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The Old White Bear (Bar)

Picture of The Old White Bear in Hampstead, London

New End, Well Road, Hampstead, London, NW3 1LJ
Cuisine: Pub
Tel: 020 7794 7719 | Email to The Old White Bear | Transport: Hampstead | Write review

The Old White Bear Review

It’s the sort of place the culinary geeks on Masterchef might aspire to open, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. Besides ‘Can you cook?’ - which is usually followed by the highlight of the show for me: an arrogant, cocky answer coupled with an insipid pasta mess that even I could surpass in a crappy university kitchen at 3am with two bottles of Lambrini and six VKs in my system - the other question judges Jon Torode and Gregg Wallace like to shout at their brave contestants is ‘What’s the dream?’ The reply, 99% of the time, is waffle about reasonably priced home-cooked food in a friendly restaurant/gastropub in the country, with regulars that come time and time again. Either that, or an ambition to open a deli with a cafe attached. The replies are as predictable as the appearance of scallops as the starter. And while the Old White Bear smacks of this gastropub dream, it is a formula that works well for them.

Although it can’t claim to truly be in the country - Hampstead is only in zone two, after all - the sleepy street on which the Old White Bear sits, and the folk walking past with their dogs in the spring sunshine, do conjure up a feeling of rural tranquillity, a world away from our bustling metropolis. Quaint narrow lanes zig-zag between old buildings. This is discovering the real Hampstead, away from the high street retail chains and the touristy picnics of the Heath.

A family and some old boys with their old dogs sit outside the pub to chat and laugh with each other and the staff: regulars that come back again and again? Check.

Inside the regulars are quiet, middle-aged and moneyed. Thankfully, they’re just the right side of Sloane: no Kings Road showy types here. Their hushed mutterings over a decent bottle of plonk make this a subdued pub – perfect for catching up with a friend who’s just got back from a long break in the Philippines, as I was, but if you’re looking for young, loud, fun clientele, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

So did we receive the decent grub that the budding Mastercheffers rustle up on TV and aspire to build a career around? Yes, we did. Not Michelin-star, and not the sort of exotic fare that Dhruv, the 2010 winner, would have created, but definitely some honest hearty courses that Jon and Gregg would be happy with.

The Roquefort, endive and walnut salad was paired with pink, sweet pear, while my starter of goat’s cheese, butternut squash and almonds would have got a ‘tasty, vibrant and colourful’ comment from Gregg. Although Jon may have cocked his head to the side and sighed: ‘The squash hasn’t been cooked long enough though, mate’.

A massive hunk of lamb with a large piece of beetroot ravioli would have enticed smiles out of the judges and praise for its perfectly-cooked meat and innovation: ‘I really like that. That is seriously good,’ I can imagine Jon purring.

Hold on, where are the scallops? Calm down, they’re here, but featured on the mains menu. Nestled up against some buttery spinach and zingy sun-dried tomatoes, my veggie friend gobbled it up enthusiastically, and I suspect the scallop-fatigued judges would have also.

The pistachio cheesecake would have been a hit with pudding man Gregg – a base of crushed pistachios instead of the usual biscuit crumbs and the sweet but salty olive and orange marmalade made me swoon too.

Friendly staff? Check. Homely surroundings? Check (there’s conventional gastropub decor and venturing upstairs to the loo actually felt like I was in someone else’s house).

Although the pub lacks any real wow factor or USP, if you’ve ever felt peckish watching Jon and Gregg and their mob of ambitious cooks then this is the place for you: hearty but modern cuisine in quiet, friendly surroundings. I can’t say I’ve been to all the pubs in Hampstead, but if this was Hampstead Masterchef, I suspect The Old White Bear would be in with a good chance of winning.
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