Back in March this year, we announced that one of Cumnor’s favourite pubs, The Bear and Ragged Staff, and indeed an Oxfordshire favourite, was reopening after being assimilated into the Peach Pubs family. We were impressed with the taster dishes presented to us at their launch party and were keen to go back and try the full menu.
The pub is laid out as a series of rooms so you can have that sense of intimacy rather than a large open space. There’s a snug, a lobby/lounge and a segregated dining room, complete with a semi-private dining area for parties. Perhaps the one thing that lets it down from its cousins such as The Fishes is the outside area – there’s a terrace and a grassed area that includes an Aunt Sally pitch but it doesn’t have that perfect pub garden vibe. Functional more than fabulous but the inside makes up for it. Make sure you park appropriately though…
Anyway, the food! One of the dishes that wasn’t available at the party was definitely top of my list, roast chicken ravioli with chicken juices and parmesan, £10.50 so I chose that as my starter whilst my husband went for the hand-picked South Coast crab on toasted sourdough with pickled cucumber, £10.50.
A bit of a confession here – I’d just started a new and very full on job after five months sabbatical and was proper full on exhausted, to the point that planning anything to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary was just too much effort. An invite to try the new menu here had seemed to be fortuitous timing, hopefully, good food and minimal effort!
Whilst we waited for our starters to arrive, a mini white bloomer arrived with a pot of roasted garlic butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, £3. I cannot resist the lure of warm crusty bread, and so dived right in, and it was goooood. My only comment would be a drizzle more balsamic to get soaked right in.
Slices of sourdough adorned with quenelles of crab mixed with dill and pickled cucumber alongside. The tartness of the bread and creamy sweetness of the crab balanced well with the delicate, thin slivers of cucumber that had been lightly pickled and speckled with dill. Top marks from the eater – an island boy who is a big crab fan, specifically spider crab!
My three chicken ravioli arrived in a shallow earthenware dish. Light pasta parcels encasing white chicken meat, dusted with parmesan shreds. These were good and I would have happily eaten more, especially if they came with a huge jug of that clear, light, umami-rich chicken jus. Oh, that was so good. Really, really, really good with the saltiness of the cheese floating amongst it. Well worth waiting for.
The specials board that evening had offered dishes such as beer battered cod and chips or twice cooked pork belly with mash, sauteed leeks and apples and a tarragon jus, or a French cut rump with watercress, chips and Bearnaise, duck breast with butternut squash puree, toasted almond, cherry and pea shoot salad. Nevertheless, we decided to stay on menu with a free-range duck bolognese – duck ragu, egg pappardelle and crispy duck crumb, £16.00 and entirely out of character for me, a vegetarian main. Wild mushroom and roast onion tart, spinach, poached duck egg and bearnaise sauce for £14.50.
Comments on the pasta – cooked al dente with a decent bit of heft to it. Duck was soft and tender, shredded throughout the pasta with flakes of parmesan and crispy skin breaking up soft textures.
A puff pastry base topped with spinach, roasted onion and a selection of wild mushrooms, I spotted chestnut, enobi, oyster, and shiitake at least. The pastry was crisp and flaky, I would have liked a few more pockets of roasted onion and the tarragon scented bearnaise was a good complement to the earthiness of the fungi and richness of spinach. I found the duck egg a little underdone for my taste, a good oozy yolk but I still squirm at a watery white. I ended up feeling virtuous for being meat-free but half wishing I’d had the twice cooked pork belly instead!
Desserts at the Bear include a pretty impressive cheese board, a cherry baked Alaska to share, banoffee Eton mess or an order at the start steamed treacle sponge which takes 40minutes to cook. I had to go for that, especially with a jug of homemade custard, £6.50. Pretty sure I got a special version too…!
Dense sponge, with lots of ginger and mixed spice this is not a pud for the light-hearted but oh my word, it was EXACTLY like my nan used to make. Just smelling it brought back a rush of childhood memories of bowls wrapped in brown paper, tied with string and clouds of steam in the kitchen. Heavenly.
The white chocolate and strawberry trifle with mascarpone cream also evoked grandmother memories across the table, although the pub version contained considerably less booze! Caramelised white chocolate on top was a great finishing touch.
We just about managed to finish off with a Union Coffee espresso and a handful of Smarties. The Bear may be one of those pubs that you hear about but can never quite remember when you’re trying to decide where to go for a quality pub dinner but trust me, you need to remember it. It’s well worth a visit.