Thursday 8th March saw the opening of our 19th pub, The Bear & Ragged Staff in Cumnor.
Despite the best efforts of the weather to thwart us, the works were completed just in time for our official re-opening, attended by locals and guests who had travelled from across the county as well as from a few steps away, to raise a toast to the pub.
The main part of the pub, originally a private house, dates back to the 1530s and retains lots of Tudor features, with carved lintels and plasterwork, arched doorways, mullioned windows and Portland stone floors. In the bar there are two big working fireplaces, and our restoration really sought to make the most of these wonderful features and put the bar back at the heart of the building. As well as serving good food, we wanted to make it a real pub for the village and beyond, as it has been in the past.
The bar, with its oak-topped bar and half-timbered walls, is now gleaming with polished copper and comfortable armchairs, making it the perfect setting for a pint of real ale in front of the fire. The sunny conservatory is immediately welcoming for daytime use, with new seating and rich kilim rugs and cushions. In the dining area, traditional English woodcut wallpapers, antique mirrors, deep green and russet velvets and Harris tweed fabrics combine with Arts & Crafts tables and chairs to create a smart country look with a comfortable feel.
The restoration work has created a variety of spaces in the pub to suit different occasions, whether a drink or two in the bar, a family gathering at the long table at the head of the dining area, or a casual lunch overlooking the terrace. There are also sociable booths and plenty of tables that can be joined to fit groups of families and friends. When the temperature creeps into double figures (here’s hoping!), the west-facing terrace and grassed beer garden will come into their own.
Head chef James Durrant, who cooked at The Fishes in North Hinksey and before that at The Thatch in Thame, has devised a menu that showcases the best of British ingredients in delicious, classic pub dishes. They include starters of a rich roast chicken ravioli with chicken juices, crispy skin and Parmesan; potted shrimps with shrimp butter and toasted sourdough and a twice-baked cheese soufflé with soused apples and balsamic pearls.
A comforting 14 hour braised beef and ale pie served with buttery mash and spring greens, wild mushroom and roast onion tart with spinach, poached duck egg and Béarnaise sauce and a superb whole lemon sole accompanied by new potatoes and lemon butter are among the main courses.
Traditional desserts of steamed treacle sponge with a jug of custard and a fresh take on a classic, banoffee Eton Mess with banana, lime and caramelised pecans are already flying out of the kitchen.
As well as enjoying good fresh food from breakfast, to lunch and dinner every day of the week, including an outstanding Sunday roast, guests can also stay over at The Ragged Bear & Staff. Each of the pub’s nine bedrooms, some tucked away up winding staircases, has been redecorated and furnished with really comfortable beds and good linen, locally-sourced antiques and fabrics hand-printed in the Cotswolds by Rapture & Wright. Exposed Tudor beams and low arched doorways combine with luxurious, modern bathrooms for a quirky, stylish experience.
What we have tried to do is to cherish its unique features and show them off to their best advantage. We simply wanted to breathe new life into the building, making what must be one of the most characterful pub bars in Oxfordshire beautiful again. With good food and drink and warm, friendly hospitality, our aim is that this classic English inn will be welcoming to all, whenever they visit.
The Bear & Ragged Staff is open from 7am to 11.30pm Monday to Thursday, from 7am to midnight on Friday, from 7.30am to midnight on Saturday and from 7.30am to 10.30pm on Sunday. Breakfast is served daily from 7am to 11.30am and good fresh food is available throughout the day.
We look forward to seeing you there soon!