Restaurant review: The Hungry Bear, Meanwood, Leeds

The upstairs dining area

The upstairs dining area

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Meanwood has seen its fair share of ups and downs.

In the 17th century a skirmish between Royalist and Parliamentarian forces in the area during the Civil War was said to have left the beck tainted by the blood of the fallen, giving rise to the name ‘Stainbeck’ by which some of its streets are still known.

The confit pork belly with rich and creamy irish cabbage, buttered sprouting broccoli and red wine jus.

The confit pork belly with rich and creamy irish cabbage, buttered sprouting broccoli and red wine jus.

The same beck later provided water and power for thriving corn, flax and paper mills, dye works and tanneries.

During the latter part of the 20th century and early 21st century, it became something of a no-man’s-land as its near neighbours Headingley and Chapel Allerton enjoyed a cosmopolitan renaissance.

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In recent years, however, the area has started to make the most of its enviable position – within striking distance of the city centre but encompassing a sprawling area of parkland which gives it the feel of a rural village – to become an attractive destination in its own right.

Chicken liver pate dusted with vanilla sea salt, Madeira Jelly, sherry soaked golden raisins and brioche crisps.

Chicken liver pate dusted with vanilla sea salt, Madeira Jelly, sherry soaked golden raisins and brioche crisps.

And nowhere is this more apparent than in the rejuvenated corner of the suburb at the busy junction of Stonegate Road and Meanwood Road.

The narrow pavements and heavy traffic here are not entirely conducive to cafe culture.

But a couple of aspiring businesses have made light of the impractical location to create a thriving quarter that has become an ideal spot to eat, drink and be merry.

In the heart of the hustle and bustle is the Hungry Bear, which is a prime example of the art of defying the disadvantages which should count against success.

Suspended summer fruit in sparkling rose wine jelly served with a toasted raspberry marshmallow

Suspended summer fruit in sparkling rose wine jelly served with a toasted raspberry marshmallow

Once the offices for a law firm, the compact building appears at first sight far more suited to the work of a solicitor than a chef. But by maximising the space and keeping the decor simple, the proprietor has turned the shop from uninspiring to inviting.

The ground-floor has smart slate tiles, cool grey-painted walls and a collection of vintage tables and chairs.

In the roof space upstairs is a further handful of tables and a shabby-chic dresser that adds to the restaurant’s homely appeal.

As well as the home-made food, there are home brews on offer. For those who are unsure about what they like – or who like a bit of everything – they even do a ‘tasting slate’ of three different beers.

The Hungry Bear’s website promises ‘modern British cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere’. The easy service and the warm environment certainly fulfil the second part of the pledge, and the options on the menu looked promising.

Starters range from a £4.50 soup of the day to the intriguing-sounding drunk haddock rarebit at £6.75.

My dining partner had the chicken liver pate (also £6.75), which had its own boozy twist with some sherry-soaked raisins.

The pate was wonderfully rich and smooth, though the dusting of vanilla sea salt added little to the equation. There was some much needed crunch in the moreish brioche crisps.

The real treat was the madeira jelly, adding an indulgent edge to an artfully executed opening dish.

I had the courgette, mint and feta potato cakes (£5.50) and what little bundles of joy they were.

The three crispy coated spheres were unassuming in appearance but packed full of creamy, salty, herby flavour.

The cucumber spaghetti they sat on top of was an unnecessary flourish, but the balsamic and raspberry dressing added a welcome layer of sharp sweetness.

It wasn’t an especially light start to a meal that became significantly more substantial with the arrival of my main.

The confit of pork belly was a brick of sumptuously cooked meat. I surprised myself with the voracity with which I stripped off hearty forkfuls of beautifully succulent flesh before making light work of the devilishly chewy layer of crackling that was doused in a red wine jus.

The greens – cabbage and broccoli – felt no less indulgent, coming in a rich, creamy sauce

My dining partner’s seafood gratin (£13.50) looked like dessert. Served in an oval dish and covered with a golden brown topping it could easily have been a fruit crumble, , were it not for the giveaway aroma of the ocean emanating from underneath,

This crumble was made with parmesan and what it concealed was a deliciously warming combination of coley, mussels and queenie scallops in a delicate white wine sauce. She fairly inhaled most of it and mopped up what was left with the hunks of ciabatta on the side.

We’d asked the waitress whether we needed anything to accompany our main dishes. She’d wisely counselled against ordering any sides.

We resolved, nevertheless, to consult the dessert menu and, having done so, decided to share the enticing-sounding suspended summer fruits in sparkling rose wine jelly (£5.95).

This was a largely sharp combination of raspberries, blackcurrants and red currents in a jelly that struggled to compete with the tart flavours of the fruit.

There was a definite need for a sweet dimension. Sadly the toasted raspberry marshmallow fell short of the mark.

The soft, pink layer looked inviting enough, but it was pockmarked by off-putting patches of charred sugar and the texture was granular rather than gooey. It was a slightly disappointing end to what had otherwise been a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

Nevertheless, at a cost of around £70 including a bottle of wine and a very fine pale ale, the overall experience was largely impressive.

The Hungry Bear is likely to be gorging on success for some time to come.

FACTFILE

Address: 10-14 Stonegate Road, Meanwood, Leeds

Website:www.thehungrybear.co.uk

Tel: 0113 274 0241

Opening times: noon-2.30pm and 6pm-9.30pm Monday - Saturday; noon-6pm Sunday

Food ****

Value ****

Atmosphere ****

Service ****