Harden's survey result
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These “little bits of La Belle France” in Balham, Clapham and Putney win praise for their “chilled” style, “heavily accented” but “friendly” Gallic staff, and “very French” cuisine; the food rating was hit though by one or two “disappointing” reports.
Despite sometimes “pedestrian” cooking and service “infused with Gallic indifference”, this small chain generally wins praise for its “classic bistro style” and affordable prices; they must be doing something right, as a new branch has just opened, in Putney.
“Very good food” plus “typically Gallic service” – that’s the formula that’s made quite a hit of these “good-value” Balham and Battersea brasseries.
A basic Balham bistro, aiming to offer a true Gallic experience at reasonable prices; on our visit, however, the food was very up-and-down, and service was shocking.
The first Gazette is hidden-away in Battersea, near the river. When we ventured there last year, we found a straightforward Gallic bistro with real potential, but also noted its appeal as undercut by a degree of inconsistency verging on the haphazard.
When we saw a (favourable) review of a new Gazette in Balham, however, it seemed likely that they'd finally got their act together, ironed out the wrinkles and begun the long march to establishing a chain which might be a better alternative to Café Rouge. (Not difficult, you might think.) But how wrong we were. Haphazardness (with its bedmate, Indifference) seems the defining feature of the new outlet.
One of the joys of a proper Gallic bistro is swift - sometimes too swift - service. Here in Balham, however, the service was so slow - in a small restaurant that wasn't that busy - that we gave up without ever trying a pudding.
And the cooking was all over the show. A vegetable soup - how difficult can that be? - was bizarrely luminescent. Our guest - who yields to no man in her knowledge of the three-stars of Paris - barely consumed any of it, yet it was removed without comment.
An onion soup was better, to a point. All soups, however, are served in unadorned Le Creuset pans. If this is supposed to suggest authenticity, it didn't work for us. It just looks odd, and it's dangerous too: one of us nearly succeeding in upsetting a pint of very hot liquid into a place it certainly didn't belong.
A skate main course was the best of three. The other two were poor to middling. An asparagus risotto had the look and feel of a large bowl of (unsweetened) rice pudding, into which a vegetable had been tossed as some sort of afterthought. Our guest's bavette steak, however, apparently tasted rather better than it looked.
Gallic bistros can be done in England, it seems - witness the deserved current success of L'Absinthe in Primrose Hill - but they're not 'natural' in our culture, and need constant love and care if they're ever to succeed.
Sadly, however, neither love nor care was much in evidence on our recent visit to distant Balham.
100 Balham High St, London, SW12 9AA
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Last orders: 10.30 pm, Sun 10 pm