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Dining Out – Bang In Belper

Dining Out – Bang In Belper
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I used to have a ‘local’. Somewhere I could walk to for a pint with our dachshund, Rupert. When I walked through the door I’d be greeted with a one word question: ‘Usual?’ And the dog would be allowed to sit on my knee at the bar. He’d size-up everyone who walked in from the car park and pass his opinion with either a wag of his tail or a killer stare accompanied by a low, throaty growl. Not many people in the pub knew my real name. I was often referred to as Rupert’s dad. 

Time rolls on and we now have a different dog but the same cannot be said about the local; they’re vanishing. In England and Wales over 30 pubs close each month. Victim to energy bills, staffing pressures and the breweries who concentrate on their big profit-making outlets. But all is not lost. With a back to basics attitude; the micro pub is on the rise.

Some are just bars and some, like the Bang in Belper are a well balanced mix of bar, cafe and exciting street food. Anxious to sample what the owner of Bang, Andrew, describes as bangin’ street food, bangin’ boozer, bangin’ atmosphere, Susan and myself made our way to Belper on a scorching afternoon when the BBC News had reported that it was too hot for solar panels to work properly.

Bang in Belper is on Bridge Street (the A6); close to the large Field Lane car park and has been at its current location for just over a year. The premises used to be an ironmongers and the bar retains the original shop front, albeit decorated and re-branded. Despite the warm afternoon the interior was cool.

The decor is eclectic; a collection of miss-matched chairs, tables of all shapes and sizes – the one we sat at was part of a discarded cable drum – and a gallery. The bar had been part of the recent Belper Arts Trail, and still on display were many of the striking and imaginative portraits contributed by colleagues, friends and family. 

We were greeted by the friendly bar staff and introduced to Andrew. He explained how he’d left a job in engineering – that had taken him around the globe – to start his new venture just as the lockdowns began. As a result he’d concentrated on pre-ordered, take-out dishes before moving to the new venue.

Craft beers are the bar’s main offering. A chalkboard behind the bar described the diverse16 keg and cask ales, ciders and lagers available including their specific gravity. If you’re as unfamiliar as I am with some of the brews on offer, don’t worry, help is at hand. Chalked on the wall is a simple instruction: ‘Wanna taste – ask for a sip’. I asked and tried a couple before deciding on a half of, the very local, To Many Andy’s from the Campbell Street Brewing Company, in Belper. It’s an American style pale ale. It has a fruity aroma that follows through to the taste with a hint of herbs.

The bar’s relaxed atmosphere was reminiscent of a friendly local. We sat and chatted as the late afternoon moved on and we eventually decided it was time to order something to eat.

The menu is street food with a variety of filling, like the gyoza bento bowl. It consists of five steamed dumplings with a choice of fillings – chicken, beef or vegetable – with all the trimmings.

Likewise the Cuban tacos, the Bangin’ burgers and the kebab all have a variety of fillings and along with the loaded fries with cheese, a rich assortment of sauces.

I selected an open burrito wrap. The open wrap filled the plate and had a base of spicy rice topped with two cheeses; mozzarella and Cheddar and a generous helping of slow cooked salt beef enhanced by a portion of pickled red cabbage. The whole dish was drizzled with an American burger sauce and surrounded by a salad. The salt beef was the star of the show; succulent and spicy. The cheese was melting and the sharp note from the cabbage and sauce cut through the rich beef and enhanced the flavour.

Susan chose the week’s special: Moroccan lamb. The base of the dish was a soft, pillow like naan. Half of it was topped with zingy couscous and chickpea and the other half was covered by the spicy minced lamb. The warm North African spices shone through both portions that were finished with a scattering of spring onion and a hint of fresh chilli. A fresh salad and a pot of chilli sauce filled the rest of the plate. The whole dish was drizzled with a refreshing mint and yoghurt dressing. There was a wedge of lime to add a sharp citrus note. 

At Bang in Belper Andrew and his team have taken the popular street food snack and elevated it to a meal without taking away its identity. With the exciting food and variety of beers it begs the question: Is it a bar, is it a micro pub or is it a cafe? It’s probably a combination of all three. And to enhance the cafe culture, there’s live music every Sunday evening.

We’d enjoyed our time in Bang in Belper and eaten two delicious dishes: one from North Africa and one from Mexico. But I couldn’t leave without a drop more of one of the craft ales. And so we set off home with, in a milk carton style bottle, two pints of Lightbulb extra pale ale produced by the Verdant Brewing Company from Falmouth in Cornwall.

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