Food 2017 – The Crazy Bear, Stadhampton

Saturday January 21st, 2017 – The Crazy Bear Thai Restaurant, Stadhampton, Oxfordshire

Back when I was a student (sometime in the Jurassic period I think) we used occasionally, provided someone had transport available, to head out of Oxford in search of pubs, and would often end up at Stadhampton, in a fine if somewhat eccentric establishment called the Bear and Ragged Staff.

It turns out that several decades down the line it is still an eccentric establishment, though it is now a boutique hotel, the Crazy Bear, with two restaurants (one Thai, one western), a bar and a rather spectacular line in interior decor. Once again we were trying a place out via a voucher from Groupon, and were down for Champagne, lobster and steak. This turned out to be an excellent idea.

When we booked I was asked whether we wanted to go Thai or English, and we opted for Thai. We were led to the Thai restaurant area, which is very shiny, with lots of gold and mirrors and some VERY low ceilings so be warned if you’re tall. The faces in the walls are slightly unsettling, in a “leftover props from Game of Thrones” type of way.

However, despite the off-the wall (or even on the wall) nature of the place, we soon had a glass of Champagne and the opportunity to scrutinise the menu.

As we weren’t too sure how much food would be forthcoming we chose to order a couple of items from the starter menu. It was almost too hard to resist anyway, as one of the options was tempura-battered soft shell crab with a dipping sauce. Regular readers will know of my soft shell crab obsession so it really had to be done. That it came with a lovely blob of wasabi mayonnaise did it no harm either. The batter was light and crispy and the crab meaty, which can’t always be said for soft shell crab. I’ve had versions where the end product has been mostly batter with very little meat at all.

We also ordered crispy salt and pepper tiger prawns, with crispy garlic, spring onions and habanero chillies. The prawns remained tender and again the batter was light and crisp, and it helped that there were four of them, as there were two of us. I know odd numbers look better on a plate, but when you are two greedy diners it’s aggravating to have to divide something in two (and can also be messy).

We then took a pause while we drank some wine, and waited for the Surf and Turf for two option. This was 250g of chateaubriand and a lobster, shared between us, with baby pak choi, crispy shallots and XO sauce accompanying the meat and garlic, black pepper and spring onions served with green papaya salad to offset the lobster. It was very tasty, very decadent really, and gave us a massive mood lift on a cold January day. Could we have eaten more? I don’t think so, and at two for slightly less than the price of one it also seemed a good bargain.

We drank a Domaine de Nestuby 2015 Cote de Provence at £29.95 (again a reasonable markup but not scandalous) which went well with the lobster and was livelier than some wines would have been up against the oomph of the XO sauce.

We considered a dessert but decided we didn’t really want anything sweet. However, the cheese option sounded pretty impressive. We opted to share one, and so were presented with a plate of Oxford Blue, Westcombe Cheddar and Ogleshield, each well kept and served with a hefty side order of quince jelly, celery, grapes and toasted walnut and raisin bread.

It was an excellent way to end lunch and we drove home much fuller and with no need for supper! We also vowed to go back, something that should be easy to achieve given how often they offer vouchers. Oh and if you don’t want to trek to rural Oxfordshire there are two other Crazy Bears, one in Beaconsfield and one in London.

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