We have the late Bard of the Buttershaw, Andrea Dunbar, to thank for the restaurant review this week.
If I’d not been in Bradford to see the theatrical rendering of the excellent novel Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile (about the inspiring work and tragic life of Ms Dunbar) in the Ambassadors pub, then I wouldn’t have put a call out on Twitter for decent places to eat nearby and my mate Manjit wouldn’t have recommended Bear’s Den. Such is the power of theatre.
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Charcuterie sharing boards to befuddle the gastronomically challenged
The middle of Bradford these days, of course, is very different from the 80s city that inspired Rita, Sue and Bob Too. It’s all trendy micropubs and holistic medicine and industrial-design bistros serving elaborate charcuterie sharing boards. I’m kidding. Bratfud is very much still Bratfud, but Bear’s Den is genuinely the second industrial-design bistro I know of within a few hundred yards of each other that serve charcuterie sharing boards so elaborate the concept alone could very easily befuddle the gastronomically-challenged unless you show them a photo.
Apparently this has been a genuine concern of Bear’s Den since it opened last November. It’s based in Sunbridge Wells, a labyrinthine complex of bars, nightclubs and eateries stacked on top and around each other in a mish-mash of old buildings.
It’s far more pleasant than I’ve made it sound but has seemingly been attracting visitors who have never heard of halloumi or hasselback and this has led to owner/ chef Rich Kendrick laminating photos of the dishes and offering them on the counter as visual guides. The Bear’s Den clearly needs to find its natural audience.
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An appealing menu with everything going for it
This, I’m absolutely certain, it will. It’s an attractive, sort-of U-shaped little space with a short but appealing menu and has everything going for it. Rich has years of experience and knows exactly what he’s doing. All the food is offered up in beautiful tableaus of generous proportions and, better still, as many ingredients as practical are bought in Bradford’s Oastler Market.
The menu options fall into three simple categories.
There are toasties and grilled cheese, things on toast or sharing boards. There is a choice of five toasties between £6 and £7 and all feature three complimentary ingredients – spinach, goats cheese and chilli jam is my favourite. The “on toast” section offers either mushroom, garlic, butter and thyme or halloumi, chutney or honey for £5.
The sharing boards (£17-£19) are a substantial meal. The charcuterie board is wonderfully balanced, with artisanal meats and cheeses, homemade pickles and chutneys and other surprises like blueberries and toasted chickpeas.
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An unpretentious powerful cheesy hit
The cheese lovers’ board is far more low-rent. Fried cheeses and fondue and macaroni balls and the like. Basically a dozen different shades of orange and beige delivering an unpretentious but powerful cheesy hit.
There is also a sliders board, featuring several mini hamburgers of various hues – beef, lamb, pork etc. I didn’t try it but it looked very tempting.
There are occasional specials and desserts chalked on the wall, I had an assiette of chocolate with rocky road, brownie and a millionaires shortbread so gooey it coated the entire inside of my throat. I was still tasting it three days later. There’s value for money.
For such a small place, Bear’s Den also has a robust drinks list, with wine, craft beers, posh gin and coffees. It’s an absolutely perfect pre-theatre venue. Although I was seeing a play in an unusual venue, it’s only a stone’s throw from the Alhambra and the Imax. There is also 10 per cent off the bill to anyone flashing a theatre ticket.
And so, filled with various foodstuffs, I’m away to watch the play. Without wishing to tread on the toes of our esteemed theatre critic, I’d say it was an imaginative adaptation of the book, brilliantly acted and staged and well worth catching on tour. I’d give the play 4 out of 5 stars and Bear’s Den about the same. It’s always grand to be pleasantly surprised by a place you know nothing about before walking in. Bradfordians will hopefully feel the same when they eventually happen upon it.
Bear’s Den, 38 Sunbridge Wells, Bradford BD1 1SD. Tel: 07566 746776; www.downattheden.co.uk. Food served: Monday and Tuesday, 12-
4pm, Thursday to Saturday, 12 to 11pm.