Bull & Gate, London
We went out for lunch last Sunday and it was a typical summer’s day in North London, cold, cloudy and wet. What we really needed was a warm, cosy, heart-warming pub lunch. There’s nothing like a traditional British roast dinner with all the trimmings to bring some satisfaction to your day.
Our destination was the recently refurbished Bull & Gate in Kentish Town, which has undergone a remarkable, almost unrecognisable transformation inside. When we think of this place pre-refurb, we remember it being packed with music-loving gig-goers, who were having a few pints with friends before heading over to the Forum to see their latest favourite band perform live.
The feeling now is very different, a stylish and chic food and drink venue, aimed at local Kentish Town residents and young professionals.
Arriving at the main entrance to the pub, we were greeted at the bar by the general manager, who walked us through to the main dining area. Our waitress greeted us with a friendly smile and showed us to our table, which was in the centre of the room under one of two skylights.
The large rectangular shaped dining room contains approximately 70 covers. In the centre of the space are tables for 2 or 4 while two grand structures, housing tables for large groups help to break up the space and make it a bit more interesting. One of the structures is a solid canopy clad in white-washed timber planks, held up by two reclaimed columns which proudly stands over a table for 6 people; 4 eclectic timber chairs and a cosy, grey fabric upholstered love seat sofa. The other structure is a white metal frame partition, which beautifully encases a very large wooden table, more eclectic timber chairs and wooden bench seating. Perfect for those ‘special occasion’ dinner parties.
Looking around the room, the décor style is unmistakably shabby chic meets industrial and vintage. The matt concrete floor is covered with large vintage Persian rugs. The walls are a mixture of bare plaster walls and timber panelling, both with a stripped distressed finish. Two of the walls are covered with square, coded colour paint samples. It’s almost as if the designer was testing out which colours to paint the walls and decided to leave it like that instead. It’s a really fun and effective treatment and gives the room some joy and humour. All of the doorframes, cornicing and timber panelling on the ceiling is painted dark blue (which looks suspiciously like Farrow & Ball ‘Railings’ to us). All of the plumbing and electrical wiring is neatly housed in galvanised steel conduit and ugly plastic air-con units are hidden behind more whitewashed timber panelling. Hanging from chains in the centre of the room, under each skylight, are two rusted iron chandeliers. Elsewhere the lighting is a mixture of industrial shades and exposed LED bulb pendants. There are also some striking wire shade floor lamps in the corners of the room, which sit beautifully against the neutral distressed wall finish.
Completely distracted by the interior and the array of design details, we almost forgot that we were there to eat! We were handed the menus on arrival to our table, simple white A4 sheets fixed to corrugated cardboard, very sweet and fitting for the space. The Sunday menu is very British. All of the classic dishes are there, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, etc. But we only had eyes for the roast dinners, complete with goose fat roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Roast pork with apple sauce and crackling? Sold!
Everything about the table and the presentation of the food is very traditional and homely. As we begin to eat our meals, the restaurant starts to fill up and get quite busy, but there’s a gentle calm about this place. At the back of the room is the kitchen servery, the chefs look busy but not stressed and the waiting staff are all quietly going about their business. There is a warm glow of light emanating from the kitchen, it feels like the heart of the room. The waiter stations have a domestic kitchen feel, shabby-chic style painted wooden chests of drawers and shelves, surrounded by large white crackle-glazed tiles.
The ladies WCs are a short walk away from the main dining area; this room is typically Victorian with a contemporary twist. The entrance to the WC is in the dining spill-over area, which is part of the pub bar, but is cleverly designed to feel more cosy and intimate and is tucked away nicely under another skylight.
Back in the main dining area, our puddings have arrived. On top of a square wooden chopping board next to a small jug of custard, is an apple, blood orange and blueberry crumble, served in an enamelled earthenware pot. It was delicious! The perfect end to a lovely meal.
As we are settling the bill with our waitress, (a very reasonable £30.00 per head), she kindly and enthusiastically tells us about the cocktail bar upstairs. “It’s lovely up there.” She says. “But no one seems to know about it, it’s like a secret. You should go and have a look before you leave, maybe have a cocktail.”
Well, if you insist. On the wall, at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Bull & Gate’s naughty little secret, is a sweet little framed hand-painted sign on white crackle-glazed tiles; ‘Upstairs to BOULOGNE BAR.’ We later discovered in the cocktail menu that the original name of the pub was the ‘Boulogne Gate’ coaching inn, which has been standing in this very spot since the 1800s. When the old inn was rebuilt in 1871, an amusing mistake lead the pub to being renamed the Bull & Gate.
When we arrived at the top of the stairs, we were delighted to discover Kentish Town’s very own Zetter Townhouse! The décor is gentleman’s club meets hotel member’s only bar. There is a grand piano in the centre of the room, chandeliers, a fireplace, numerous historical picture frames decorating the walls and lots of sumptuous, brightly coloured velvet upholstered seating. You would never know from the outside that this little gem of a place is up here. Shh… don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.