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Great service, good food and reasonable prices at The Black Bear pub in Walsoken, which doubles up as Indian restaurant

In our weekly Eat My Words food review feature, Jeremy Ransome visits a pub bordering West Norfolk and the Fens...

With pubs going out of business at an alarming rate of more than two every day in the UK, I’m becoming increasingly interested in what they need to do to survive.

In my last review, I visited The George and Dragon in Newton by Castle Acre, where a great selection of hot and cold drinks, generous portions of food for all persuasions at affordable prices and the aim of being at the heart of the community seems to have given them the recipe for success.

My aloo chat puri starter
My aloo chat puri starter

The Black Bear in Walsoken has a different way of attracting the punters and judging how busy it was when my wife and I visited at 7pm on a cold March evening, it’s one that works.

One side of the pub – which is on the edge of Wisbech – is a community boozer, with the other side a thriving Indian restaurant. They seem to run almost separately, but I’m sure the temptation of those beautiful aromatic smells is often too much for the drinkers – and that some of those stopping by for a meal go on and enjoy a drink.

People in the Fens certainly seem to love it… I visited after reading a Facebook discussion where the majority seemed to think it was the best Indian in the district.

Josi's mixed kebab starter
Josi's mixed kebab starter

When we arrived we walked through the busy pub (standing room only by 7pm is always a good sign) and into the restaurant, where we were quickly shown to our seats by our waitress. We chose drinks while we perused the menu, me going for a pint of orange juice and lemonade (£3) and later a pint of Pepsi Max (£3) and Josi enjoying two medium glasses of Pinot Grigio (£4 each).

Shahid was friendly, chatty and attentive all night and also knowledgeable of items on the menu, which contained all the dishes you would expect of an Indian restaurant, along with some specials and a few English dishes for those who don’t like things spicy.

For starters, I went for the aloo chat purri (£4.50) and my wife Josi her favourite mixed kebab (£4.50).

I’d never had this particular starter before and found it a pleasant, mild precursor to my spicier main dish. It consisted of diced potatoes mixed with coriander, chat masala and fried puri bread. Josi always has the kebab starter when it’s available and, as usual, really enjoyed it.

My vegetable tikka jalfrezi
My vegetable tikka jalfrezi

I’ve often enjoyed a chicken tikka jalfrezi before but changed things slightly on this occasion by substituting the chicken for vegetables (£7.95), alongside coconut rice (£4.50).

It was lovely, hot without being unbearable, and very tasty, and the rice was great. I maybe should have checked the ingredients though before ordering as the potatoes in the dish, following on from my starter, gave me a bit of a carb overload!

Josi went for what was a new dish for her too, choosing the chicken korahi (£8.95), with mushroom fried rice (£3.95), and she said it was “absolutely gorgeous”, with the meat, onions and peppers fresh and tender and the rice well flavoured. She also went for a side dish of cheesy sag paneer (£4.90) which she found smooth and tasty.

Overall, we had a very pleasant meal although I did feel the open set-up of the place favoured parties rather than couples, and if I return it will be with a group. But the food was tasty and reasonably priced, the waitress was lovely and the overall experience was a positive one.

Ratings (out of five):

Food: Fresh, tasty and well prepared. ****

Drink: We didn’t see a drinks menu but what we had was very well-priced. ****

Staff: Our waitress was polite, friendly and knowledgeable. *****

Price: Poppadoms, two courses and two drinks each, plus a side, for £53.25 is very good value. ****

Decor: The pub was enticing but the restaurant a little plain. ***

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