The coastal suburb of New Brighton in Christchurch will soon be the proud home of real food deli BearLion Foods, whose first brick and mortar store is set to open in the first week of December.
Raised and trained in Christchurch, Alesha Bilbrough-Collins returned in 2013, fresh from working in kitchens in London, Melbourne and Perth, including those of Gordon Ramsay and Yotam Ottolenghi. What started as a small stall at the farmers market is quickly burgeoning into a small empire. Alesha (the Lion) and her husband John (the bear) started BearLion in August last year, providing a range of food options which are fresh, seasonal, exceptionally tasty and wholesome.
Their philosophy is simple: eat good food. While their offerings do tick the boxes of buzzword diets, their food isn't faddy because the choices they make are driven by two things - flavour and fresh ingredients. Their stall at the Christchurch Farmers Market is a visual masterpiece and tastes even better than it looks. From black tahini, garlic, coriander and quinoa hummus with chilli and activated charcoal; spirulina and wasabi guacamole with a miso and lemon activated seed mix and coriander; to the best banana cake I've ever tried, and chilli jam which you will soon be putting on everything you eat.
With the opening of their deli, their ever-changing range will be on offer Thursday - Saturday from 8:30 - 2.00pm, and New Brighton will no doubt become a destination for anyone seeking world class food.
For Alesha, stumbling across iconic deli chain Ottolenghi in London, founded by renowned Israeli/British chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, was like discovering the deli of her dreams. Instantly determined, she submitted her CV, resulting in the start of an experience that has been instrumental in shaping her career.
Working directly with Yotam and Sami was inevitably inspiring, and Alesha describes them as people who invest in people. When she started at their Islington site she fondly recalls the social events hosted at Yotam's house, designed to encourage friendships over cheese tasting or recipe brainstorming.
The exceptionally successful Ottolenghi operation is built around respect for produce and applying fine dining standards to everyday food. The salads which have become their signature are all carefully layered so each individual flavour is identifiable and whether you load your plate up with one variety or 10, each component will work in harmony with the others yet remain distinct. Their chefs are constantly encouraged to taste to ensure nothing short of perfection leaves the kitchen, which considering the volume of salad produced was no mean feat.
If there is one recipe you absolutely should make from the Ottolenghi cookbooks, Alesha suggests the Chargrilled Broccoli with Chilli and Garlic, “It's simple but will wow people and sings Ottolenghi”.
The stunning space where BearLion’s new deli resides will also eventually host cooking classes, private dinners and Sunday gatherings, featuring the likes of a daytime DJ, local beer and wine and a menu driven by what prime produce is available locally on that particular day.
Dishes will likely come with a side serving of the unexpected - we’ll certainly be lining up to try a cold pressed Bloody Mary with a nitrate-free piece of BearLion bacon. Yes, they make their own bacon which is hand cured with organic coconut sugar. It's the latest addition to their lineup (currently available at the Christchurch Farmers' Market at Riccarton Bush) alongside their lamb and pork sausages which are completely free from artificial preservatives, flavourings and fillers.
The store is still being built, so stay tuned by following their Facebook page for official opening dates and hours. Given everything is made with love, by hand in small batches, best get down there quickly to avoid a severe case of food envy. Their website is still under construction, but you'll soon be able to find information here.