Surprisingly, London born Balthazar founder Keith McNally has never been a fan of ostentatious fine dining restaurants. His passion lies with creating appealing menus, great service and buzz but most importantly he strives to create venues where everyone understands they are welcome. He thinks of himself as a ‘man of the people’. Many critique this stance due to his string of celebrity friends delivering golden media attention, but bear in mind he was once an actor, and film director. Who wouldn't use those connections...
Balthazar London, his twelfth restaurant opening manifests his creative talents. His objective was to attract custom with the way his restaurant made them feel at the time, rather then being the ‘in’ place to be seen. A current example of the opposite being Chiltern Firehouse. Nigella Lawson sums him up well “he has a passion for authenticity and aesthetic perfection. Decent food and bloody good service.” Based on my experience last week, I agree.
Last week, friends and I headed over for brunch. Having enjoyed a visit to Balthazar NYC just two months ago, it was a surreal experience walking into it’s London brother. They’re not just similar, they are identical. Large bar on the left, seafood counter at the back, bakery shop next door, bread shelves in the corner, vintage mirrors, head rails, paper cloths – every tiny detail the same. The only differential clue between Manhatten and London was the presence of the Guardian and the Telegraph in place of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. At first I was disappointed with this clone, but as my father invariably repeats ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it daling’. Clearly, Mr McNally would agree.
And for the ‘decent’ (admittedly not flashy, nor complex, just decent) food, we ordered:
Satisfying Sweetcorn Fritters with maple cured bacon and tomato salsa (£9)
Slightly bland but pleasant Avocado on Toast with Poached Eggs served on Balthazar sourdough with tomato salsa (£10.50)
Perfectly poached Eggs Royale – toasted homemade muffin with smoked salmon, and hollandaise sauce (£15.00)
The ‘iconic’ perfectly seasoned Steak Tartare (£15.25)
Mouth-wateringly rich Macaroni Cheese with gruyère cheese (£13)
This brunch was not so much judged on the food, it was the experience. We’d all warmly welcome a great experience in replacement of swanky food every now and then. One of my friends voiced that Balthazar was ‘a posh Café Rouge’, which to her credit, is mildly true. For me, it has Parisian spirit and reassuring soul. It gives the impression it’s been functioning in London for 30 years, yet it opened in Feb ’13, a creative talent of McNally’s.
It’s not often you tent a restaurant and people ask ‘how did you feel when you were there’. It’s always ‘was the food good? Was it expensive? Where did you go after?’ Answers to these questions regarding Balthazar would be ‘Yeah it was okay. Some plates were curiously priced but not especially. None of your business.’ But how did I feel? Completely at ease, content and well looked after.
4-6 RUSSELL STREET LONDON WC2B 5HZ