Bel & The Dragon, Churt GU10 2LD - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 08:50 18 December 2013 | UPDATED: 09:46 30 March 2015
New owners have breathed fresh life into a country inn that has entertained the political elite over the years, as Matthew Williams discovered on a recent trip...
Bel & The Dragon
Jumps Road, Churt, Farnham GU10 2LD
Tel: 01428 605799
What we ate:
Seared yellowfin tuna with mustard, wasabi and soy, £11
Poached duck egg and avocado with bacon chutney and hollandaise, £8
Rabbit, chorizo and white bean stew with warm chunky bread, £13
Jack O’Shea fillet steak with thrice cooked chips, £28
Cheese selection with celery, grapes and fig chutney, £9
Blackberry cheesecake with a twist, £6
Bel & The Dragon red Burgundy, Olivier Leflaive, 2010, £33
In my regular adventures around Surrey, one of my favourite places to visit is the Sculpture Park near the village of Churt. Found down winding lanes, out in lush countryside, it’s a magical place to while away a day with a picnic while perusing inspiring works of art – its only downfall, being its lack of certain, erm, facilities and hence its role in this story.
Many years ago, having completed the various twisting paths through the sculpture park’s grounds, we found ourselves in the foyer of the hotel opposite on the hunt for refreshment. After about 10 minutes of searching round something of a ghost ship, we finally stumbled upon someone who was able to whip up a coffee and orange juice. It is said that former prime minister Lloyd George used the hotel on a regular basis while entertaining guests, before moving to the area permanently in 1922 when he began fruit farming, so maybe it was just an off day. Either way, it was not the most auspicious of starts and one that meant we were never really in any rush to head back there.
But all that was before new owners Longshot moved in with their Bel & The Dragon brand. They already have successful establishments in Cookham, Godalming (the renovated church you may well have driven past and contemplated entering), Reading and Windsor, and so I was more than a little intrigued to see whether they’d manage to bring their spark to Jumps Road.
On the weekday night we visited, the fog was starting to lie across the roads, creating a scene akin to a Sherlock Holmes novel and an impressively isolating effect considering that we were only minutes from the A3. Like a beacon on the crossroads, the country inn materialised through the mist.
Making our way inside, it was noticeably busier than our previous encounter – in fact, it was positively bustling. The interior designers had obviously worked their magic too. Modern and rustic blend together in the style of the day and there are neatly piled copies of fresh magazines and newspapers dotted about the place – as well as plenty of bookshelves hinting at the literary twist in the bedrooms upstairs, which all have Jane Austen themed names, in deference to her connections with nearby Chawton.
Having dispatched our bag to our own spacious room (Darcy, in case you were wondering) – where we found more shelves filled with books, heated floors and a complimentary bottle of sloe gin – we relaxed in the bar before entering the dining room.
Heart of the action
Sitting at a central table with a commanding view of the room, conversation bubbled around us while the open kitchen window offered a glimpse into the action.
The first thing we noticed was that they do their wine a little differently at the Bel & The Dragon. House wines are served from a magnum, with customers charged according to how much they have drunk.
Erring on the side of caution, we opted for a regular bottle of their mid-priced own brand wine. A relationship with French winemaker Olivier Leflaive means that they produce their own white and red burgundies. We decided on the red and it proved a very pleasing tipple, served in cut-off wine ‘beakers’ that took a little getting used to sans stems.
The concise menu was still packed with tempting dishes and for each course there are delicious sounding sharing options: scallop and mussel dishes to start, shoulder of lamb and beef on the bone for the main courses.
Instead though, I opted for the seared yellowfin tuna, which had a pleasantly rampant kick to it thanks to its wasabi hit, while my wife Sylviane chose the poached duck egg. Served with avocado, bacon chutney and hollandaise, the latter turned out to be a real winner.
For the main course, I kept things simple with the Jack O’Shea fillet steak with thrice cooked chips and peppercorn sauce – perfectly cooked to order with tender meat, and the peppercorn sauce was excellent. Sylviane’s rabbit, chorizo and white bean stew proved equally delicious, if a little volcanic in its perspex container.
To finish, I went for a fantastic deconstructed blackberry cheesecake that hit my sweet tooth perfectly while my wife opted for the cheese selection, which included Godminster Cheddar, Ticklemore goat cheese and Colston Bassett Stilton.
Group executive head chef Ronnie Kimbugwe is a former sous chef of Gordon Ramsay at Claridges and while we settled for the more earthy main courses, there was certainly a flair to note about the starters and my dessert.
Unfortunately, with work bright and early the next morning, we had to leave the complimentary whiskey bar near our room alone and also skip breakfast, but suffice to say we enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant evening and overnight stay. The room was warm, cosy and serene on a cold autumn night, and I can envisage business people travelling to the area or families visiting relatives being equally comfortable with the offering.
So, the Dragon has made its entrance to Churt and from first impressions it would appear to have landed a knock-out blow.
3 more great country inns in Surrey
The Richard Onslow
113-117 High Street, Cranleigh GU6 8AU Tel: 01483 274 922
The Richard Onslow is an intriguing mix of drinking pub, top quality restaurant and relaxing weekend hideaway – a fine balancing act that they perform with some skill.
Wiremill Lane, near Lingfield RH7 6HJ Tel: 01342 832263
As you’d expect from a mill with a history of water power, The Wiremill sits at an idyllic lakeside location and has a menu to match the view – it also has rooms if you choose to stay .
Petworth Road, Chiddingfold GU8 4TY Tel: 01428 684688
After 20 years spent running one of London’s ‘best kept secrets’ – the Swag and Tails pub in Knightsbridge – the owners moved down to Surrey for a new start in rural Chiddingfold.