Food: 8 Drink: 7 Atmosphere: 8 Overall: 8
When news broke that London businesses Honest Burger and Burger Bear were setting up shop in Bristol, it appeared for many to be nothing more than two more patties to add to the city’s saturated burger tally. Besides, following from London-bred Meat Liquor’s timely departure from Cheltenham Road, news of two more hopefuls didn’t seem the most promising of announcements. All preconceptions aside, tarring Burger Bear with the same brush is unkind, particularly when the owner and former Bristol resident Tom Reaney has moved back to Bristol to put all his energy into his new West Country gaff.
Burger Bear’s brief menu covers five beef burgers, a chicken, and a veggie burger, with classic sides including chicken wings, mac & cheese and bountiful slaw. The first tick for us is that food and drink are locally-sourced: Popti & Beast in St Werburgh’s source the meat, and the esteemed Lost & Grounded supply the beers.
As we neared the restaurant, we overheard locals bemoaning, “it’s becoming burger central round here”. Well, they may be right, but hey - best to give them a chance. Arriving on their second day of opening, staff took time to unapologetically inform all customers of their missing drink menu and, in good spirits, jokily pointed out their kitchen supplies overtly stored beneath the sitting booths. Evidently the food is these guys’ focus; they don’t mess around with the namby pamby details, which to their credit creates a more enjoyable and authentic atmosphere. Burger Bear’s ethos is hip, macho-induced meat mania and funky house tunes. Their stereo blasts song after song, making it all the more tempting to get up and have a boogie than it is to actually have a conversation. Their smiley faced logo grins from the backs of the staff’s shirts and is plasters the interior walls alongside mismatched photo frames displaying Tom’s family and friends.
The simplest choice on the menu is the - eloquently named - Burger Bear (£8). A classic cheeseburger, this guy is made up of beef, American cheese, lettuce and red onion in a soft, squidgy brioche bun (with dripping bottles of hot mustard and ketchup at arm’s reach). The Grizzly Bear (£10) is the next level up, set with double oak-smoked bacon and Burger Bear’s signature sticky bacon jam. The Triple Threat (£17) reaches real burger madness: a triple-stacked bacon and beef patty monstrosity with melting cheese cascading down the sides.
The second good piece of news is that veggies are very much welcome here. If you’re a veggie who just hankers after that burger lookalike, definitely opt for the Koala Bear (£7.50): a deliciously spiced bean burger with American cheese, avocado, salsa, and coriander & lime yoghurt (they can even amazingly make this vegan). Fortunately, Burger Bear don’t sacrifice what is so appealing about meat burgers; they scrap the offensive halloumi or Portobello mushroom and replace it with fake, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth American cheese. And yes, it’s a bean burger, but it’s a rich, full-flavoured, mouth-wateringly spicy one. You’ll savour every bite, which is an undeniably better alternative to picking at bland vegetable mush (sorry, Burger Joint). No matter what you order, each burger is packed with overflowing and excessive juicy goodness. Naturally then, a bountiful supply of paper towels is clearly necessary… I think you’ve gauged by this point that these are very messy burgers. That is, of course, part of the appeal (and it may have taken more restraint than I care to admit not to lick my plate).
The meaty burgers are of course the main act – the most extravagant attempts to hold three beef patties together – however, they’ve evidently put apt thought and attention into the meat-free alternatives (this burger may even give Burger Theory’s and Oowee’s contestants a run for their money). It may be surprising for some, but the real stars of the show for me were Burger Bear’s brioche buns. Denying diners a choice of bap is an eyebrow-raisingly fabulous decision, but trust me when I say that when you put your trust in these guys, you will not be disappointed. I truly think that you will struggle to find another burger with bread as good as this in Bristol.
The third real highlight that adds charm and personality to this burger joint is the people behind the brand. Burger Bear is run by a passionate group of friends who love the business and are pouring heart and soul into its success. The chirpy staff are an adored and integral part of the family, and they really try their best to make you feel part of the party. We came and sampled the classics, and judging from our experience, a second visit is imminent (I left the angry fries to come back for…). For now though, it’s safe to say that Burger Bear is a welcome addition to the stream of burgers on offer in Bristol.