Surrey’s proximity to London has made it a popular weekend break destination for city-slickers who go for its health spas, great deals on bed and breakfasts and country houses to rent, but now there’s another reason to visit Surrey, its food, as Jemima Boost discovers on a stay at Bel & The Dragon in Churt
Surrey’s thick forests, winding paths and green hills, make its countryside is the stuff of great English novels. So it’s little wonder that Joel Cadbury turned to them for inspiration when naming the 14 bedrooms of his stylish new B&B Bel & The Dragon in the small village of Churt, Surrey.
Behind Darcy, Woodhouse and Willoughby you’ll find a world of soft beds, antique furnishings, well-stocked bookshelves, Nespresso machines and sloe gin; a homely air that is reinforced by the communal whisky bar and jars of sweets at every corner. It’s these generous touches that set Bel & The Dragon apart from others in Surrey, that and the service.
Downstairs in Bel & The Dragon’s attached pub, Converse-clad staff confidently make menu recommendations, while manager Mike Procopakis plays the role of the perfect host, charming guests, explaining the wine list, and generally adding to the welcoming atmosphere of this Surrey B&B.
On a Friday night, Bel & The Dragon’s restaurant is packed with tourists and Surrey locals, but there’s a lovely unhurried feel to the place, the menu is full of delicious seasonal dishes and we opt for the signature salt-baked lamb, a waist-expanding experience, which is washed down with a spicy Pinot Noir made especially for Bel & The Dragon by Olivier Leflaive in Burgundy.
Over the last few years Surrey’s reputation as a foodie hotspot has almost come to match that of its literary heritage, and a trip to nearby Abinger Cookery School highlights how far it has come. Using impeccably sourced ingredients and a personality made for television, Vincent Clist, known as Vinny, teaches classes that reflect the latest restaurant trends. For us, this is Dude Food.
Vinny’s style of teaching encourages a lively atmosphere and jokes fly around Abinger Cookery School’s kitchen as we cook a mouthwatering menu of steak and ale pie, pulled pork in Yum Buns, pork pies and Coca Cola-infused lamb ribs. When we sit down to eat our wares, fellow students reiterate the change in Surrey’s food scene. It’s not just B&B’s like Bel & The Dragon and cookery schools like Abinger but farm shops, gastro pubs and Michelin-star restaurants that have put Surrey firmly on England’s food map, and judging by the meals we’ve had this weekend, I don’t think it will be leaving it anytime soon.
Rooms at Bel & The Dragon cost from £95; belandthedragon.co.uk