Saturday, 16 March 2019
The Black Bear Inn, Usk, Monmouthshire restaurant review
I hate social media.
I love social media.
I hate the fake news, fake followers, lack of nuance in any discussion, blaggers, bots and undisclosed freebies.
I love how it can help you find out about hidden gems which don’t have a PR machine behind them.
A few nights ago I disappeared down a social media rabbit hole when I saw a local food writer had posted about a meal they’d eaten at the Black Bear Inn in Usk.
A swift trip over to the Black Bear’s Instagram and I was sold by the snaps of their lush looking seasonal food and a message from the acclaimed Coombeshead Farm team exclaiming they were looking forward to a visit.
A few days and a 40 minute drive from Cardiff later and Mrs G and I found ourselves sat in the cosy dining room at The Black Bear.
Under new ownership since November last year, it’s run by a couple with plenty of restaurant experience; chef patron Josh was most recently at Bristol’s Bar Buvette.
The Bear’s chalkboard menu is enjoyably compact with just 3 starters and 3 mains alongside snacks and desserts.
The wine list is interesting too (unsurprising given Bar Buvette’s wine focus). We drank a bottle of Slobodne Jantara Slovakian orange wine (£42) with lovely citrus and mineral notes.
Delicious house sourdough was enjoyably tangy and soft of crumb with a caramelised crust. The butter, however, would have benefited from sitting out of the fridge a little longer.
Snacks were both crackerjacks.
Such was the runniness of the filling of a quartet of ham and cheese croquetas (£3.75) that I couldn’t tell if it was a ridiculously cheesy bechamel or just a ridiculously large amount of melted cheese. It was the former and they were delightful with their flecks of salty ham and golden crumb.
Welsh rarebit (£3.75) with a thick oozy slick of a savoury mustard and beery cheese concoction was very tasty indeed.
An overflowing bowl of mussels (£7.50) were perfectly plump and juicy without a shrivelled bivalve in sight. Soft and sweet leeks and a slightly boozy, buttery and shellfish-twanged cider broth completed the lovely combination.
A mound of tender purple sprouting broccoli (£8) were coated in a tempura style bubbly and super crisp batter. By chance or design, some of the leaves had extricated themselves from the batter and become crunchy giving the effect of crispy seaweed. A liberal dusting of funky Welsh truffle shavings and savoury cheese whacked up the luxury levels whilst a vibrant dill, parsley and sage mayonnaise brought freshness and acidity.
Onto mains and a meaty and golden-tinged fillet of cod (£18) was upstaged by a pair of beautifully crisp and caramelised yet perfectly tender cauliflower pieces. They were accompanied by herby green lentils with just the right amount of bite and a butter sauce which could perhaps have done with a bigger hit of the richness balancing punch of caper.
A gloriously pink Madgett’s farm duck breast (£18.50) was tender of flesh, well-rendered of fat and full of flavour. The skin could have been crisper but it was still a top drawer piece of meat. Alongside moreish braised red cabbage it was joined by a pair of genius accompaniments. Pear mustard was the lovechild of apple sauce and mustard - sweet and warming in equal measure. A fried potato cake was ridiculously crisp on the exterior with soft buttery thin layers of spud on the interior.
Onto the home stretch and dessert didn’t let the side down.
Apple and cider sorbet (£3) was as light and airy a sorbet I’ve eaten with a luxury cider lolly vibe.
A pear and almond tart (£6) ticked all the boxes. Thin, crisp and golden pastry - check. Light and moist frangipane - check. Soft and fragrant fruit - check. A big jug of double cream - check.
With its warm welcome and delicious seasonal cooking, the Black Bear is a lovely addition to the gastronomically well-endowed wilds of Monmouthshire. I seriously recommend a visit.
Address - The Black Bear Inn, Bettws Newydd, Usk NP15 1JN
Web - https://www.theblackbearinn.co.uk/
Telephone - 01873 880701