A chic café opens alongside the new independent butcher, fishmonger and hip bistro on Fortess Road and everyone comments on the rise and rise of the parade this year. But in fact, Bear + Wolf has been years in the making.
Owner Matthew Neel cut his teeth running the original raw food café at Primrose Hill’s Triyoga (we were big fans of his raw courgette ‘noodles’), before a stint at Junction Road gastro boozer St John’s Tavern.
Now he’s created the hangout he struggled to find when trawling the neighbourhood with his toddler. After initially losing the site (at one time operating as Books For Free) to a bakery, who then changed their minds, it’s finally open – even if his daughter is well and truly of school age.
Having been stockpiling industrial lighting and stripped back furniture in his loft all the while, he’s also pulled in some favours from a branding consultant mate to create a beautiful airy space with a directional thread running through everything. The name? Well, it aims to play on fairy-tale themes, without sounding too cutesy.
Perched at the shared table in the front window, in fact it’s all very sociable, any ankle-biters safely stowed in the lively back room. With our own kids at school, the wife and I get chatting to our interesting table-mates while sipping on an orange, Thai basil, frozen strawberry and ginger number from the smoothie menu (£4-£5). It’s as honest-to-goodness tasty as it sounds, yet a mango, apple and mint one just nudges it in the refreshment stakes.
The menu is simple posh café grub, served with flair and imagination from the calm open kitchen right at the heart of the main room. A smoked salmon sandwich, for example, is elevated by the inclusion of red onion and caper cream cheese, and beetroot paté.
Meanwhile a more pedestrian halloumi salad (£8.50) is all about the bitter-sweet tahini and mint dressing. But both come served with superior quality bread, also available to take away by the loaf, we were pleased to note.
Coffee? From Shoreditch grinders Ozone, and an americano served in a small glass is unashamedly strong, the right amount of water calming, not swamping the more acidic notes. Even better, it’s the perfect foil for the gooey chocolate brownie and lemon pistachio tart.
Throughout our lunch, locals peer their heads through the door and exclaim: “When did this happen?” Matthew, clearly over the moon to have finally opened his own place, bounces proudly up to each of them. One couple welcome him to Tufnell Park. He thanks them politely, having actually lived here himself for 12 years.
At least his café has finally found its home.