The British pub is an institution being slowly being brought to its knees by rising alcohol prices. It’s hard to imagine when you walk past a heaving pub on a Friday night – but they are and when they go, they don’t come back and a community is irreparable scarred much to the joy of local councils and the property developers who are ripping apart our cities for no good reason.
I do though, despite being an ardent lover of the public house, hugely begrudge paying as much for a pint as I would pay for six pints of the same from my local shop.
I’m the enemy and the saviour I suppose.
Diversification of income by serving food has been one way that pubs have been trying to tackle the decline, but I suspect that the biggest positive impact on the economy has been for the microwave food bag companies that W*therspoons buys from.
Long gone are the days when a metal bowl full of roast potatoes would be placed on the bar for customers on a Sunday lunchtime. Now we have to face sign after sign declaring that thin slices of meat and warmed vegetables are ‘the best roast in…’
They’re not the best roasts, we all know Mums make the best roasts, so they’re just roasts and everyone does them so they’ve stopped being special. I don’t know why I picked on roasts, because the fish and chips are the same (I lived in Grimsby for 17 years and no pub has ever served a decent fish and chips to me), as are so often the pies and the ‘hunters’ chicken. To thrive pubs need to find something that no one else is offering and offer it, or offer something others do – but better. The status quo isn’t competing with mass consumption of low grade food anymore.
The Bolton, on the corner of Earls Court Road (come out of the station and turn right), is a pub that appears to have invested in its décor, and importantly for the purpose of this article – its food. It’s slightly confused and describes itself on its website as a friendly Earls Court pub in the heart of Kensington. Although this maybe geographically correct, it seems socially incorrect and so I’m not sure if this is a conscious decision, but Earls Court and Kensington represent very different things in the eyes of most.
Its interior is big, imposing and I immediately really loved it – much more friendly Earls Court than the heart of Kensington. They have blended traditional British pub with splashes of American and Antipodean colour to create something that is instantly cosy despite its size, and it has a gorgeous long bar with an impressive array of ales on it, as well as a huge range of wines and spirits behind it. It felt local, with the only downside being that everyone in the pub could have fitted around one table.
I went on a Wednesday and it was burger night at The Bolton. No one can resist an offer and the £10 for a burger and a drink (the list of which included the very ale I was drinking) seemed too good to turn down.
I decided on the West Country beef burger with Cornish Brie and bacon jam. This was a dish I decided on solely because of the prospect of trying bacon jam. And my dining partner Anthony chose a chicken burger with smoked bacon and avocado.
After we ordered we were told that it would take about half an hour for our food to come. We looked around the pub where we had been joined by at least two more people to bring our merry band of pub visitors in the place to nearly eight, and began to discuss why it would possibly take so long to cook two meals.
A perfect reasonable fifteen minutes later our food arrived, well, mine did. Anthony’s looked too much like a triple cheese beef burger with stilton, cheddar and brie, and so while I tucked in, Anthony waited for kitchen alchemy to transform beef to chicken. It only took ten minutes but I’d almost finished by then and so it felt more like a burger relay race than a chilled meal out.
My burger was superior to other pub burgers that I have had, but as with pub burgers they lack the delicacy of a burger restaurants burgers. The brioche bun was toasted and delicious, and it stacked with fresh ice cold salad which to me always works as a wonderful contrast in a toasted bun. The burger was a little over done, not drastically or badly, it just lacked a bit of the juiciness that I expected. Then it was topped with brie and bacon jam. BACON JAM.
Bacon jam made the wait(s) worthwhile though. I’m not entirely sure why they don’t just have tubs of bacon jam on the menu and stop serving food, beer, wine and the rest and just have tubs of bacon jam. It would be niche, but they’d have people flocking.
Anthony reported to me that his chicken burger was delicious, but it didn’t come with bacon jam so I think I won on the burger front.
Both dishes were joined on our plates by huge, delicious, light and crisp onion rings and a really great portion of piping hot chips. These were definitely more restaurant than pub in their taste and appearance and where I believe The Bolton is aiming for.
For dessert I had a slice of salted caramel cheesecake with clotted cream and Anthony had chocolate praline profiteroles, salted caramel ice cream and caramel sauce. Both were good solid desserts that took few risks but were well executed and you really can’t knock them for that.
My overall impression of The Bolton is that it hasn’t gone far enough with its food. Nothing about it said London, or Earls Court, but while there was little on show to separate it from the pack (besides the bacon jam), with a little bit of adventure and a gentle steer away from ‘pub classics’ it could be a real local hotspot.
I would always highly recommend The Bolton to anyone in the area who is looking for good food at a decent price. Their main menu is very reasonable, their drinks menu is impressive and it’s a welcoming environment so it’s pretty much faultless in regards to a local pub – but to be more, to get people on the tube or bus to Earls Court, well they’re a long way from that for now. Watch this space though, it’s full of potential.
326 Earls Court Road, Kensington, London, SW5 9BQ