In ever-emerging Balham, a large and ambitious gastropub offering straightforward, mainly Engish fare, solidly realised.
The idea, until recently, that anyone would have positively chosen to dine out on Balham Hill would have been pretty much ridiculous. Well, no longer, it seems. In the wake of Brasserie James (which boasts an ex head chef of Quaglino’s, no less), we have this ambitious pub-cum-dining room, which has added gloss by virtue of having attracted a chef from the fabled Chez Bruce.
Initial impressions are that this is a large and smart establishment. The outside tables will clearly attract le tout Balham/South Clapham, come warmer days. Inside there’s a large bar area, and an even more impressive dining room, which has been given that white-tiled and ‘timeless’ look that’s becoming so popular it must surely fall out of fashion soon?
The menu is relatively straightforward. We kicked off with some oysters. They were fine, but why do so few English restaurateurs understand the theatre of seafood?
It’s not so difficult. You get some of those stands you find in any brasserie in France, put a platter on top, pile it with crushed ice, and put the oysters on top, et voila. Six humble molluscs are transformed into a feast. The people on the next table might even want some too: it’s called marketing. But not here. They come, sad-English-style, on an ordinary plate, piled on top of seaweed. No rye bread or Tabasco. No oyster fork. No spoon with which to transfer the shallot vinegar from its little bowl to the oyster. This is not carping. It’s basic.
Steak is a house speciality, so we tried a sirloin, and pretty good it was too, cooked as instructed, and with a robust flavour, and nice hand-cut chips made a good accompaniment. The Béarnaise, however, was on the apologetic side.
Pudding was impressive – as good a chocolate tart as you’ll find anywhere, not too sweet, and nicely complemented by some ice cream, and a decent espresso too.
Service was willing, but it was slow enough that one couldn’t help wondering how they fare in the evenings, when – thanks, we hear, to instant popularity – the place is already quite a zoo.