When it comes to eateries, there’s been talk in the office of our diversifying of late. Sure, we’ll still single out Michelin-starred restaurants and embrace new challenges but it occurred to us that we all have a favourite watering hole or casual dining venue that’s worthy of note. Time to bring them to bear, we think. And particularly since we’re noticing a gentle shift in tastes from the glass-and-chrome corporate-owned gastropub (what a now ugly moniker) with carbon-copy menus in favour of the single-managed, food-serving public houses that offer genuinely thought-out and well-executed menus. Jonesy set the bar pretty high with his review of The Windmill in Central London but we’ve all decided we’re going out there to seek out the nation’s best pub eatery. My first involved a pleasant suburban sojourn and turned out to be a nod to our spiritual leader.
The closer you get to The Boaters, the more it feels like you’re escaping the Big Smoke and entering the country. Leaving Kingston station and through the shopping district, the built-up riverside walk then gives way to a park and a stroll through the sycamore-lined footpath reveals the pub in the distance. But this is Kingston we’re talking about, we’re still in suburban London. (Kingston is technically in Surrey, which, in my book, does not make it London. No matter what the estate agents tell you. Ed.) As settings for city pubs go, it doesn’t get much better than this. And, as if to mark our arrival, three men in a Victorian skiff row past. Come to think of it, if I remember rightly, The Boaters is located just moments from the very spot that Jerome and his pals set off up the Thames from. How very Arbuturian.
It’s a Tuesday evening and it’s quiet. It had also been raining and the bellies of the clouds still threatened more to come. You’d think, then, that all these factors (weekday, isolated location, rain) would have an impact and, truth be told, as Mrs Larry and I enter the pub the first thing I notice is how empty it is but, with only a handful of patrons in the bar, it’s testament to its conducive layout that it’s certainly not lacking in atmosphere. More’s the point, we’ve been before, on a summer’s day and it’s been buzzing so to be here on a quiet evening for dinner is a pleasant change.
We’re tucked into a secluded spot by a riverside window and first glances of the menu reveal an appealing blend of pub staples and off-piste offerings, from the char-grilled sirloin, ale-battered fish and chips to a crab, chilli and coriander linguine. We decide to diversify and Mrs Larry dives in with enthusiasm selecting the pan-fried cod with roasted tomatoes, girolle mushrooms and saffron potatoes, while I attempt the ultimate pub grub test and go for the Boaters Inn Burger. For something to nibble on to begin with I notice a range of three ‘sharers’: a choice of meze, a fish plate or a Spanish plate. Nice touch, I thought, but I opt for their clams in white wine. What arrives is a bowl fit enough for a main course but then clams aren’t that substantial so it’s a good starter and while the sauce isn’t that garlicky and a little heavy on the butter, it’s a novel take on moules marinieres. Mrs L meanwhile enjoyed the salt and pepper squid, the batter was just right; light and not too oily.
Having been drawn to the “We Love This Wine!!” choice on the wine list, I have to say the Bourgueil Binette Loire recommended did not disappoint. It’s a delicious Cabernet Franc, soft, laced with cherry notes and given a boost by being slightly chilled. It was the ideal accompaniment to a mixed menu choice. Clearly The Boaters takes pride in its wine list, too, with a terrific selection and I noticed some competitively priced classics on there, from £25 Chablis to a £35 Cotes des Nuits.
I have to say, from Knoxville to New York City, I’ve got a pretty good benchmark for what makes a good burger and the one that met me on a plate at The Boaters can give any of them a run for their money. Densely minced, succulent, cooked to a T and dressed with tomatoes, dill pickle, cheese and a rasher of bacon, it was superb. Forgive me, chef, I feel a bit like the baby playing with the box rather than the expensive toy it came in but, alas, the cod didn’t fare so well. When I tried it, short of a burst from the tomatoes, I was straining to get any flavour from the rather thin broth it was served in, the girolles felt out of place and the saffron seasoning to the potatoes felt like a token gesture. The fish itself was cooked delightfully however; it was simply unbalanced in its accoutrements.
Having tackled what felt like two mains already, I was in no fit state for dessert but how were we to resist such comforting offerings as sticky toffee pudding with a hazelnut ice cream or a chocolate brownie with pistachio? We decided to share one and selected the apple and rhubarb crumble with custard. And I’m so glad we did. It’s amazing how one can make room. It was a terrific combination of fruit perfectly complimented by a delicate vanilla custard and not too thick at that.
As we rolled out of the door, bracing the darkness that had set upon us, my mind wandered to Jerome’s hapless heroes. If they’d have set off following a meal at The Boaters, I think their journey would have gone a lot smoother.
Summary: a glorious location offering good solid fare and fine wine but approach the more adventurous dishes with caution. Live jazz features every Sunday.
Look out for the bank holiday beer festival at The Boaters Inn with over 50 ales on offer bringing a fine close to an otherwise temperamental summer.
The Boaters Inn, Canbury Park, Lower Ham Road, Kingston, Surrey, KT2 5AU. Website.