I don’t review often, but when I do, it’s always genuine. I like to shout about outstanding food establishments, mainly because they’re so thin on the ground in the suburban sameness of Berkshire. I’d been to the Bel and the Dragon in Cookham for lunch a few times and I’d attended some networking events there and while the food was good I wasn’t really moved enough to write about the experience. But a few weeks ago I had the opportunity for a night out with AT because the boys were at their grandparent’s house. Evenings of parental freedom are sacrosanct and usually spent eating out. We’d avoided the Bel in the past as it seemed kind of pricey and the menu a little aspirational.
Ronnie Kimbugwe’s menu is ambitious and a little bit exciting and I was hesitant, I’ll admit, to spend the night with a menu that could – in the wrong hands – disappoint.
Instead of eating in the dining room, which is light and airy, we chose the darker, cosier pub area where you can feel the building’s 600 years of history. The service faltered momentarily, and I was dangerously hungry, but once we flagged a waiter we were set for the night with excellent service. AT ordered the half-chicken with sage onion rings and bread sauce and I had the steak and thrice-cooked chips.
Steak is my measuring stick for a capable kitchen, not that I had set out to review this meal. I just felt like eating steak. And I was not enthusiastic about the thrice-cooked chips. This is a trend that has yet to deliver a superior serve of chips in my experience. However, I’m pleased to report that both meals moved me enough to review. AT couldn’t stop talking about his chicken for a few days after the meal, and he made a point of telling me that while he isn’t usually a fan of onion rings, these ones were incredible. Personally, I’d eat anything dipped in batter and fried so maybe I’m not the best judge, but I did try them and they were probably the best ones I’ve ever had. They were delicately spiced and cooked to perfection much like the rest of the meal. My steak was excellent. I should have ordered rare because the medium was a little well-cooked for my preference, but I’ll know for next time. And for the record – the thrice cooked chips were THE best chips I’ve had in a restaurant. I couldn’t stop eating them and through some kind of sorcery they were creamy and crunchy all at once.
In the end though, it was the pudding that tipped me over the edge. I should have guessed that when I saw the dedicated pudding menu, that dessert was going to be good. I always ask a waiter what they recommend for pudding and without hesitation, our waiter said ‘the apple tart tatin for two’. I wasn’t convinced. I’ve never really liked tart tatin and have a penchant for crème brûlée, cheesecake and soufflés. But she was adamant. This pudding was to die for.
A photo, they say, is worth a thousand words. This pudding was incredible. Lovingly spiced and caramelised apple pieces were cushioned by crispy, delicate layers of pastry. We’ll still be talking about it in ten years time. This pudding symbolises the love that is coming out of the kitchen at the Bel and Dragon in Cookham. This pudding tells me that there is a team of chefs in that kitchen that genuinely care about food, have pride in their trade and seek to delight their customers and this is the kind of thing I like to shout about.
Ronnie Kimbugwe’s menu is ambitious for pub dining and it’s exciting, but it’s in the hands of a capable team and you will not be disappointed.
Bel & The Dragon, High Street, Cookham, Berkshire, SL6 9SQ, 01628 521263