Leatherhead Rd, Oxshott, Leatherhead, KT22 0JE www.thebearoxshott.co.uk
It’s not all town dining, the country has its charms too and Nick finds The Bear deserves a warm hug
It’s real Range Rover country around Oxshott. Leaving the A3 I soon find myself trapped between these overblown monsters, being wildly overtaken by them and finally trying to squeeze past them into the car park at The Bear.
You really aren’t someone out here unless your wife is driving a Range Rover while you’re off in the City making money. Little bit sexist? Go see for yourself.
But who wouldn’t want to live out where the houses are big and the local village has a real butcher? And it’s so close to town as well. I want to live here, but I fear I will never be rich enough.
I can come out here to eat though and so this weekday that’s what I am doing, the good lady wife at my side in our knackered old car. The Bear I actually knew thirty years ago when I used to come out this way from my parent’s house in Croydon but today it’s almost unrecognisable.
They have really, properly, done a refurb on this place with a glass extension to the front and an enlarged rear dining area, and they have done it very well. A fine wooden bar, comfy leather seats and patterned banquettes, as well as an excellent paint job everywhere. You can literally smell the money that’s been spent, the newness is palpable and it’s very welcoming.
I like the mix of modern and traditional, I can’t remember exactly what it used to be like in here, but it seems a good way to take the village pub forward and Young’s need props for doing it so well.
The menu has as you’d expect something for everyone – classics, contemporary, sharing boards and steaks. To nibble we had what was advertised as a trio of baked breads, three different types, although they all seemed the same to me. Perfectly decent, if a little bit wet, and enlivened by high quality Netherend butter
Crab cakes are a good test of a kitchen, all too often they are hard rubbery things doused in chili sauce. Here they had stayed light and moist with a good crunch on the outside and decorated with cucumber shreds and a mint and tomato relish. My only suggestion to chef would be to up the crab to potato ratio a bit, as the crab was getting a bit drowned.
I love a good sourdough bread but once toasted it can take on a very defiant attitude, and so it was with Ps starter. The wild mushrooms heaped on top were excellent, cooked to a fine bosky tangle. The poached egg was spot on, gleefully splitting to release perfect molten yolk, the parsley dressing was sharp and tart but the bread.
Well P used the knife given but it just bounced off; we called for a steak knife but it didn’t do much better. Once in the mouth the bread was lovely but it did not lend itself to elegant eating, what with P forced to go medieval and tear it to pieces rather than cut it.
I have a bit of my own problem with pastry, I love it but it doesn’t like me and a few hours after eating I have serious upsets. But I’ve worked out that hot-water pastries don’t seem to have the same effect, and so I happily ordered up beef, oyster mushroom and ale pie with colcannon mash and glazed vegetables.
It was cracker of a pie, although a little bit burnt on the outside. The meat had been slow-cooked to make it as tender as the mushroom, while the juice inside was dark and unctuous. The colcannon mash was creamy and well studded with cabbage and lavishly dressed with those glazed, tender veg. The pot of gravy on the side was decently flavoured but too thin for my taste, I prefer a gravy that coats the back of a spoon, not one that runs like water across my plate.
The main P had chosen seemed pretty ambitious for a pub, being pan roasted sea bass fillets, dauphinoise of heritage purple potatoes, spinach, wild mushrooms and a vanilla butter sauce. Obviously she realised a bit late she was having mushrooms again, but she likes mushrooms.
No problems at all with this dish, as a rapidly cleared plate demonstrated. P is used to eating’at a high level’ and thought this dish well worth its elevated price tag.
My treacle tart with clotted cream was workmanlike, just what I expected while P’s apple, winter berries and shortcrust crumble was enjoyable, but for a sourness that had her screwing up her face like Lady Bracknell being shown a beefburger. Obviously we must all watch our sugar intake, but with a crumble sweetness is crucial.
I liked the Bear so much I’m thinking of taking the relatives there over the Christmas break, it’s just the kind of place you can rely on for that kind of gathering.
I’ve had mixed results with Young’s pubs in the past, one of my local ones slipped downhill after a refurb faster than a greased bobsleigh, but the team at the Bear give me confidence they’ll keep up to the mark. Just fix the sourdough and the sour crumble guys, is my top tip.