THE BOLINGBROKE: SO SO IN THE SWAMPS
The last time I walked down The Northcote Road was on my way to a slightly dispiriting meal at a Lola Roja, where Catalunian chefs indulged their irrepressible desires to fanny about with good ingredients to no good effect.
I had no great inclination to ever head back there until I received a copy of the menu for the dining room at The Bolingbroke, the latest in a chain of swamp based pubs including The Abbeyville, The Stonehouse and The White Hart in Kennington. With the good sense to offer Mrs King’s Pork Pies on its bar snack list and enough provenance to keep an auction house happy on its menus, it seemed like it just might be different enough from your average identikit gastropub to make the journey to the back of beyond worthwhile.
I wasn’t going to do it on my own however and persuaded my new chum, Fiona, who lives down that way, to join me and she arrived to find me cowering in the back of the small but smart little dining room where I had scurried to avoid the crowd in the bar for once wishing they would turn the music up to drown out the braying.
From a choice of six starters, Fiona’s Devon crab with advocado and a deep fried duck egg was more successful than my own composed salad of smoked duck with fennel, bitter leaves and blackberries. The crab meat was well seasoned and made a nice counterpoint to crisp, thin batter coating around the duck egg whose yolk dribbled out to make a pleasing sauce. The duck however, stood no chance against the bitter juice of the blackberries and, while the slices of fennel added crunch, they only served to complete the barrage of ingredients beseiging the main event.
Fiona’s main course of guinea fowl showcased another good ingredient presented two ways, the breast rolled and sliced and the leg confit and roasted to a perfect crisp. Accompanying creamed leeks and mashed potatoes did little harm but the Madeira gravy was bitter. Again, however, Fiona’s choice proved better than my own, the flavour from a slice of salt marsh lamb was overpowered by a blob of caper and anchovy butter, normally decent companions, but lamb this good should be allowed to speak for itself. It was slightly over the pink I requested and Fiona found it “chewy” I think we put far too much store in tenderness and you should put as much effort into eating meat as the animal did in growing it. Roasted tomatoes looked pretty but had less taste than a lottery winner from Liverpool and did nothing but release watery juices onto the plate when punctured
A side dish of spinach was, well a side dish of spinach, but chips were terrific particularly when dipped in a slightly fiery garlic mayonnaise served along side them.
Posset is always a welcome sight on pudding menus and the Lemon version we shared at The Bolingbroke was as good as you are likely to try although topping it off with flavourless strawberries and raspberries didn’t help its cause nor did an avalanche of icing sugar over some moreish buttery biscuits. Someone’s been watching too much Gary Rhodes.
The wine list is well chosen but the mark ups seem a little hefty for a pub setting, which probably speaks to the restaurant's location as much as any level of avarice on the part of the owners, but to their credit, they do have a selection available by the 50cl carafe and we chose an perfectly passable Chilean Merlot alongside a couple of glasses of white with our starters.
In our haste to head back to somewhere with a tube station, we neglected to check the bill and Fiona, who was treating me to supper, signed off on a tab of £102 including a tip (which the menu announces all goes to the staff)
We realised that we had been overcharged, paying for a full bottle of wine and not the carafe. Every restaurant makes mistakes and it is how they deal with them that count. The Bolingbroke dealt with Fiona’s morning phone call admirably, she tells me, and the bill was reduced closer to the £80 we had anticipated.
The Bolingbroke is hardly worth crossing town for, but if you live in the area and, inevitably, need cheering up you could do worse. In fact, judging by my pre-supper walk down The Northcote Road, you could do a lot worse. Me? I have plenty of mid level gastropubs in my own neighbourhood, thanks very much.