Have you ever eaten at a place that has had such a WOW factor that you have had to tell people? I mean one of those places that when you go in, the conversation is more about the decor than what the food is like?
It does not happen very often, but The Crazy Bear in Stadhampton (Oxford) is one of those places. We know that this is not a Swindon local, or even on the outskirts but the trek, of a little over an hour, was worth it just to see this place.
Every now and again we see a deal on Groupon (that crazy discount online shopping place that everyone is a little wary of) and this was where we started. A deal that seems too good to be true, 57% off a surf and turf dinner, it must be a scam, right? Reading the small print, it was not shrimp and a burger, but a whole lobster tail and chateaubriand with a glass of champagne to wash it down, it had to be worth a punt.
Arriving in a small village called Stadhampton, there were signs up showing us the way. Driving down a small lane, a look to the left we saw a green glow, we knew we were at the right place.
Around the back was a large car park that was lit up with a thousand lights. The immediate feel of the place was one of awe and huge expectation. It did not let us down.
Walking into the place we were treated with a neon covered Double Decker bus and what was described as an fairy pond right behind it. A seating area was right next to it and during the summer it would make on great meeting place.
Going in the old pub, it felt like we were walking into a Russian mafia owned outfit. Big red leather padded doors, the opulence and outlandishness of the place hit us between the eyes. This place was just jaw dropping shock. If it were anywhere else the garish expensive look would turn your stomach, however here it just worked.
Being greeted at the bar and shown to our table, the place was packed. The reason was not because it had overbooked but when people moved around they were looking up and not in front. There were so many things to see and discuss, from the full size bear hidden in the roof space, to the chandeliers hanging over the mirror surrounded tables and the leather booths people can hide away in. This really was an assault on the eyes.
After we got to our table the conversation started. Surprisingly we were comparing notes, pointing out the outlandish decor and impression it was leaving on us. The thousands of bottles of wine suspended above our heads, the lighting, the mirrors it was enough to keep the conversation flowing for hours after the meal as well.
Sorry, we may have missed the point of a food review, lets get back to the grub and the deal. Being sat we were handed a telephone directory for a menu, there was pages and pages of different menus to chose from. They catered for everything, afternoon tea to 7 courses and lunchtimes.
Having thumbed through we went for a crab starter and the surf and turn Groupon deal (we took our voucher). The staff were polite and friendly and hurried off after bringing us our champagne and other drinks. The conversation was interesting, there were mirrors everywhere which meant that no matter where anyone sat we all had the same view. It was interesting to watch other diners find the things we had already discovered and look at where they point to find new ones.
The food came and the crab was great, tasty, fresh and hit the mark but the real food was afterwards and this was what we were waiting for, the main course.
Ordering some sides to bolster the plate was a mistake. When the mains came, we realised that we did not need them, tasty as they were it was an over order.
The lobster came with a garlic butter and the steak had already been carved sitting next to the giant mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
We did not wait too long before digging in, the lobster was tasty but a little tough and the delicate chateaubriand meat had lost its taste, as if it had been carved and left under the warmer for too long. This was not the best surf and turf we had but it was OK and we did eat it all.
This meal was not a fine dining experience in the sense of the very best food, it was a dining experience of a different class. One that lasts for weeks and a brilliant conversation starter.
Knowing that we were eating out we had starved ourselves all day, to fit in 3 courses but on this occasion the starters and mains finished that plan off. We had planned to do the sharing desserts but there was no room.
Paying the bill, discussing whether the 12.5% service charge was worth it we handed over the cash. Then we did just as the others had done before us, grabbing our coats we walked out with our faces pointed up, looking at the designs and pointing at what would be an extreme makeover in anyone’s house.
The hour journey home was what we needed, to get the sense of what we had just encountered, going over the finer points of the place so we can get the whole place into perspective.
Our view is that is is well worth a visit, do not expect to have your socks blown off with the food but the interior and experience will certainly do it.