The White Bear is back and doing a roaring trade

The White Bear is back and doing a roaring trade

A couple of decades ago, in order to run a successful establishment you needed to offer little more than a few decent beers, some wine, a traditional selection of crisps – oh and perhaps a jukebox in order to get the party going on the weekend.

But how times have changed! Nowadays going out is a full-on social ‘experience’ where pubs, bars and restaurants, both big and small, require a variety of exotic sounding craft ales, a funky cocktail list – including spirits preferably sourced from a local distillery – and a list of dining delights that sounds more like you’re reading a florid foreign novel than a menu. And as for the ambience? Well that’s now just as crucial as the food and drink served up in order to entice clients to come back time and time again.

It’s fair to say then that the basic drinking dens of yesteryear have well and truly been usurped by a new breed of bijoux boozers. So when The White Bear suddenly reappeared on Tunbridge Wells High Street at the end of the summer after 20 odd years, its new owners Young’s had obviously done their market research in order to bring back a much loved local – but with much, much more to offer than just a pint, a packet of crisps and a great night out.

The devil’s in the detail

When I visited it with a friend recently it was immediately clear on stepping inside The White Bear just how much creative effort has gone into revamping the visual appeal of the premises – which was, until a few months ago, still trading as The Tunbridge Wells Bar & Grill.

The redesign is a million miles away from the pub’s original character, sporting a hip Hoxton style vibe these days – think bare brick walls enhanced by hits of funky florals and fairy lights festooned about the place. Add the aesthetic Instagram-worthy mix of vintage seating, ornately tiled floors and statement lighting and it’s clear why The White Bear’s transformation has earned it thousands of likes and shares on social media.

The main entrance, which under its former Bar & Grill guise was largely given over to dining tables, is now totally opened up for discerning drinkers who’ll love the huge array of local artisan beers and spirits as well as a brimming cocktails list. The impressive curved bar counter is still in place but there are now lots of little snug areas to sit and sip as well as a couple of squishy sofas, positioned by a spectacular open fire that’s bound to be a much coveted spot over the winter months.

The delightful orangery area towards the back of The White Bear is just as appealing thanks to its cool décor and multifunctional nature. Not only does it boast a garden grill kitchen, there’s also a magnificent walled garden and an outside bar with retractable roof.

We’re told by our attentive waiter as we head towards our table that the orangery wants to appeal to everyone and everything – a place to brunch, have a cocktail, or enjoy dinner.

Food, glorious food

First glance at the menu and we’re suitably impressed. There’s a good offering of solid pub classics such as the White Bear burger (£13.50), beer battered fish and chips (£14) and sausages and mash (£12), but the majority of it is dedicated to the finer things in life including Aberdeen Angus steak tartar with bone marrow and ale bread (£8) and roasted plaice with sea vegetables and caper berries (£13.50). Prices are reasonable too with perhaps only the steaks being a tad expensive – a 26oz Côte de Boeuf sharing platter costing £60 with only fries to accompany it does seem a little disproportionate.

To start I choose the vanilla and Anno (local) gin cured trout with caper berries (£6) while my friend opts for the roasted Scottish scallops and blackberries (£8). The latter comes on its cute coquille St Jacques shell and certainly tastes as good as it looks. My friend Cat says the scallops are plump and perfectly chargrilled while the blackberries add an interesting intense fruity twist. My generous slivers of trout are anointed with just the right amount of lemon juice and are taken to another level thanks to the deliciously soft and fresh homemade white bread served alongside.

As we’re both having meat mains, Cat and I decide to share a bottle of red but as we ponder the choices our waitress suggests we taste a couple to see which we prefer. Eventually we decide upon a bottle of Finca La Colonia Colección Malbec (£31), a gorgeously rich and complex wine with rich spicy tones. It proves to be the perfect accompaniment to the butter soft grilled flat iron steak (£22) and half charcoal chicken (£12.50), we’ve ordered, subtly picking up the earthy flavours found in my sides of red cabbage and onion slaw and tarragon pesto.

Dessert choices keep The White Bear’s fine-dining-without-the-hefty-price-tag vibe going. You can finish up with a Kent blue cheese honey cake and caramelised figs (£4.50) confection or go light with a lemon and thyme posset (£4). But we don’t and instead choose to share the decadent chocolate fondant with a blood orange sorbet (£4.50). Yes it tasted as good as it sounds – and as fabulous as this place looks for that matter. The White Bear is definitely a roaring success.

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