Sunday, 25 April 2010

Review of The Bear Freehouse, Camberwell - Apr 2010

WhereThe Bear Freehouse, Camberwell
With whom: Dr Science, the Vole and J School
How much?: roasts between £11 and £14, my mussels and accompanying chips were around £9. Beer is fairly steep though, £3.30 for a pint of bitter... maybe I'm just getting more Northern in my old age

It used to be a bit of a dive, back in the day. The old geezers who propped the bar up and whiled the day away reading the Racing Post and grinding their coffin nails out on the floor might feel the pub's grimy decor had little but a clean up, but they certainly wouldn't recognise the current clientele. Close your eyes and ignore the traffic racing along Camberwell New Road and you could be in a little corner of Balham or Clapham.

It's an unpromising site but the pub has successfully reinvented in the last couple of years, winning several awards, hosting regular quiz nights and putting on what has become quickly realised locally as a bloody good Sunday spread. We got there early and grabbed a seat in the wood panelled main room. If I didn't remember how 'weathered' a pub it used to be, I'd be fairly sure that someone had spent a lot of money buying up the rickety furniture and quirky decor.

They have a range of roasted meats available; pork, lamb and chicken on the menu today, and a vegetarian haggis. The starters hit all of the gastropub standards with a hearty pork terrine, smoked eel and a nice looking bowl of mussels.

They rather inconsistently come with different amounts of veg, so it's best to ask when ordering what you'll need. Dr Science went for the chicken which came with an assortment of well roasted carrots, the obligatory goose fat / semolina roast potatoes and some buttered greens. J School's similarly priced lamb came with a measly amount of leek and carrot and was crying out for a side order of greens. Vegetable malfunctions aside, both pronounced their meat to be excellent.

I was still feeling a little delicate even after a pint of excellent Bear Island, from the tiny Newby Wyke brewery in Grantham, my home town. It's a new and tiny operation brewing 30 barrels a week and on this tasting, let's hope they can keep up the good work!

Not feeling like a roast dinner, I plumped for a starter sized portion of those mussels with a side order of crisp chips. The plump mussels were good quality and cooked well, but the white wine sauce was a bit too creamy for my liking.

By the time we'd had another couple of drinks, the crowds were taking their toddlers and dogs and starting to flow away. I don't mourn for the loss of a good local pub taken away from the people in the neighbourhood as in this instance the gentrification has been handled well and the new clientele are still enjoying the new look Bear over a year after the refurbishment. It'll be interesting seeing whether the same crowd migrate over to The Tiger on the Green, but it certainly bodes well for the area.

Bear Free House on Urbanspoon

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