So, on the journey of a blogger, it becomes apparent there is a stigma associated with reviews written for a PR company or a venue. The reading public are perhaps rightly mistrustful of an opinion they feel may have been swayed by pressure. Perhaps the staff can been deemed to be making more of an effort as they are aware of your reviewer status. This is all fair game but here’s the rub. If you tell a footballer that he has to perform well during a certain match or else the team won’t qualify, then the player goes on to perform and the team qualifies, does that diminish his value as a player? To put it another way, we can say that it’s unlikely any restaurant team would dish out dross all day then suddenly up their game because a (relatively little known) reviewer happens to pop in, only to slump back to naffsville post-departure. Also, blogging is a community based activity. We do it to share the experience and the recipes, to spread a little joie de vivre and to gratuitously flex our rippling writing muscles. Finally I will say just this. If I don’t like a venue I’ve been sent to review, I won’t review it. If I don’t like a venue I went to unannounced, I might review it, purely to enjoy ripping the proverbial out of them in the hopes they’ll get the drift.
Balans is a Soho institution. Reviewing them almost seems irrelevant as they’re permanently busy but as I have been a regular there for fourteen years, when the invite came through I figured why not, they probably owe me a lunch or two! Many a time I’ve ambled blearily in after a night on the tiles to throw a full English down or chug through a smoothie and stack of pancakes with bacon, fruit salad and maple syrup (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it). There are a lot of things to like about Balans, one being the fact they’re open 24-7, another that the menu is full of decent homely comfort food with flourishes here and there to keep you interested. Wine list is nothing much to write home about or blog about for that matter, but they do have Picpoul De Pinet which I love and should have chosen – a tip here – avoid the saccharin Riesling, a cloying enamel-stripper of a plonk if ever there was one. On a cheerier note the tucker was as pleasing as always.
I started with crab cakes. Plenty of flavour in the more robust type of cake, built with mashed potato and fried. I’d have preferred grilled or baked, and a little less crab, but still enjoyed these.
My guest duly commended the scallops. I declined to taste as I’m so picky when it comes to scallops that I usually only eat the ones I’ve prepared myself unless the chef is known personally. That is seriously sad food snobbery right there. She also mentioned the pork was quite fatty; of course it was belly pork as opposed to crispy pork but I would have rendered it more.
For the main I chose sea bass which was perfectly crisped as you can see. This was a wonderful dish, it was just exactly what it promised to be. The sauce though creamy and buttery wasn’t too rich or dense and the flavour of the chives came through nicely. Spinach was perfectly wilted and flavoursome. New potatoes properly done, neither over nor under.
She had salmon fish cakes, ticked all the boxes.
Dessert was something else. I’m not a big fan of Pannacotta as a rule but they sure had me at Greek yoghurt Pannacotta with amarena cherries and valrhona chocolate sorbet. It was everything it was cracked up to be; boozy cherries and a properly chilled ball of smooth sorbet rounded off the meal nicely.
Her flourless chocolate brownie with pistachio ice cream was a similar hit. Melt in the mouth, and the ice cream a perfect compliment. I confess neither of us could quite finish what was on our plates, but that was not a bad thing. Tis better to have loved a meal and lost a morsel than to eat in Maccy Dees.
No I didn’t need an invite to rave about Balans because they’ve been doing their thing consistently since 1987. All that remains is for me to thank them for their hospitality. Many thanks!