The Silk Glove fine-dining restaurant at The Bear, Woodstock

4:14pm Thursday 3rd January 2013

By Chris Gray

Big-spending film stars like Rex Harrison and the Burtons, Richard and Elizabeth, regularly splashed out their cash in the glory days of The Bear Hotel at Woodstock. Other famous visitors included prime ministers Edward Heath and Harold Wilson — neither a noted gourmet and Wilson famously the opposite. Tinned salmon and Wincarnis, anyone?

That these five people are all dead and gone might flag up to my more attentive readers that the Bear’s heyday was rather a long time ago. In terms, at least, of its reputation for fine dining, it was trading on laurels earned many years before. Who, frankly, over the past three decades has been served a truly memorable meal there?

But all that is set to alter, indeed has altered. Three months ago, owners Macdonald Hotels handed over the running of its restaurant and bar to 10 in 8 Fine Dining Group. Founded three years ago by chef Alan Murchison, 10 in 8 takes its name from a commendable ambition for its restaurants to earn ten Michelin stars in eight years. The operations under its control include La Bécasse in Ludlow, Paris House in Woburn, Hotel TerraVina in the New Forest, L’ortolan near Reading and The Angel in Dartmouth.

Alan trained at Raymond Blanc’s cookery school at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and later worked for him for five years. It will be well understood, then, that Alan knows all about the good things in life, and he intends that we should be given these, especially at the Silk Glove. This is the Bear’s fine dining restaurant, which is open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday.

I was part of a four-strong table of guests invited to sample its wares on the first night of its operation. This spoke of Alan’s confidence, to say the least, in the skills of his chef Matthew Weedon, who previously held a Michelin star at the Lords of the Manor, in Upper Slaughter. A recent arrival at the Bear, Matt came in the company of his wife Rachel, who now manages the restaurant.

Mention of confidence reminds me that this is also felt by Alan over the whole question of a fine dining restaurant — with a six-course menu at £60 a person, £95 with a suitable drink at each stage — in the present economic environment. Indeed, he told us as much after we moved into the dining room, following glasses of Prosecco, San Marco, with appetisers of haddock gougons, in front of the welcoming fire in the hotel bar. There would always, said Alan, be a demand for that extra-special meal and the Silk Glove would satisfy it.

Such was certainly our experience in the banquet we were served. As guests, we had no compunction about going for the “with wine” option. The features of each of the choices was most usefully explained during the serving by the company’s group sommelier Stephen Nesbitt who happened to be on hand. At other times general manager Gareth MacDonald McAinsh is able to show his passion and knowledge of the subject.

To start came a terrine featuring locally shot pheasant and partridge, with golden raisins and sweet wine jelly. Saint-Véran, Domaine Botti 2009, a lightly oaked white burgundy, 100 per cent chardonnay grape, was a perfect match.

Picpoul de Pinet, L’Enfant Terrible 2011, brought its familiar citrussy steeliness to the fish course, a chunk of steamed Cornish brill with a lightly poached rock oyster and a bubbly champagne velouté.

By now our party of four were beginning to note, and to comment on, a slight air of sanctity about proceedings. Though the other three tables in the room were all in use, their occupants, like us, were all talking in a whisper, fearful of the surrounding silence. Though I usually disapprove of background music, a little might be welcome here.

The next course offered a choice, which we jokily referred to as “buck or duck”. I chose the former, which was remarkably tender loin of fallow deer with braised red cabbage, salt-baked beetroot and a meat jus flavoured with chocolate and chillies. Others went for honey-roasted wild duck, with chicory, blackcurrants and kale. The wine was a suitably robust Lebanese cabernet sauvignon (Chateau Ksara 2009).

The £15 supplement for the five cheeses that followed seemed steep, especially since the Rosary (goat’s), Hereford Hop, Somerset brie, Cornish yarg and Oxford blue, were offered in fairly small pieces. New to me, the American Quady Starboard (so called because it can’t be called port) was a delicious discovery.

A “pre-dessert” glass of pina colada with hibiscus and coconut was followed by the thing proper, a beguiling assortment of goodies styled “a dessert of dark and white chocolate” and served with a cream sherry from Fernando Di Castilla, a Jerez-based company well known for its brandy.

 

The Silk Glove
The Bear Hotel
Park Street
Woodstock
OX20 ISZ
0844 879 9143
www.thebearwoodstock. co.uk

 

Opening times: Breakfast from 7am until 10am seven days a week and non-residents are welcome. Lunch is served from noon until 2.30pm seven days a week. Dinner is served from 6.45pm until 9.30pm seven days a week. The bar is open from 10am for brunch and teas and coffee and food is served throughout the day and night in the bar until 10pm. The Silk Glove is only open for dinner from Wednesday until Saturday, 7pm until 9.30pm.
 

Key personnel: Pictured are general manager Gareth MacDonald McAinsh, below centre, with front of house manager Rachel Weedon and head chef Matthew Weedon.
 

Prices: The menu served in the Bear restaurant is priced at £28 for two courses and £35 for three. Dishes change on a day-to-day basis. A typical choice of starters recently included marinated wood pigeon with beetroot and hazelnut dressing, butternut squash velouté, and poached duck egg with a potato, garlic and truffle velouté. Main courses included roasted cod with braised chicken wings and tomato fondu, braised five spiced middle white pork belly, roast pheasant, and wild mushroom risotto.The four puddings were tiramisu and coffee ice cream, sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate delice with chocolate ice cream and vanilla panacotta with poached rhubarb and prunes.
A selection of British cheeses was also available for a supplem-entary charge of £3.95.

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