Open Mon—Thurs 10am—11pm, Fri—Sat 10am—midnight, Sun midday—10.30pm
There’s something deeply unnerving about walking into a pub at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night and finding the place wholly deserted. It feels wrong, and one would be forgiven for wondering, with no small amount of trepidation, what hideous secret or locally-understood notoriousness might have driven away the crowds at such a usually busy time. The Bolton, one of Kensington’s many higher-end gastropubs, sits in plain view on a busy enough street corner five minutes’ walk from Earl’s Court station. It is not a quiet area. That trepidation was therefore reaching somewhat of an apex as we took our seats in a warmly lit corner of a largely empty room.
I needn’t have worried. The Bolton may not be the most charming place to eat in London (though, frankly, what gastropub is?), but it does what it does with competency, efficiency and a great deal of affability. The atmosphere inside is pleasant enough, with that aforementioned warm lighting working together with a refreshingly communal layout—none of those vile, anti-social booths here—and just the right amount of vintage flotsam and jetsam to keep the décor interesting without it feeling like a Shoreditch gin bar. The staff, too, were perfectly likeable, and showed a surprising degree of investment in our whole dining and drinking experience.
Our food was never disappointing, if rarely exceptional. I opted for some perfectly enjoyable salt and pepper squid to start (£6.25), which edged itself into noteworthiness with an impressively complementary spicy mayonnaise dip, whilst my guest’s Paris, flat and oyster mushrooms on toast (£6.00) proved itself to be perhaps the most gratifying dish on the menu.
Going then for the gastropub staple that is the burger, I was offered up a strong enough, though slightly on the small side, pork and chorizo burger with fries (£12.25). Meanwhile, the slow cooked BBQ beef short rib, also with fries, (£11.75) turned out to be essentially the opposite—plentiful, yes, but dragged down somewhat by an overly rich sauce.
Our desserts, however, did excel: my raspberry and peach crumble with apple sorbet (£6.00) was beautifully presented and utterly up to par, while the chocolate praline profiteroles and salted caramel ice cream with caramel sauce opposite me (£9.00) inspired the same sort of envy as those mushrooms had earlier—pricey, sure, especially for a dessert, but all things considered probably worth it.
The Bolton also provides a remarkably sizeable and utterly—albeit unintentionally—hilarious drinks menu. In the former, visitors should expect a strong range of everything you could want, with an adequate ale selection for a gastropub: decent enough house ale (Doom Bar, if you’re wondering), better guest ales—you know the score. In the latter, visitors should expect such a mess of hysterical spelling and grammar errors as to actually be worth mentioning in a review. You’ve not lived until you’ve tried a ‘xesty’ white wine or a rosé that’s described as being particularly ‘biscuit’.
By the time we left—sometime around 11 o’clock—the Bolton had become far busier. From our experience, the scarcity of customers in the earlier evening hours seems not to be a symptom of any particular glaring flaw, but instead a weird little anomaly that’s absolutely worth taking advantage of. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet—even on a weekend—for a decent drink and a slightly more than decent meal, you could do much, much worse.