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How we dared to Bear

BEAR on South William Street bills itself as a classic grill house, but given that it is a joint venture between rugby player Jamie Heaslip and Joe Macken of Joburger, Crackbird and Skinflint, you know it is going to be something a little different.

Macken's restaurants are places you either love or hate. He has pioneered a cheap and cheerful approach, spending as little as possible on decor -- recycled doors serve as tables in Skinflint for example -- and consciously promoting a hip, cool image. You can't book at Bear but you can tweet to see if they are busy.

Bear is Macken's most stylish restaurant to date. And with gleaming copper pipes, bare neon bulbs hanging over the tables, reclaimed wood ceilings and salvaged radiators, the effect is industrial but somehow welcoming.

Bear is also his best concept yet, partly because he is celebrating something valuable -- Irish beef -- but also because he is doing it with panache. You won't find striploin or fillet but you will find flank, rump, onglet and bavette -- the cuts of meat the fancy (non-hip) restaurants don't want. Chicken and pork are also available but beef is the star.

I visited with the Engineer and the Aspiring Teenager and found the staff friendly and eager to explain the menu and make sure we were comfortable.



Homemade

There is a short wine list with the emphasis on value, including a perfectly drinkable Dom Boyar Cabernet from Bulgaria for just €18. As in all Joe Macken joints there was excellent homemade lemonade and a couple of craft beers.

Pork terrine with carrot and pistachio had good pork flavours and worked well on the Poilane-style sourdough bread made for them by Le Levain, which will be familiar if you visit the Temple Bar market. This nutty aromatic bread was also excellent with our other starter -- a creamy mushroom duxelles.

All three of our steaks arrived rare (as ordered) and all were tasty and tender. The feather steak (from near the neck) did require a little more chewing than the two cuts from the other end of the cow -- the pope's eye and the rump. These unusual cuts are never going to be as tender as a fillet, but they have more flavour and a little firmness in the meat, which is partly how they deliver that extra flavour. The other huge advantage is cost -- the pope's eye costs just €9.95 -- is this the cheapest steak in Ireland?

The regular fries were thin and mostly crispy and proved again that there is something magical about the combination of thin crispy chips and rare steak.

Million-dollar fries are €6.50 and cost that much because they are really cubes of gratin-dauphinoise style potatoes that have been deep-fried -- utterly sinful and delicious but we could only finish half of them due to their richness.

There are no desserts but, that aside, Bear is exactly the kind of restaurant Dublin needs at the moment, as nothing chases away thoughts of recession like an inexpensive steak and chips with the added bonus that you might meet Jamie Heaslip.


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