Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Bear, Dublin 2
There's no doubt that the restaurant business is going through hard times at the moment, but while we hear plenty about the bad news, the good news doesn't get enough of an airing.
And there are good news stories out there.
One of them is the growing chain of restaurants started by Joe Macken, which began with the excellent Jo'Burger in Rathmines and then -- through a series of pop-up restaurants, which trialled different concepts -- ended up with four permanent restaurants: Jo'Burger, Crackbird, Skinflint and now Bear.
I've now lost track of which one popped up where and where it's moved to now, but Bear is ensconced in what was Crackbird in South William Street.
The interior has changed a bit: reclaimed planks line the ceiling, the seating area is now filled with refectory tables -- that is, they're shared tables -- and the lighting uses unusual filament bulbs.
The tables are simple, the cutlery and napkins are in recycled tin cans, and you sit on wooden stools. The effect is one of shabby chic, very Manhattan and very busy.
Bear is a collaboration between the Jo'Burger group and rugby star Jamie Heaslip.
On the face of it, rugby and restaurants aren't obvious partners, but if you think that rugby players are big, strong, beefy men, then you have a clue to what you'll find on the menu: lots of beef.
Not just boring old steaks, but all manner of interesting cuts with names you'll need a dictionary for -- onglet, Pope's eye, rosary cut and bavette are there, as is London broil and flank.
This is definitely a restaurant for carnivores.
I went there with Marian Kenny and chef Max Kenny on a mid-week night and we arrived to find a queue at the door.
We were told we'd have a table in 20 minutes or so, so we went across the road for a pre-prandial drink.
Sure enough, 20 minutes later we were seated and began scanning the menu.
The menu doesn't have starters as such, but there are a few dishes that serve as starters and give you something to pick on while you wait for your meat.
If you decide on the London broil, which will feed up to four people, you'll have a 40-minute wait for it to cook.
We started with thick-cut bacon for Max, fried chickpeas with pimiento for Marian and truffled hen's egg with mayonnaise for me.
All of the starter dishes are keenly priced, running from €3.50 to €6.95, and the ones we picked were very nicely presented: the chickpeas in a small dish; the bacon, three large thick slices with a pot of Dijon mustard alongside; the truffled egg served chopped up in a small jar with sourdough toast presented on a flattened glass bottle.
These unusual containers are a large part of the theming. Both Marian and Max ordered home-made lime and ginger lemonade, which came in large jam jars with straws.
These were successful starters because all the ingredients were good quality. The bacon was excellent and although all of our dishes were simple, they worked well.
I ordered a glass of an Irish beer, the White Gypsy pilsner from Tipperary, because I'm rapidly becoming a fan of Irish artisan beers.
They have so much more taste than the big-named brands as they don't have to please a huge range of palates.
If you haven't explored these beers, I'd encourage you to try them.
There is a short wine list on the back of the menu with a dozen or so wines, and all are priced at less than €27. Fair prices, too -- a Chianti from Badia a Coltibuono, one of the great Tuscan wineries, is listed at €23.
So to the main courses. Marian ordered the half roast chicken at €12.95 and Max and I shared the onglet at €24.95.
Onglet, it turns out, is the name for the diaphragm muscle. The names of the cuts I listed earlier are all cuts of this kind -- cuts that are cheaper than the more easily recognised ones, but, when cooked properly, are tender and tasty.
In Bear, a high-tech, infra-red grill is the piece of kitchen equipment that cooks the meat.
Just to emphasise the big, beefiness of the cuts, the knife you get for cutting it is the iconic French folding pocket knife, the Opinel, which has a blade that retains a good edge.
The half chicken looked huge on its serving platter. It was pieced into breast, wing and leg, but be warned: if you order this, you'll need a big appetite. We took most of it home in a doggy bag.
As for the onglet, it came sliced and cooked medium rare, and between Max and I we finished it.
For our side orders we got fries, million-dollar fries, buttered leeks and a horseradish slaw. I particularly liked the horseradish slaw as an accompaniment to the beef, and Marian and Max loved the million-dollar fries.
All of this came to €81.15, which I thought was excellent value.
Bear doesn't do desserts or coffees and teas, as the room and menu are designed to get you fed and get you out quickly, in order to turn the tables.
So here's what might stop you from enjoying Bear. If you don't like meat; if you don't like busy, noisy restaurants; if you don't like sitting on stools; if you don't like sharing tables and if you don't like eating and running, then Bear may not be for you.
But if you like good beef, enjoy company and like value for money, then you can join the queues outside its door.
Tel: No reservations, just turn up
On a budget
Because both the main courses and the side orders are large portions, sharing is the way to get the most for your money.
If two people had the onglet, a portion of fries and a portion of horseradish slaw, you'd spend just over €33.
On a blowout
The most expensive steak on the menu is the 16oz rib eye, which is €24.95. Couple this with the million-dollar fries and you’ll have spent €31.45.