Not too long ago two best friends, one called Julian and the other called Josh, were trying to decide where to host a business lunch. As their business was based in Leicester Square, they decided that the best place to go would be somewhere in the local area… Soho… Piccadilly… Covent Garden, maybe? They finally decided to go to a restaurant called Balthazar.
As they arrived Julian began to talk of how this beautiful French inspired brasserie located on the corner of Russell Street & Wellington Street, a stones throw from the Piazza, had been situated there for almost 150 years and was an institution of Covent Garden!
Josh turned to him and said, ‘No, you’re a complete and utter idiot, this place opened only a few years ago.”
The friends then made a bet. The loser had to pay £1 for every year they were out. Big bucks were at stake here, and so was a very large amount of pride. Both had a lot to lose.
The original Balthazar was opened by Keith McNally in New York City back in 1997. I’m sure you would agree that it would have been impressive if the London little sister had been born almost 80 years beforehand! And so Julian had to pay Josh £148 and admit to his friend that yes indeed, he was a complete and utter idiot.
I have been informed that this debt is yet to be paid.
Anyway, story over, I visited this beautiful brasserie last week prior to going to the Theatre with my lovely mother (I went to see Shakespeare in Love at the Nöel Coward Theatre – it’s incredible. If you enjoy the theatre, you’ll love this!) We arrived at 6pm and I immediately clocked the incredibly beautiful woman sat opposite our table. It was Pippa Middleton. I already loved this place for the people watching alone!
Balthazar London replicates Balthazar New York’s French brasserie design, with high ceilings, red leather dining banquettes and antique mirrored walls. If you are not a fan of your own reflection, you should avoid this beautiful restaurant at all costs, as mirrors line the walls all the way from the dining room and up to the beautiful, chic bathrooms. 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 (naturally) and includes seafood displayed beautifully and temptingly along the raw bar. The majority of the menu, however, consists of classical French brasserie and bistro dishes. Next door to the restaurant is the Balthazar Boulangerie, serving and selling a stunning array of delicious looking artisan breads, pastries, salads and sandwiches. The perfect stop off for a speedy lunch.
We started with a glass of Prosecco (as all good mother/daughter dinners should) and began our peruse of the menu. As is often the case, I was more tempted by the fantastic choice of starters than I was mains. All of my favourites were listed together, from Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Mousse and Warm English Asparagus, to Escargots and Steak Tartare, but I couldn’t resist ordering the Hand Dived Scallop Ceviche (£14.50) which came with samphire and a stunning drizzle of white balsamic which provided a stunning tang to counteract the bitter undertones of the samphire. The scallops themselves were soft and meaty, sliced thin but still big enough to retain their flavour.
Mum pandered to my inability to stop pining over the starter menu by ordering the Steak Tartare, just so that I could have a few bites of it too! In no way were they not generous with the portion size, as the plate arrived with a healthy sized mound of meat, with small slices of toast on the side, as well as a green side salad (so luckily, there was plenty to share!) For me, it was lacking a little spice – a few drops of tabasco and maybe a touch more worcester sauce would have worked a dream.
For my main course, I chose to enjoy the £19 Duck Shepherd’s Pie. It arrived in a hot round dish, steaming elegantly across the table. More steam escaped as I created a few air-holes (my first hasty/impatient mouthfull scorched a full layer of skin off the roof of my mouth) and once the dish cooled down I took to enjoying it without fear of further pain. The chunks of duck were sweet, as though cooked in honey, and very chunky, meaty and succulent, while the potato was fluffy with little crispy patches – the patches you’d usually fight for at home!
Mum on the other hand chose the Plat Du Jour: Saint Jacques aux Agrumes, which roughly translates as scallops with citrus. I think the quality and flavour of a dish can often be judge by regarding a diners face when they take their first bite. Unfortunately, my mother instantly pinched her lips together and squirmed in the way you would when you’ve just unexpectedly placed a Haribo Tangfastic into your mouth when you were expecting a milk bottle. Her cheeks sucked in, her lips puckered, her eyes watered. The scallops, while cooked beautifully, were served with far too much citrus which in turn over powered the entire dish, causing the skin to blister from the inside of the mouth! An uncomfortable disappointment to say the least.
Luckily our dessert was more than enough to make up for my mum’s mouth assaulting main. My all time favourite dessert is soufflé. I’m certain that nothing can beat the flavour and texture combination of a well executed soufflé. Nothing. At all. Ever. And so that is what we ordered. The raspberry soufflé (£10) with creme anglaise arrived at our table tall and proud, with a slight wobble as it was placed infront of us. It had a hat of three sweet raspberries and a dusting of icing sugar – such a pretty sight! For some reason we had opted to share this dessert (moment of absolute madness) so we both broke into the lightly crisped outer casing of beautiful pink pudding and took our first bite at the same time. The raspberry was sweet and the texture was soft, fluffy and light. The raspberries on top were mildly sharp but delicious when accompanied by a spoonful of the souffle. The ramekin was eventually scraped clean, however the creme anglaise was confusing and an unnecessary accompaniment, although alone it was light and flavoursome, albeit slightly on the thin side.
Balthazar is a beautiful destination restaurant that I believe is perfect for those wanting to experience a little class in the buzzing tourist district of the West End. It’s not a place for the penny pinchers, however, as our bill came to just over £110 which seems a little steep for two and a half courses each, however the service was attentive and polite, and the ingredients were no doubt top quality – it’s just a shame Mum’s main didn’t quite hit the mark to make this the best dining experience it could be. However, sipping my Prosecco whilst trying to see if Pippa Middleton’s derrière is all it’s cracked up to be did make it just that little more enjoyable!