom on the right with a freestanding bath and huge rainforest shower, both featuring Bramley toiletries, continuing with the English garden theme.
Rooms here are primed for a romantic overnighter, but if you’re travelling in a group, there’s also The Coach House at the back of the venue, a newly renovated five-bedroom annexe.
Breakfast the next morning featured all your usual crowd-pleasers (Full English, lots of eggy options), plus locally sourced produce including Owton pork sausages and Hampshire black pudding. We chose avocado and poached eggs and Eggs Royale with London Porter smoked salmon. Both were tasty and poached eggs were runny all round.
OUT & ABOUT
You’re slap bang in the centre of historic Odiham with its smart Georgian townhouses and great indie boutiques like Libélula. Destination foodie-stop, Newlyn’s Farm Shop, is a short hop away in North Warnborough. Head down one of the pathways leading off the High Street for a stroll along The Basingstoke Canal, where you’ll find the 13th Century Odiham castle (above). The Vyne, a National Trust must-visit, is also just 20 minutes drive away.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pretty much anyone, but a romantic weekend away would be the top of my list.
Not for: Kids are welcome here but the venue has a relaxed, grown-up vibe that might not suit screaming tearaways!
The damage: Very reasonable with double rooms from £90. Foodwise, starters are around £8 and mains range from £13 for vegan bolognese up to £26 for a ribeye steak. There’s also a meaty sharing menu (two – three people) starting from £63 for salt-baked lamb. Desserts are around £6.
Bel & The Dragon Odiham, 100 High St, Odiham, Hook, RG29 1LP. Tel: 01256 702696