Bear witness to greatness
Jamie Heaslip and Joe Macken’s restaurant scores effortlessly with its new brunch menu
It’s striking how few Dubliners are around the city on a Sunday morning. It’s a population of gulls, tourists in smart rainwear and the occasional buggy-pusher who has been up since dawn. It seems we are more of a brinner than a brunch crowd. We rise late and go in search of breakfast and dinner in the middle of the day.
At noon, Bear on Dublin’s South William Street opens its doors. It’s just us and two other people at first. Joe Macken and Jamie Heaslip’s restaurant has started a new brunch. Two thoughts occurred when I read the menu online: how hungry I felt by the end of the list; and how this blokey place seems to be reaching out to the girls.
It makes sense. The women of Ireland have been keeping restaurants humming through the downturn. Bear opened with an emphasis on meat, the cheap cuts cooked well and served in an oxblood-coloured room as macho as the inside of a matador’s trouser pocket. I don’t believe being a man qualifies you to horse down large quantities of dead animal but the target market seemed to be anaemic hipsters in need of a bit of feeding up. Or as my pal puts it: “I always thought of it as cholesterol heaven.”
We’re greeted by a friendly, relaxed waitress and given a table in the window, by far the best seats in the house.
The steel-framed panes of glass can slide up to give you the sitting on the street feeling without actually sitting on the street. Across the way we watch a young man in a jacket being photographed. When he turns around you see the bull clip holding his tweed jacket tightly cinched in place around his barely-there waist. It’s one of the reasons clothes look better in fashion shots than they do in reality.
The reality of the Bear brunch doesn’t need any cinching or airbrushing. A glass of lip-smacking pink grapefruit juice sets up the feast. Brunch brings out my sweet tooth, that longing to team crisp bacon with sticky maple syrup. “Who doesn’t like pancakes?” Jeanne asks. The answer is chefs. Those thin crepes really only taste good in the minutes after they’re cooked so they’re a menace in busy kitchen. Besides, Lemon is slapping them out down the road. So there are no pancakes here.
Instead there are chestnut mushrooms fried in miso butter and tumbled on to avocado-slathered toasted sourdough. They’re an instant mouth wallop of salty, savoury rightness. There are spring onions and the whole lot is topped with rocket. By the end of the dish the salt has become a little overwhelming.
In the meantime Jeanne is tucking into the grilled pork and black pepper sausages with home-baked beans also on sourdough toast. The beans have chunks of smoked bacon in them so the whole thing tastes like a campfire meal eaten out of a rusty tin. We’re hoping the Blazing Saddles vibe ends there.
The menu says you can customise your breakfast with extras “but don’t be awkward: chefs aren’t morning people”. Eh, it’s not morning, lads. You open at noon. But I get it. In this late-night place the sun isn’t over the yardarm yet.
In the spirit of brinner I get a sweet second of the spelt granola with apple and Highbank apple syrup. There are slices of lightly stewed apple on a good bowl of thick, creamy yoghurt sweetened with caramel and that apple syrup that ticks all my sugary brunchy yearnings, only with better, tastier ingredients. We get very good coffee in those 1980s brown Pyrex cups and leave happy.
I’m happy to be the bearer (sorry) of good news for the weekend brunch crowd. It might be a bit brinner but the new Bear brunch is great. Brunch for two came to €32.50
Verdict: 8/10 Inventive brunch ideas that deliver on flavour
Facilities: Pink with retro cisterns
Wheelchair access: No
Music: Funk and disco
Vegetarian options: Good for brunch
Food Provenance: Not bad. Highbank Orchard for the syrup and Pat McLoughlin and Gilligan Farm Butchers for the meat.