You know what you need? A weekend break out in the country. Actually, that might just be the last thing you need at the moment, what with Christmas only just done and dusted, credit card companies after your first-born and the government abolishing fun and money and stuff.
Yet the lure of a weekend away at this time of year – in an effort to beat the winter blues or a desire to take advantage of some of the deals that are to be had in January – is hard to ignore. With that in mind we headed out to the Cheshire countryside recently for food, country air and relaxation, taking in a visit to Dream, a detour to Jodrell Bank, an afternoon in Alderley Edge and a walk in the beautiful British countryside.
We holed up at the Bear’s Paw, a rejuvenated gastro-pub-cum-hotel in the small village of Warmingham slap-bang in the middle of Nantwich, Sandbach, Middlewich and Crewe and its brine works and canals. That the pub is there at all is something of a marvel, having been almost completely destroyed by a fire a couple of years ago.
It now resembles a mock Tudor country pub, but you can really only see the joins if you look hard; it’s an impressive refurb that just about treads the fine line between olde worlde style and comfortable, modern refurb.
A large, open bar area boasts open fires and leather sofas, alongside a few interesting curious, though it’s a tad heavy on the stock pub furnishings. Dining areas are pleasantly unfussy; comfortable, subtly-lit and quiet.
Even better, for SevenStreets’ tastes, are a revolving selection of ales from local microbreweries – the familiar Cheshire Cat and less-familiar choices sit alongside some choice lagers and a number of obscure ciders and perrys.
The food is mainly traditional British rustic fare, designed daily to match the seasons and local ingredients and with a few intriguing twists that elevate it above what one might expect from a pub.
We started with a bowl of olives and a selection of chiploatas with mustard mayo dip – a tasty appetiser that could have been served as a main course with a few additions.
A starter of scallops with cauliflower puree and raisin and caper dressing brought beautifully cooked, fat, juicy scallops that went well with the two dressings that complement, rather than overpower as I’d feared.
A goat’s cheese crostini was, like our partner’s main of feta with roasted vegetables with pesto and balsamic, perfectly fine but among only a very few vegetarian options.
Our main, a charcuterie board with all manner of meaty delights, featured wonderful slabs of sweet, salty Cheshire ham and generous slivers of intense Parma ham.
The highlight, however, was a delicious, fatty ham hock that went perfectly with a sharp, chunky piccalilli. An intriguing home-made scotch egg and chicken liver pate were more prosaic, with the latter in need of another ingredient to make it more interesting.
A very decent, straight-forward rioja, from a well-stocked cellar, gave some blackcurrant notes to the meal, alongside the aforementioned beers and ciders.
By now we were flagging badly from the generous portions, but pressed on selflessly towards a sublime ginger cheesecake – all lightness and stem ginger twangs – and a surprisingly good creme brulee, better than we’ve had in Paris.
That the food at the Bear’s Paw was so good – and lacking in pretension – was impressive in itself. Also that it was so well presented and that the service was attentive, andefficient without being intrusive. That much of the food is sourced locally is also welcome, as is the fact that the menu changes – apparently daily – as the seasons do. For the food to be so plentiful at reasonable prices was the cherry on the cake.
More beer and cider followed next to the smouldering embers of one of the open fires. We eyed a decent selection of single malts too, but it would have proved a bridge too far.
A sizeable breakfast, with much to choose from including kippers and smoked salmon, followed the next day but the wealth of the previous night’s food had all-but done for us.
The room – there are 17 in total – were comfortable and spacious, with an enormous king-size four-poster bed in our Superior room, free-standing bath and shower cubicle. Amenities include wi-fi, a large flat-screen TV and pleasant Arran Aromatics smellies – but the rooms do have enough of a character to distinguish them from chain hotels. We expect there was a trouser press somewhere too.
A later check-out time than 10.30, especially as breakfast is served until 10, would have been appreciated, but one gets the feeling that if we’d asked permission to lounge about in bed an hour longer it needn’t have been a problem.
On departure the staff furnished us with information on local walks and general stuff to do – they gladly consented when asked if we could leave the car in the large car-park in search of a local three-mile loop, mindful of the cheesecake and creme brulee.
Owners Nelson North West clearly have strong, if straightforward, ideas about what makes good food, service and accommodation work. It’s enough to make us scan the horizon for their arrival in Liverpool – and look askance at the relative lack of such hostelries closer to home. In the mean time The Bear’s Paw is an excellent, affordable bolt-hole that offers simple, but important, pleasures.