Our discovery of The Black Bear Inn in Bettws Newydd, just a couple of miles away from our home, was a dangerous one; after the first visit, we knew we’d be tempted to visit again soon, and were back inside of a week! On both visits, we enjoyed excellent cooking from chef Joshua Byrne and a friendly welcome from wife Hannah, who runs front of house.
The young married pair opened the charming gastropub only 5 months ago, and it already has a loyal customer base, impressed by the warm welcome, casual pub interior and absolutely fantastic food offering.
The menu, written on a large blackboard, is changed each week, and throughout the week as ingredients run out and new ones come in. It’s satisfyingly seasonal, with a handful of snacks, starters, mains and desserts to choose from.
After drinks are ordered and delivered to the table, a bag of delicious sourdough bread and salted butter keeps us happy until our ordered dishes start to arrive.
A snack of chicken liver parfait and crackers (£4) comes with pink pickled cauliflower florets, perfect to cut through the rich, fatty spread. It’s simple and perfectly executed, an incredibly good dish.
Also listed under snacks are rock oysters (£2.50 each raw, £2.75 each deep fried); one of each makes a perfect small starter. The raw one is served with a perfectly balanced classic shallot vinegar; the deep fried one comes with a wonderfully savoury seaweed mayonnaise.
Pete enjoys the leek and cheddar bread pudding (£16) hidden under a huge pile of kale and chard, a poached egg and a generous grating of cheese.
I absolutely love my choice of duck breast, fried potato and purple sprouting broccoli (£19); the pickled red cabbage on the menu is left off at my request. The quality and cooking of the duck is truly superb, the meat pink and tender and fully flavoured, the skin rendered and lightly crisped. The blocks of layered fried potato are soft and yielding with pleasingly crunchy bits around the edges, and the purple sprouting broccoli is cooked just as I like it – a little bite left in it without it being raw. Everything is pulled together beautifully by a delicious gravy.
For visit number two, we focus on starters, snacks and desserts.
Potted pork (£4) is served with freshly-toasted sourdough and a scattering of pickled vegetables. It’s an excellent rendition, the meat finely and evenly shredded, like the best French pork rillettes.
Smoked mackerel with almond, garlic and bitter leaves (£8) is beautifully balanced, and to my surprise, I really like that garlicky almond sauce. There’s a lemony dressing on the leaves that’s a great contrast to the smoky oily fish too.
Lamb sweetbreads (£7) come with tartare sauce and fresh, crunchy radishes. Both are excellent foils to the creamy sweetbreads inside their light batter coats. I can’t persuade Pete to give this a try but the sweetbreads are cooked just right to show off their mild and tender nature.
The kitchen are kind enough to do us a half portion of one of their main dishes, potato dumplings, asparagus, monksbeard and wild garlic butter (£8; £16 for the usual portion) and we are extremely grateful. We would not have wanted to miss this delicious plate! The dumplings are fluffy and light, yet with a dense chewiness to the exterior; it’s an odd contradiction I’m struggling to describe. The greens are wonderful, the sweetness of the asparagus, the saltier monksbeard and that gentle freshness from the wild garlic. So good!
Really, we’ve failed to leave space for dessert once again, but squeeze in a shared pear sorbet (£3), and it’s worth it! Intensely pear-y, but with something more to it, I’d guess the pears were poached in white wine with just a hint of spicing, before being blended into a sorbet mix… and the texture is wonderful – light and refreshing, with the barest hint of natural pear grittiness (and yet my brain says smooth!). It’s served just cold enough to hold its shape but melt immediately on the tongue.
We’re so happy to have this wonderful restaurant almost on our doorstep; definitely one to visit regularly throughout the year.
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