I’d been dying to revisit Stokey Bears ever since that hazy night I proclaimed it one of the best burgers I’d ever tasted. In the world! Perhaps my mind had played tricks on me. Maybe I’d built it up in my head. How good could it be, really. I mean, it’s just a burger, right?
Again, Stokey Bears had me at “bacon jam.” On my adventures, I’ve learnt that it’s fine to splash out on crazy over-the-top burgers for variety when you’re a frequent visitor, but the true test of a burger joint is how well it does the classic: the bacon and cheese. And at Stokey Bears, that’s the Grizzly Bear.
On top of its pink and blue, ’80s-California Games, Rude Dog and the Dweebs-tinged design, Simpsons mirrors, cool tunes and general nose-tickling aromas, another Stokey Bears perk is its excellent beer selection. And tonight’s guest beer is Magic Rock‘s Highwire Pale Ale; a rich, hazy, fruity, hoppy amber nectar with a crisp, bitter finish – the perfect taste bud tantalizer while my tongue does back flips re-reading the menu.
First things first. Chicken wings. And loads of them. Juicy, sticky, with just enough of a kick to get the party started, it’s all in the award-winning Orange Buffalo, New York style sauce they’re smothered in. Trust me, Teressa Bellissimo would be proud. And then the main event…
the Grizzly Bear
The first bite is conclusive. All the evidence I need, really – but I keep going. Cheese and oak-smoked bacon give way to a perfectly cooked burger patty loaded with flavour. And then, the sweet bacon jam aftertaste swirls around my mouth as I chew in shocked disbelief. Instantly, I start to calculate how many bites I have left, switching back to my beer and perfectly topped cheesy fries to prolong the experience.
I don’t know if it’s the idyllic-sounding, grass-fed East Sussex beef, the custom “Burger Bear” blend courtesy of gourmet Peckham butchery Flock & Herd, or simply the way they cook ’em – or if owner Tom Reaney and his team are putting crack cocaine in the burgers – but what Stokey Bears crams between a sesame seed bun is a decadent, fast-food work of art. And in a town saturated with upmarket burger joints, so far, Stokey Bears stands head and bear claws above the rest.
A new addition, since my last Stokey Bears visit, is swanky cocktail bar Original Sin, a low-key looking (at first) establishment next door. The bar is the brainchild of the team behind sophisticated Hoxton good times purveyor Happiness Forgets. I felt like I was retiring to the drawing room, as I sank into the luxury of the gold-and-brown-finished (rich mahogany?), candle-lit basement bar.
I know it means nothing to you now, as tonight’s the last night it was on the menu, but my creamy, delicious Marakame (I think that’s what it was called) cocktail is the perfect after-burger treat. Featuring ingredients like egg and blow-torched raisins, it tastes like a liquidized Christmas pudding, or mince pie. Tonight was a good night…