Ella Reeves enjoys a summer highlight at the newly renovated historic gastropub The Bear & Ragged Staff in Appleton Road, Cumnor.
The Bear and Ragged Staff is a charming gastropub in the village of Cumnor, retaining many of its original Tudor features. I knew we were in for a treat, as my Great Uncle Tom, who lives in the area and has excellent taste, goes there a couple of times a week.
It was the ideal location for a clement summer evening, with a well-kept display of flowers welcoming visitors on arrival. And boy, did we need welcoming. In retrospect, it would have been lovely to have taken a cycle ride to the Bear and Ragged Staff. Or, you could stay in one of the nine lovely rooms on the premises. My clumsy mistake meant we got on the wrong bus, which led to a traumatic journey, but we were put at ease when we were met by the lovely and professional staff.
We started with a drink on the south-facing terrace before dinner. I was keen to try the cocktail menu, and chose a cosmopolitan, which was perfectly balanced on sweetness and sharpness from the lime. My partner, partial to a good rosé, ordered a pinot blush, which went down a treat. Sometimes, it’s the little details that count: lavender and rosemary in little plant pots on the tables. I also noted the biodegradable straws, a good sign of a forward-thinking, sustainable establishment.
The restaurant was managed like a well-oiled machine. The staff were knowledgeable about the menu, answering each question and attending to each request with discreet elegance.
I love a good eatery with a menu dilemma… The kind of place where everything sounds so delicious that you just cannot choose and have to “panic order”. We were not rushed by the ever-patient and charming staff, but our hungry tums and salivating mouths necessitated twe order without delay.
I always wonder if it is fair to review the specials, but I have it on good knowledge that the selection is on par each evening. I was torn between the special starter of blue cheese croquettes with pickled shallots and toasted pine nut salad, and buffalo mozzarella, heritage tomato and basil salad. My decision was made when my partner agreed to let me sample his croquettes.
Digging into the crispy exterior, the blue cheese oozed onto the tangy salad leaves, set off by the gentle crunch of the pine nuts. It was described by my partner as the “best starter ever” and I knew he was genuine as it is rare he would eat his greens with such enthusiasm. I had to agree when I was allowed to sample – just a bit though, that’s shallot!
I dug into my starter and was transported back to my recent visit to Venice, where the caprese salad became my favourite dish to order at any restaurant. The Laverstoke mozzarella – sourced from the first farm to produce authentic mozzarella in the UK – was every bit as creamy as it should be, complimented by the basil-infused dressing and stylishly multi coloured tomatoes, sweet and plump enough to rival their Italian counterparts.
It was beautifully paired with a sauvignon blanc that was every bit as crisp, fresh and lemony as it should be – just the way I like it.
Then, the mains. Oh, the mains! We both opted for duck, and were impressed by the creative talent of the chef to create two very different dishes.
My choice was the special, a roasted duck breast, served beautifully tender and pink, with crunchy pancetta, hispi cabbage, and a perfectly seasoned ‘jus’. I come from the sort of family where you would set your relatives in a state of panic by setting out a full roast and not bringing the gravy until last, so it took a great deal of self-control to resist licking my plate clean. My partner’s duck Bolognese was a welcome twist on a classic, with crispy duck crumb adding depth through the texture contrast.
Feeling that we were reaching capacity, we opted for a light finish of a trio of Jude’s free-range ice creams (him), and an espresso martini (me). I am known for being fussy about all my drinks (to say the least) and the espresso martini is no exception: it must have the perfect balance of sweetness. They nailed it.