James Mearing and his kitchen team at The Bear

Raj Chakraborty emanates energy, it’s coming out of his pores. Chatting to me in the front bar of The Bear Hotel in Woodstock, the 44 year-old is the new general manager of the famous hotel and determined to return it to its former glory.

The MacDonald hotel had been resting on its laurels it seems, but with Raj at the helm, things have started looking up.

Becoming independent of the MacDonald group (which also own The Randolph), while still under its ownership, has been the first move.

it’s James Mearing’s name out there and this is a great opportunity for him, so I’m more than happy for James to have all the glory.”

“That was the plan when I came in, to be independent and rebuild The Bear’s reputation, to get back to where it was before, because the potential here is huge,” Raj says “and people are already reporting back on the benefits. We are turning it around already.”

First up is swanky new chef James Mearing, hailing from The Wild Rabbit in Kingham when it had its Michelin star. Formerly of The Gainsborough in Bath, with a stint at Mercedes under his belt, he is raring to showcase the new menu.

“It’s all about building the hotel’s reputation up again, so that people come to dine and stay rather than stay and dine, so it’s got to be about the food and the service,” Raj says.

“you can’t have everyone going to Soho FarmHouse”

“Hence appointing James Mearing. We are delighted he wanted to take on the challenge and help turn around the reputation of The Bear,” he adds.

One of James Mearing’s new desserts

Raj on the other hand has an equally impressive CV, working his way up through the cheffing ranks, before learning his craft from the other side of the pass.

Raj has only been GM for nine weeks when we speak, but there is no doubt he’s the man for the job, latterly of The Compleat Angler in Marlow and St Pancras Renaissance in London.

He’s got big plans too, re-opening the books for Christmas and New Year, which are now full. In terms of improvements nothing has been left untouched from the crockery to the air conditioning units, kitchen update to employing more permanent staff, painting the front, the bar and the bedrooms, new curtains… the list goes on.

“we just want people to come back and eat here, because our chef is so good now”

“We want a good balance of contemporary and traditional here, from the menu to the decor,” he says, “because we want to appeal to a new generation, as well as our loyal clientele. It’s about bringing a modern touch to this wonderful old building and finding the right balance.”

So is it working? “Absolutely! I am proud to see the food coming out of the kitchens now – it’s stunning and tasty. So while it’s challenging for the chef, knowing my food background, we are good friends and he knows that if I have anything to say it will be constructive. It’s James’ name out there and a great opportunity for him, so I’m more than happy for James to have all the glory.”

Going forward what can we expect? “We will change the menu every three months and are about to introduce a special Sunday lunch offer. We aim to use local suppliers, but not just for the sake of it – the salmon we get from Scotland is as amazing as the beef.”

“But more than anything, we just want people to come back and eat here because our chef is so good. The Wild Rabbit was Michelin starred when he was there. And you can’t have everyone going to Soho Farm House,” he laughs, “so I think I’ve come in at just the right time.”

The Bear Hotel, Park St, Woodstock OX20 1SZ