Review: Bear + Wolf, Tufnell Park


One instantly popular kid-friendly opening. Two takes



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A long time coming: Bear + Wolf, Fortess Road. Photos: PR
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.

Elegant: table overlooking the street.
Elegant: table overlooking the street

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.

Spotless! The kiddie area.
Spotless! The kiddie area

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.

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I know where mothers go for babyccino so I don’t go there for coffee…

Sarah Park
Sarah Park

It’s not just my aversion to soft play areas, and the atmosphere of chaos, it’s the sense that I’m an intruder. As a childless woman in my 30s, I feel guilty in the presence of the busy mums juggling sticky cakes and hungry mouths as I slide into the last free seat to read my book. So I was apprehensive to survey the scene in Bear + Wolf: buggy park, cub room, outdoor play area: yikes. But Lou Reed on the stereo, New York loft-like decor, great menu and heads bowed over laptops? Definitely a place for grown-ups as well. And best of all, two minutes from my new flat (shhh, I’m an ex-south Londoner).

A café is, of course, only ever as good as its coffee. Here, the flat white is all wolf: dark, brooding and mean in a tiny glass. It bites you, which is exactly what it should do. Oh, and my accompanying shepherd’s pie topping is crisp with sharp cheese, although the meat could have been beefier – but, hey, I was born in Manchester, 43 miles from the home of Bovril, so perhaps I have different expectations.

Ultimately this is a clever concept: a foodie café for solitary reading and coffee-gazing without the guilt – while its kid-friendly schtick means it’s not, in fact, so solitary after all. Sarah Park – follow her on twitter @sarahparktypes 

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Bear + Wolf is at 153 Fortess Road NW5 Coffee from £2

  • Show Comments

  • Mad Dog

    I haven’t had the coffee, but the bread is excellent and the staff are friendly 🙂

  • Andy Andy

    Is that what smoothies cost these days? Yikes.

  • Neil

    Was wondering when you were going to do a full review of this. Well done to them for apparently getting lots of custom and the egg and other fare I had there was great. However, the prices are a bit crazy. Also, it seems like it would be quite easy for parents (I am one) to fall into a false sense of security about how safe their kids are in an environment where there are lots of hot drinks going around and they are often in a room next door out of sight – particularly as the coffee is served in a glass without a handle, which while possibly looking cool seems rather daft.

  • Elaine Jacobs

    The coffee-in-a-glass idea might have come from Spain — that’s how they do it over there (or, at least, in Seville and Granada… workers pop in for 5-10 minutes for tenses or elevenses (and, often, a cig) and that’s what they get.

  • DF

    Agree the bread is nice. But the price is way over the top for a local cafe. I ordered the halloumi salad for £8.50 nice taste but pathetically small portion size.

  • Paula

    We went here at 5ish on a weekday and was told they were about to close.

  • Fat Chas

    Very excellent venue with decent coffee and a tidy line in cakes.Being able to entertain the 2 year old whilst getting a bit of a sit down is a rare treat. I’ve not tried the food yet though, mostly because the prices put me off which is a bit of a shame considering I would probably double our visits if I were happy to have the odd sandwich or salad.