Where to start? With the setting then, as it’s my overriding memory of Darle and the Bear‘s opulent, plush new cafe Bear Den, which recently opened above their art gallery in Woodstock.

What a setting – velvet chairs, bright colours, painted walls, vintage furniture, tropical plants, beautiful art (all for sale of course), which shouts opulence and relaxation, begging you to sit down and rest – to eat cake, drink coffee, chat, catch up and enjoy yourself.

I did all of the above on my recent visit and fell instantly in love with the Bear Den. It’s such a surprising discovery, decorated by owner Julie Wigg in her inimitably good taste, art everywhere. It feels like a respite from the outside world, a hidden secret, a retreat, a treat.

The Bear Den

Neither does it have any wifi, so is laptop and mobile free, to provide space away from technology. Bear Den also boasts some impressive eco credentials while sourcing its produce as locally and ethically as possible, from the crockery to the teabags – the Papua New Guinean coffee for example comes from Monsoon Coffee Estates a nearby traditional craft coffee roastery.

In a separate room the patisserie selection, care of Oxford’s Barefoot Bakery, is laid out on a big farmhouse table for those who want to choose for themselves, an almost impossible task.

Bear Den Manager Tomek Dec

From croissants and brownies to flapjacks and biscuits, my eyes were irresistibly drawn to the jaw-dropping collection of cakes from Oxford’s Barefoot Bakery, ranging from a huge moist carrot cake to a classic Victoria sponge or the show-stopper – the cherry and chocolate cake which towered above the rest, decorated with petals and icing, which had my name on it.

In my experience, coffee shop cake always looks better than they taste but this was absolutely the exception to the rule. So moist and soft, juicy and tasty. The carrot cake was equally as satisfying.

The coffee, so beautifully crafted by manager Tomek Dec, was a dream and I immediately ordered another cup.

And so the afternoon drifted by, unencumbered by texts and emails, social media and phone calls, it was bliss. Afterwards we had a wander around the beautiful gallery below, filled with so much interesting and eye-catching art.

Julie has since announced an OPEN CALL for new and emerging local artists who can now apply to be exhibited on the walls of the Bear Den during the last two weeks of every month. More details here: https://www.darleandthebear.co.uk/open-call.asp

In the meantime, I’d get down to Bear Den pronto for some proper R&R, and remember that with sunnier climes, the enticing garden and balcony will come into its own, another part of Bear Den’s extensive offering.

The outside space comes to life in the summer

Bear Den is upstairs, through the first door on the left when you enter Darle and the Bear on Oxford Street in Woodstock and open during the gallery’s opening hours – 10am- 4.30pm everyday except Tuesday. For more details go to https://www.darleandthebear.co.uk