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TRAVEL: The Bear's Paw, Warmingham

Andrew Hobbs disappears into the Cheshire countryside and finds good food in among the fronds

Published on September 20th 2010.

TRAVEL: The Bear's Paw, Warmingham

THERE'S a lot to like about the Bear’s Paw in Warmingham, in the Cheshire countryside just north of Crewe, but the best bit was the evening view from the beer garden in front of this stylish gastro-pub with rooms.

The service was consistently excellent, from breakfast through to last orders, delivered by friendly, confident and knowledgeable staff, who have managed to make this large 130-cover operation feel like a cosy country inn

We made the most of the sunshine and ate outside on both nights of our stay, absorbing the sights and sounds of an English summer. The rushing water of the weir on the River Wheelock, evening birdsong, a leafy cliff of huge chestnut trees across the road, and over the old stone bridge, the 18th-century tower of St Leonard’s church, framed by trees, above the pale glow of the lantern over the church gate, becoming brighter as dusk descended.

The AA five-star Bear’s Paw is a red-brick Victorian building at the edge of the village, an hour’s drive from Manchester or Liverpool. It re-opened in May 2009, under the new ownership of the Nelson family, who also own the Grosvenor Pulford Hotel and the Pheasant Inn in Higher Burwardsley.

It would have opened a year earlier if it hadn’t been for a fire which nearly destroyed the building in mid-2008, as the refurbishment was almost complete (you can see pictures of the devastation in the rear lobby of the hotel). However, the Nelsons were not deterred, and the Bear’s Paw is now making a name for itself with its food, drink and accommodation.

The 17 ‘boutique style’ en-suite rooms all have flat-screen HD television, complimentary WiFi and media hubs (what’s a media hub?). They are stylishly done out, with dark, large-motif wallpaper, rugs and wooden floors and even the odd bit of driftwood sculpture. A million miles from Travelodge drabness, although our room still somehow lacked character – as though the decor had been applied wholesale, with no adaptation to the particular space.

No such quibbles about the food, though, probably the Bear’s Paw’s strongest point, alongside its location. It has deservedly won an AA rosette, and by golly, they even do decent vegetarian food.

There is a good choice on the menu, but not so wide that you begin to suspect a freezer-and-microwave operation. The Nelson group’s executive chef, Leigh

Myers, has made sure that the Bear’s Paw is up to the standard of his other two operations, with the pub’s head chef Mark Brooks providing modern British food, using plenty of top-quality local ingredients, with flair and imagination.

Highlights were the pumpkin gnocchi (£4.95 as a starter),the mixed deli board (£8.95) and the duck with puy lentils (£16.95).Gnocchi made from pumpkin really works, exquisite comfort food offset perfectly by a savoury garlic, chilli and cream sauce.

I chose the mixed deli board as a light summer main course, but failed to polish off the generous amounts of pressed ham hock, potted mussels, Cheshire cheese, half a Scotch egg and chicken liver parfait, all tasty fare.

The duck was a treat, skin crispy and flesh pink, with spring cabbage and fondant potato, in a rich, dark gravy of puy lentils, pancetta and petit onion jus. Salads were fresh, plentiful and served with gorgeous dressings. The portions are generous, so two courses are more than enough, but for professional reasons we tried the desserts, including a rich Eton mess and Affogato – vanilla ice cream, hot espresso and a shot of Amaretto, which was slightly less than the sum of its parts.

The service was consistently excellent, from breakfast through to last orders, delivered by friendly, confident and knowledgeable staff, who have managed to make this large 130-cover operation feel like a cosy country inn.

There is a good choice of well kept real ales, and a well thought-out wine list, with plenty of rarely seen names alongside the old favourites. We tried an unusual Italian Riesling, a 2007 Zorzettig Ribolla Gialla (£25.50) and a South African 2008 Wilderness Bay Chenin Blanc (£16.50), a safer bet.An excellent two-course meal for two, including aperitifs and a bottle of wine, can be had for around £60, while a double room costs from £90.

The Bear’s Paw is a perfect bolt-hole from the city, somewhere to chill, enjoy good food and drink, and ponder on the wisdom of those chestnut trees across the road. I reckon Adrienne Rich nailed it: ‘We want to live like trees ... dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding ...’

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