I should really try to stop getting myself all excited when I hear about a new restaurant opening in Battersea. I don't know what it is about this part of town, but for some reason regardless of concept, skill of the chef or the charm of the front of house, as soon as the doors open to a new eatery in SW11 it's like all the life and joy is sucked out and you're left with a hollow shell of a place serving bland, expensive food to undiscerning punters.
Dos Hermanos, that bastion of independent criticism and flawless taste, had already dismissed Broome and Delancey on Battersea Rise, saving me the trouble of blowing £20 on a burger and chips and hammering probably the first nail in the coffin of the latest reincarnation of this site, which seems to have changed hands about 10 times in as many years. But what was this - The Bolingbroke, another new opening on Northcote Road, doesn't get a panning. It's hardly a glowing review, but it sounds solid and interesting enough for a visit and damn it, it's not like we're exactly spoiled for choice around here and if it turns out to be anything less than terrible I'd consider that a win. So, off I went.
First impressions were good - very good, if I'm going to be honest. They have that Prince of Wales Putney vibe, with a slightly rowdy and informal front room and a more traditional restaurant dining room towards the back, with whitewashed brick walls and a chalkboard daily special. And the menu read very well indeed, "Wild bay Devon crab, avocado, baby gem lettuce and deep fried duck egg" sounds almost worth the fee alone, and along with Ox tongue, slow-roasted belly of pork and roasted mallard it ticked all the right boxes in local, seasonal ingredients. If only the success of a restaurant was based on their skill in putting together a menu, the Bolingbroke would be famous the city over.
Starters were where things started going downhill. Ham hock terrine was fridge-fresh and although would have been tasty enough at room temperature just pointed towards sloppy practices in the kitchen. The "signature" duck egg starter was overcooked so that instead of a lovely runny yolk the insides were solid and cloying. My pigeon was cooked nice and rare and the accompanying mushrooms were lovely, but the foie was cold and solid, like a small lump of butter, a waste of such premium ingredients really.
As far as mains go, the only positive thing I can say is that the daily special guinea fowl confit was pretty good and was eaten without complaint. But the two fish dishes ordered that evening (Dover sole and a Halibut steak) ranked with some of the worst I've ever paid for. My Halibut with saffron sauce was overcooked, completely underseasoned and dressed with some entirely tasteless mussels. There was no sign of any saffron in the creamy sauce and the creamed leeks were as bland as only unseasoned, cheap boiled vegetables can be. But worst of all was the Dover Sole. When done well, this is the king of all fish dishes - my Sole at Scott's last year was just superb, with rich meaty flesh easing off the bone in large, satisfying chunks. Here it was overcooked way past the point of obliteration, the skin burned and the flesh a disgusting homogenous paste. Awful.
We did mention our numerous complaints to the waitress when asked, but apart from a smile and a short apology, nothing else was offered in terms of recompense. We had also asked them - twice - to turn down the music blaring out of the speakers just above our heads, but nothing was done about this either, so we had to endure our main courses (themselves being enough punishment you would think) between yelled conversation or in the quiet few seconds between tracks.
The Bolingbroke is not a good restaurant. Perhaps if I'd ordered differently I would have come away with the impression that it was merely mediocre rather than actively bad, but at these prices, and with competition from pubs such as the Prince of Wales and the Establishment only 10 minutes away, there is no excuse for such poor cooking. For all the fanfare and expense lavished on this building, it seems the curse of Battersea dining doesn't look like being broken any time soon.