Even by the time this is finished in the first week of opening, countless column inches have been filled on the eagerly awaited opening of Keith McNally’s Balthazar in London . If nothing else, you have to hand it to the PR machine with this one, they are fully on song.
It goes without saying that Balthazar has been a phenomenal success in New York City. Quite how that would translate to London has had many people wondering. Given London’s proximity to the city of light we are all too familiar with the real McCoy across La Manche. I’d go as far as to say any reproduction is always going to fall under closer scrutiny here as a result. Londoners are all too familiar with the famous Paris brassieres, their decor, their varying quality and oft indifferent service.
Indifferent service is not something you are going to get at Balthazar. The staff are charm personified. From the moment you enter you are being seduced. You are welcomed and shown to the bar, Brian Silva formerly of Rules shakes your hand and you get the sense that things are going to be ok.
McNally carefully hunted out his staff, coaxing in both Silva and Byron Lang of the Wolseley. In the interests of getting things started, rumour has it that a legion of staff has been flown over from the New York branch to ease the transition.
Straight off the bat I’m going to say you are not going to come here for culinary fireworks. But then, that is not necessarily what this place is all about. The room is big, loud and buzzing; the lighting low. Waiters charge by wafting appetising smells your way. There is people watching to be done and people will come to see and be seen.
The menu is a mirror image of the NY mother ship so for a flavour its worth a peek at the NY site. Starters are strictly out of the classic bistro repertoire; Chicken liver Mousse, Escargots, Frisee aux Lardons.
A large crustacean bar holds court at one end of the room and the fruits de mer platters look appetising.
A quick word about the bread, yes its good rustic stuff and you can pick up a massive loaf next door at the bakery for an eye watering £20 a loaf. Not sure its so good that I’m about to drop £20 on it, but there you have it.
A salt cod brandade was a generous, accurate rendition. There was plenty of it, but it could be overpowering for some. A quick apology on the photos – that low lighting, whilst a boon to the atmosphere, is something of a challenge for the camera. Looking at these in the post they really are anaemic, so sorry again, will try and upload some replacements in a few weeks.
The lobster risotto on point with a strong lobster flavour with good pieces of lobster throughout. Though any trace of the truffle lurked a little too far in the background to draw attention to itself.
A classic French onion soup is one of those dishes that is now both seldom seen and so rarely done right. I have to hand it to them they nailed it. Deep rich onion and a crisp gratin of cheese to break into. This is the stuff signature dishes are made of.
In hindsight we might have mixed it up a little more with the mains, but opting for the classics it was always going to be steak frites.
Steak au poivre is classic bistro food but this is not the best steak I’ve had in London recently (that honour actually goes to Quo Vadis who put out a sirloin steak with a respect and perfection that it still resonates months later). Requested medium rare it came out overdone. Say what you want about the French – they’d never send out a steak overdone. Granted its their first week and these things happen as the kitchen finds its feet, but that sort of thing can disappoint . As it happens the cote de boeuf of my colleagues faired better. Cooked perfectly, replete with a hefty trance of bone marrow, it tasted like a serious piece of beef. It was certainly on a par with that at the Hawskmoor – and served with the flourish of its copper pan, it will win legions of fans I’m sure.
The Fries- I think its already been said elsewhere already, but the Frites or Fries are good but not all that. Given the fame of the Fries in the NYC branch – clearly they haven’t got them right yet.
Desserts again churn out the Bistro classics. Though they don’t reach the ambition or heights of the current competition. That said a Rhubarb Crumble soufflé, was a standout dish by some way. Faultless and a great play on 2 classics.
The wine list check some of the usual (and high end) suspects but also some interesting obscurities. A Saint Aubin from Prudhon or a Pinot Gris from Rolly Gassmann would tick the boxes without breaking the bank.
So to conclude. Stick to the classics, enjoy the attention, don’t expect gastronomic fireworks but enjoy it, for all the show it is nonetheless.
4-6 Russell Street
020 3301 115