The Bear Inn, in the Shropshire village of Hodnet, was established as a coaching inn way back in the 16th century. It has been serving patrons ever since. 

Having recently undergone a £2million refurbishment, the much-loved venue is now operated by Mel & Martin Board, the dynamic team behind the fantastic Michelin Guide-approved, three AA rosette restaurant, The Haughmond.

The Bear Inn reopened its doors to the public in July and boasts a restaurant, bar and outside courtyard, as well as 12 luxury bedrooms. It has, in fact, not long been named as one of the top 100 best British hotels by the Sunday Times.

Modern British dishes made from local, seasonal produce, ales from Shropshire brewers, ­and butcher’s cuts from their own cattle take pride of place on the menu. The Bear grows fruit and vegetables in the 200-year-old walled garden of Hodnet Hall - and what they can’t pluck from the kitchen garden, they source locally instead. 

Sounding good, isn’t it? And I can confirm that things here are every bit as good as they sound.
Our evening kicked off with two lively pints of Estrella and some warm, dense, salt-topped buttermilk bread served with a beautiful smoked sundried tomato butter. More often than not, when the bread course is this good, you know you’re in for a treat.

Intrigued, I ordered the ‘crab crumpet, caviar’ to start. My partner went for the smoked trout. Soft and delicate, the fish was cooked perfectly. The combination of flavours and textures here is great. The light horseradish provided a perfect contrast to the sharp and acidic flavour from the pickled fennel and the bursts of sweetness from the beetroot remoulade. Served with an oatcake for added crunch, it was a dish I'd order again without hesitation.

On to the crumpet. Now, I’m a big fan of this type of cookery. Taking the simple crumpet and giving it a luxurious makeover (and actually creating a restaurant-worthy dish!) takes culinary expertise, something that the kitchen here has in abundance. At the table, Caviar Beurre Blanc - a delicious mix of butter, white wine and cream and caviar, amongst other ingredients - was poured over the warm crab-topped bread. To the side was a quenelle of cold white crab with a subtle citrus kick, which added a sense of freshness to the otherwise comforting dish. Bread, wine, cream, butter, crab and caviar, all in one dish. What’s not to love about that?!

The main courses were every bit as good as, if not better than, the starters. I ordered the chicken stuffed with black garlic mousse. The strong, earthy flavour from the Grifola frondosa mushrooms, also known as ‘hen of the woods’, worked perfectly with the well seasoned and nicely cooked chicken. That tried-and-tested combination of chicken and mushroom never fails! Grains were added for additional texture and flavour, as was a heavenly gravy and a rich artichoke puree. Cleverly incorporated, the garlic in no way overpowered the dish’s other flavours.

Ox cheek, mash and bone marrow. More tried-and-tested ingredient combinations. And boy, is The Bear’s version something to write home about! Boasting a stunning piece of fatty, melt-in-the-mouth ox cheek, smoked mash, a sweet carrot puree, a sharp and vinegary pickled walnut, complete with jus and a rich bone marrow gravy, it was another faultless dish - and may well have been the highlight of the evening. 

The portion sizes were far from small, but we couldn’t leave without sampling something sweet. The chocolate & peanut butter delice, served with caramelised banana & peanut butter ice cream, certainly hit the spot, as did the moist parsnip (yes, parsnip!) cake, served with an extremely tart but absolutely delicious kumquat curd and sweet cream.

The Bear Inn has got the full package - it serves tasty food of a high quality, uses local produce, charges affordable prices, is child-friendly and dog-friendly, employs knowledgeable and attentive staff, offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere and boasts an extensive wine list (to name but a few of its many plus points!). If all of that doesn’t make you want to visit immediately, then nothing will. Oh, and you should book a table at Mel & Martin’s other venue, The Haughmond, while you’re at it. Just like The Bear, it’s a fantastic venue that the people of Shropshire are very lucky to have.

Reviewed by Lauren Foster.

The Bear Inn is sited on Drayton Road, Hodnet, Market Drayton, Shropshire, TF9 3NH.                        Tel: 01630 685214