The Crazy Bear's reputation has long preceded it. Residing on the outskirts of Stadhampton, it is known to exude class and is the sort of place you visit only on special occasions. So it seemed the perfect place to celebrate an anniversary, with a three course (blessedly child-free) meal.
Consisting of two restaurant next to each other, one English, the other Thai, your Crazy Bear meal begins with a choice. On this occasion we sided with the English restaurant, to make full use of their Sunday Lunch menu. The restaurant is surprisingly snug, with a small bar area (complete with warming fire) giving way to an intimate dining space. When I first walked in I confess I felt like an interloper, out of place in such a swish eatery, as though I'd walked through the wrong door and would be politely asked to leave.
The décor is full of chandeliers, mirrors and bottles in the ceiling and our meal began with a glass of champagne. The atmospheric music is packed with quintessentially classy tunes - Frank Sinatra, Etta James - and for a good fifteen minutes I just couldn't get comfortable. What softened the mood was the switch to Robbie Williams' 'Swing When You're Winning'. An odd choice certainly but one that was able to show me that some of the more lavish elements are a surface-level veneer and The Crazy Bear is actually far more approachable than you would first assume. Certainly I found myself becoming more comfortable.
As novel as our surroundings were, it is the food where The Crazy Bear stood out. We started with warm bread, garlic and good butter before moving on to our starters. I went for a lobster croquette in a seafood bisque, scrumptiously constructed with a satisfying spicy edge to the bisque. My partner went for a shellfish cocktail, which she appreciatively ate and noted the mix of white crab meet, prawns and crayfish. A great pair of starters were swiftly followed by our mains (perhaps the fastest transition between courses I've experienced in a restaurant).
My main was roast Cotswold chicken, accompanied with a pig in blanket, stuffing and bread sauce. You could have closed your eyes and been back at Christmas, whilst my partner went for Oxfordshire beef and a Yorkshire pudding. These were all accompanied with the usual trimmings and were, it has to be said, scrumptious. Perfectly cooked, with tender meat, flavoursome sides and some of the best roasted vegetables in the county. These were perfect mains.
Our puddings ended the meal well. I had a decadent chocolate tart with marmalade ice cream. A delicious pudding, it was perhaps too rich and sharp to follow my roast. My partner went for the crème brûlée, plus a shortbread biscuit, that she proclaimed was exceptional. The Crazy Bear meal feels almost designed to be consumed across three courses, with neither too much both in terms of quantity and flavour to prevent the enjoyment of the next. There is an undeniable quality to the food we had, with the restaurant benefiting greatly from both its location and the adjacent farm shop (one of the best in Oxfordshire).
The word I feel myself coming back to is approachable. The Crazy Bear (despite its upmarket cost) is an entirely approachable establishment, manned by effortlessly friendly staff. You could be tempted to blow your budget at this establishment and we limited ourselves to a glass of champagne and strayed away from items with additional costs. But for special occasions The Crazy Bear set the bar high. You are unlikely to eat here too often, but when you do you'll have a smashing time.