Archive review: The Hungry Bear at St Helens has moved and is no longer open at this location.
Where do you need to go to find an rhea’s egg on the Isle of Wight? A long time ago it was Fakenham Farm, in St Helen’s. The rheas are no longer in residence, but now the farm has adopted a Hungry Bear – relocated from the café that used to be off Staplers, in Newport.
St Helen’s seemed like a good place for some brunch at the Hungry Bear one wintery Saturday. We arrived in time to meet local celebrity and socialite Lady Grylls – mother of the aptly-named Bear – unexpectedly wearing a studded bikini top over her devoré velvet garment, who asked us if we liked magic. It says much for our determination to eat at the Hungry Bear that beyond a polite acknowledgement we didn’t investigate this unusual development any further, but forged ahead to find a seat in the little café.
The venue is bright and breezy, with outstanding sea views. Inside seats and tables are cunningly crafted in a rustic style from upcycled wood, which is pleasing to the eye, if not the fundament. In the summer it must be a glorious place, with picnic tables positioned to take advantage of that spectacular channel vista, but a draughty window on this particularly blustery December day blew away some of the homeliness.
We were all in for brunch, so gave scant consideration to the tempting sandwiches, wraps, and burgers. Cat’s garlic mushrooms on toast were the first to arrive, and looked very impressive indeed. An alluring waft of garlicky scent rose tantalisingly from a huge hunk of hot buttery toast, piled high with big mushrooms laid on wilted spinach. Perfectly done, the shrooms were soft, tasty and had that elusive golden tint and, in the phraseology of that bear-botherer Goldilocks herself, just right.
Garlic mushrooms £5.95
Full bear breakfast £8.95
Alongside, Cat had ordered coffee, which came in a cafetiere. We are kind of spoilt these days, as there are coffee machines all over the place, but actually there is something to be said for a good plunger-powered brew, which gives you enough for a top up and doesn’t allow for the nagging fear that you will accidentally humiliate yourself by saying ‘expresso’, or the feeling of doubt when you can’t remember exactly whether you prefer a flat white or a latte, or if there is in fact any difference. Coffee at the Hungry Bear comes as coffee, and this was fine.
Matt was taking on the Full Bear Breakfast. He got a pot of tea alongside, as the essential accompaniment to any version of the Full English. Toast was not mentioned on the menu but came anyway, a massive chunk with a blob of butter. With perfect crispy bacon, some well-above average sausages, and a big stack of fried potato slices, this breakfast worked out well. Beans were an option but Matt donated them to one of his companions, satisfying himself with the juicy grilled tomatoes. There was even a modest portion of black pudding to underline the classical composition of the brunch. Matt was pleased – or would have been, until he poured the tea. Alas it was embarrassingly weak. A fatal flaw. He optimistically ordered another pot, and found it the same. A serious failing, but the good breakfast almost compensated for it.
We enjoyed the Hungry Bear but it was a mixed pleasure. Far and away the best thing about this café was the food – if not the drinks – and for us, those garlic mushrooms in particular. These were well above the standard you’d expect from a regular café kitchen. Alas the venue didn’t really match up to it. A great view, but a chilly one, and the upcycled seating was a bit more agricultural than hipster. We’ll be back to explore more of this attractive menu, but we’ll probably wait for the summer.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Decent food
- Spectacular view
- Weak tea
- Rustic venue