The second venture from Revive Pubs, the Old Bear at Cobham, Surrey, is garnering a reputation for its food thanks to 2004 Young Chef of the Year Nathan Green. Amanda Afiya investigates.
It has been something of a mystery why Surrey - jam-packed as it is with its John Terrys and Ashley Coles - has so few decent food-led pubs. But finally, for the people of Cobham at least, their prayers have been answered by the new ownership of a local landmark pub.
Situated just down the road from Chelsea's training ground, the Old Bear sits at the entrance to Cobham High Street - a street littered with independent boutiques and lined with Ferraris, Astons and Bentleys. But despite this level of prosperity, the Old Bear has only recently garnered a reputation for its food and, thanks to the culinary prowess of 2004 Young Chef of the Year Nathan Green, is finally becoming a destination restaurant.
With a career including periods at London restaurants Arbutus, the Square, the Farm, Tom Aikens and Thyme Bar and Bistro in Pimlico, as well as Gidleigh Park in Chagford, Devon, Green has been quite a catch for this suburban town.
The Old Bear is the second venture from Revive Pubs, the team behind the Albion in Islington, winner of The ObserverFood Monthly award for Best Sunday Lunch 2009 and one of The Independent‘s Top 50 Sunday Lunch Venues. Decor at the Cobham outlet is classic pub stuff with roaring log fires, low ceilings, natural wooden beams and oak floors - the earliest reference to the pub dates from 1719, but some historians believe parts of the building date back to medieval times.
There's nothing old-fashioned about the food, though. To satisfy the general pub-going market, Green serves gastropub mainstays such as sausage and mash (£11.50), classic cheeseburger and chips (£10.50) and fish and chips (10.50) - all with a contemporary twist. But it is with starters such as spiced pigs head, potato purée, crispy ears (£8) or sautéd ox heart, sour dough toast (£7) that the menu really comes to life and nods to Green's time with Arbutus chef-patron Anthony Demetre.
"Anthony changed my view on food," says Green, who started working at the Old Bear just under 18 months ago - he was awarded two rosettes in less than three months. "I learnt there, that to get a Michelin star you don't have to do à la minute, you don't have to cut your veg into minute cubes and you can do high-quality food for big volume covers."
A big feature at the Old Bear is sharing dishes, which particularly go down well with families and large groups at the weekend. Rib of beef with roast root vegetables and fondant potatoes (£45) is designed for two-to-three people, while pot-roast shoulder of lamb, which just falls off the bone, comes with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables such as braised red cabbage or kale served in miniature Staub pots - a bargain for four people at £50.
Slow-cook dishes such as the pot-roast and lamb hot pot, which also comes as an individual portion (£13) or as a sharing dish, really take the heat off the brigade of four, who can serve up to 140 covers on Saturdays. "You need these dishes when you're running at capacity - you have to know the limits of the kitchen."
Ingredients at the Old Bear are clearly top-notch and Green concedes that they may make the pub appear expensive to some. But it's an area where he isn't prepared to compromise and, being a firm supporter of British produce, buys only from the very best. Meat comes from Richard Vaughan, whose exceptional rare breed meat is produced in the Wye Valley, Herefordshire, while vegetables are sourced from nearby Secretts Farm.
Puddings are equally hearty to their main-course counterparts and include mulled wine trifle, cinnamon granita; treacle tart, milk ice-cream; and the best rice pudding and jam you'll find for miles around. All desserts are £6.50.
Green definitely feels that he and Revive are on to a winning formula at the Albion and the Old Bear and together they are hoping to set up more of the same in Surrey. And, as yet another flash sports car pulls into the car park, he concludes: "I think we have massive potential."
The Old BearRiverhill, Cobham, Surrey KT11 3DX
Tel: 01932 862116
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- French onion soup, Gruyère cheese, £6.50
- Goats' cheese mousse, pickled beetroot, vodka jelly, hazelnuts, £7
- Sautéd ox heart, sour dough toast, £7
- Line-caught mackerel, chargrilled octopus, red wine shallots, red vein sorrel, £16.50
- Braised short rib of Longhorn beef, roast carrots, potato purée, £15
- Roast partridge, curried parsnip purée, pine nuts, onion bhaji, £18
- Sticky toffee pudding, vanilla ice-cream, £6.50
- Chocolate tart, chocolate and thyme ice-cream, £6.50
- Old-fashioned apple crumble, clotted cream, £6.50