Old Church,Bridge Street, Godalming,Surrey GU7 1HYwww.belandthedragon-godalming.co.uk
The first thing to be noted about The Bel & The Dragon in the cobbled village of Godalming is that it’s housed in a church. This not only makes a striking first impression, but also gives us a valid topic on which to lament for the duration of our leisurely Saturday lunch.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Do we think turning a holy place into an eating place is okay?Ã¢â‚¬Â My friend asks once we’re seated in a curved banquette finished in stylish moss green velvet.
As we take in our surroundings Ã¢â‚¬â€œ stained windows letting in Technicolor shafts of the first spring sunshine, elegant locals supping their first martini of the day at the attractive bar, huge vases filled with lilac blooms and those printed lamp shades that cost a fortune Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we surmise that here it seems to work.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It just can’t be in a Whetherspoons or a Tesco Express.Ã¢â‚¬Â My friend adds, around the time our impossibly young and improbably cheerful waitress takes our order. (We momentarily veer off the subject so I can recount how terrible a waitress I was at university because I found it impossible to hide my always-epic hangovers.)
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Or an All Bar One.Ã¢â‚¬Â he offers, after some thought and a lengthy pull on an excellent glass of house whiteÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Ã¢â‚¬Å“I don’t care how many light fixtures they add to the ceiling, and what pop tune they blast out. It’s still not okay to turn a place of worship into a place where stupid people worship bad wine.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Two excellent starters temporarily silence our musings. First a rounded pile of potted shrimp flecked with lemon peel, which tastes surf fresh and disappears quickly; then an ordinary-sounding plate of beetroot and burrata which is anything but. What a clever plate of food. From the folded, paper-thin roses of vibrant yellow and raspberry-rippled pickled flesh to the creamy dots of milky cheese, dribbles of homemade pesto, pebble dash of pine nuts and tiny hits of bitter green leaf.
By the main courses Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a crisp-skinned slab of silky sea bass sitting on a wispy bed of crunchy spring vegetables and a nanny’s hug of a fish pie with a bounteous catch of sea creatures within its creamy depths Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we’re almost certain that this particular conversion has passed muster.
Whilst we debate pudding (despite it containing a tarte tatin with Jersey ice cream and a’drunken cheese’ port-soaked cheese board, we eventually decline), we chat to our perky blond server about the clientele.
Apparently The Bel & The Dragon is very popular, particularly on Saturday night when the upstairs dining area (the former balcony reached by a stunning central staircase) is literally packed to the rafters. It’s easy to see why, as glorious as the place is during daylight hours, it must be magnificent when candles are lit and its immaculately maintained features are highlighted by their glow.
As we step back onto the cobbled streets towards the station, we start to talk about the menu of British produce cooked with skill, the interior which is both sensitive to its subject and brave with its modernity, that really cheerful waitress and just generally about how enjoyable our lunch was.
My friend has a final thought on the matterÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Ã¢â‚¬Å“If I was a vicar, I’d approve.Ã¢â‚¬Â