Posted on Friday, 8th August 2014
Balthazar Restaurant opened in Soho in New York in 1997, and within two years of its opening it became one of the hottest restaurants in NYC. It attracted celebrities far and wide, much in the same way that Chiltern Firehouse, London’s restaurant of the moment is doing. Long recognised as an institution in New York, celebrity restaurateur Keith McNally opened a branch on British shores in 2013 to much hype and fanfare.
Balthazar London looks the business and replicates Balthazar New York’s French brasserie design, from the high ceilings to the antique mirrored walls, through to the red leather banquettes down to the mosaic floors. Similar to its big sister, Balthazar London offers all-day menu with breakfast as well afternoon tea, and on the weekends there is a separate brunch menu. The food is French-inspired and includes seafood from the raw bar as well as a wide selection of classical French brasserie and bistro dishes. Next door to the restaurant is the Balthazar Boulangerie that serves an array of delicious looking artisan breads, pastries, salads and sandwiches.
The atmosphere was a little flat and lacklustre when we visited Balthazar London. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday night, but there wasn’t the fired-up energy that was reminiscent of my past visits to Balthazar New York. With all the hype that surrounded Balthazar’s opening, this proved to be a little disappointing.
As for the food, it didn’t quite fire on all cylinders with starters of garlic prawns (£10) and steak tartare (£9.75) being acceptable if a little lacklustre. The prawns were firm in texture and came in a buttery sauce filled with garlic and piment d’Espelette chillies. But the sauce wanted for a little more flavour. On the side was a warm portion of fougasse provencale bread that soaked up the sauce nicely. But the bread was rather oily and the crust was not crunchy. As for the steak tartare, the meat was tender and flavoursome, but it needed more Worcestershire sauce and seasoning to give it a greater punch.
A sea bass cooked ‘en papillotte’ (£21) had been gently prepared in some white wine, butter and lemon juice and was a very satisfying dish. The sea bass was moist and fragrant from the use of tarragon and accompanied by some artichokes that had been precisely timed for the right level of tenderness. Fennel added a delicate aniseed flavour that livened up the dish.
A second main of grilled salmon served over a warm spinach, walnut and lentil salad (£18) was less likeable. The fish was nicely cooked but bland, although the lightly dressed salad was delicious, with lentils sautéed with carrots and onions proving to be earthy and warming. There was also a nice crunchiness coming through from the walnuts.
Finally to dessert, which was chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream (£8). It was really yummy as the chocolate was dark and rich and the side of vanilla ice cream was full of vanilla goodness. The fondant itself was a little too runny, but otherwise this was a really satisfying dessert.
So the conclusion. There were certain aspects of the food that was enjoyable, but with underwhelming starters there was really nothing in the cooking that made a compelling case for a revisit. As for the service, this was ok until we got to dessert time when we were completely ignored. The service was so slow it almost reached the point where we had to get up and search for a waiter. In summary, there wasn’t enough in the Balthazar experience to inspire us to suggest others to go. For the same money, you can get a better overall experience elsewhere in London.
Food rating: 3.25/5
Service rating: 2.75/5
Prices: £26 to £55 for three courses for dinner. Excludes drinks and service.