Cheshire Life Luncheon - The Bear's Paw, Warmingham,
PUBLISHED: 21:43 28 December 2009 | UPDATED: 21:44 21 October 2015
The Bear's Paw has a long history behind it but this gastro-pub is facing the future in a perfectly modern way<br/>WORDS BY RAY KING<br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Pubs are closing at a record rate…more than 2,000 over the last year. The Bear’s Paw, a landmark set by the River Wheelock in the pretty Cheshire village of Warmingham, near Sandbach, could so easily have been one of them. Twice over, in fact.
But, as guests at Cheshire Life’s January luncheon discovered, the Bear’s Paw has not only been reprieved from the fate that has overcome so many other historic hostelries, it has become a prime example of a modern British culinary phenomenon – a much misused term but wholly applicable here – the gastro-pub; the marriage of excellent cooking with fine local ingredients and the relaxed atmosphere of a traditional inn.
It so nearly didn’t happen. When Andrew Nelson, a member of the family that runs the successful Grosvenor Hotel at Pulford and the Pheasant Inn in Higher Burwardsley first came upon the Bear’s Paw in spring 2008, the rambling Victorian building needed major refurbishment. He saw its potential and work began. Then, when it was almost complete, a devastating fire caused by an electrical fault, ripped through the building.
It took a year and £2.5m before the Bear’s Paw re-opened in May 2009.
Today the inn hits the high notes on three levels – as a pub, a restaurant and for its accommodation, 14 individually-styled boutique bedrooms with the latest contemporary amenities from flat screen televisions to WiFi. Provision of such facilities so close to the major rail hub at Crewe and so different from corporate anonymity is surely an astute move.
Cheshire Life guests gathered for flutes of refreshing and fashionable Prosecco – Sergio Mionetto Vino Spumante – accompanied by hearty canapés including spicy sausages with a trio of mustards, juicy tempura king prawns with chilli dip and vegetable spring rolls with hoi sin sauce in the inn’s attractive bar.
The Bear’s paw, by village pub standards, is huge. The bar is flanked by two large dining areas offering no less than 130 covers, but the reclaimed wooden panelling, oak board and flagged floors, delightful floral arrangements cleverly break up the space.
There is also a splendid collection of more than 200 pictures - from photographs of bygone rural life, hunting scenes and antique posters to images of Bentley motor cars built in the nearby factory – sourced locally over the last 18 months after almost all of the original artwork was lost in the fire.
The kitchen, overseen by the group’s executive chef Leigh Myers and head chef Mark Brooks - celebrating the recent award of an AA Rosette - majors in excellent local ingredients expertly and imaginatively presented and our luncheon menu illustrated their skills admirably.
The starter comprised a tian of deliciously flavoured Fleetwood langoustines set upon slices of tangy yellow beet and accompanied by a shard of toasted Parmesan, avocado and lemon dressing. A treat to behold and devour, it came with an ideal wine partner, citrussy sauvignon blanc from Australia’s Barossa Valley, supplied and described by Nick Gent, general manager of Rodney Densem Wines.
The main course roast loin of Cheshire venison, celeriac purée, fondant potato and roast shallot was not only delightful in its apparent simplicity, but also exceptional in its combination of flavours.
The venison, carved thick and pink, offered subtle gaminess for which the accompanying red wine, a bramble fruit-laden California zinfandel made a perfect partner.
Dessert, Tattenhall yoghurt mousse – a nifty Cheshire take on pannacotta – came with lovely plump figs poached in red wine and crunchy lemon biscotti; a delicious finale. Coupled with the best of British regional cooking, the future of the best of British pubs must be assured.