The Bear and Ragged Staff has all the comfort of a classic olde worlde English pub while providing an above average menu. On previous visits I've enjoyed one of the best roast dinners I've ever had, so I had high expectations for the main evening menu. The interior was warm, spacious and inviting, with the historic pub area transitioning gently into a light and airy dining area.
While selecting our meal, I enjoyed a large glass of Wild Paw's Merlot which tasted indulgent with deep coffee tones. My companion selected the Cornish Coaster, a reliable honey-coloured malty ale which slipped down with great ease. The Bear offers delicious sharing items which can be devoured as a starter or begrudgingly shared as tapas. We opted for the beef carpaccio with horseradish yoghurt, the gin-cured Farmoor trout with a green slaw and a miniature skillet filled with mixed olives and roasted garlic. The beef melted away beautifully, with the yoghurt balancing the heat of the horseradish making a very pleasant taster. The gin-cured trout was delicately flavoured to the extent that my gin-hating companion did not notice its inclusion and the green slaw, comprised of onion, mayonnaise and green apples, complemented the trout nicely. The mixed olives were quite acidic, and included unexpected chunks of bell peppers, but the roasted garlic was soft and mild. All of the dishes were well seasoned, perfectly proportioned for a selection of starters and beautifully presented on a wooden board (which, on this occasion, was appropriate and not just a hipster gimmick). So far, so good, we were impressed and eagerly anticipating the arrival of our mains.
Feeling self-indulgent I had chosen the priciest item on the menu: a 10oz dry aged ribeye steak with hand cut chips, mushroom ketchup, plum tomato and garlic butter. The steak was a little more on the medium side than the raw that I requested and was under-seasoned, but still tender and had very little gristle. The garlic butter was tasty, the chips were enormous and fluffy on the inside, and the tomato was pleasantly grilled. The disappointing element of the dish was the mushroom ketchup which tasted overwhelmingly of HP sauce which, while great in a bacon butty, would have overpowered the flavours of the chips and steak and so was left largely untouched.
My dining companion said his plate of guinea fowl was juicy and full of rich flavours, and was complemented well by a creamy pumpkin purée. His dish was particularly well-presented and wouldn't have looked out of place in Michelin star restaurant.
Feeling full to the brim, we decided to share the Valrhona chocolate & Guinness cake served with chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream. I'm a huge fan of Guinness cake and the Bear's version did not disappoint; a moist, springy sponge with a deliciously bitter edge, which was balanced by the salty-sweet ice cream and a rich chocolate sauce.
In terms of cost, our meal was £75 in total (including a 10% tip) which is a little dear but I would argue that the majority of the dishes were worth their price, perhaps with the exception being the steak (priced at a princely £23.50). Ultimately, you are paying extra for high quality, largely locally sourced ingredients presented with great care so it's worth splashing out.
The Bear and Ragged Staff is definitely a few notches above the usual gastropubs in Oxfordshire. To avoid disappointment, book ahead and be sure to head there with an full wallet and an empty belly.