LONDON EATERIES – Balans Shines brilliantly at Seven Dials
When you already have two successful venues on the same street, one could be confounded as to why you would open a third within walking distance of its well established cousins. But that’s precisely what Balans has just done. At Seven Dials, the Bohemian Balans Soho Society Cafe has duly opened its doors to Covent Garden. It was in the adjacent Soho that Balans first became established and very quickly started to extend the range across various locations in London. I’ve frequented all the venues over the years, and I’ve noticed how the restaurant/cafes have consistently evolved, not just their menus but the venues as well. The food has always been current with the latest fashions for the trendier eater, yet still retaining an element of tradition for the more conservative diner. And the various incarnations of the decor have transformed from the harsher, more industrial disposition of the late 90s, to the indulgent mirrors, drapes and blush upholstery of the naughties. But it’s the latest evolution that impresses the most. The façades and interiors are the vision of Simon Costin, who made his name creating outlandish fashion shows for Alexander McQueen and collaborating with Stella McCartney and Hermes. “Updating the décor yet keeping it lovingly lived-in and a bit rough ’round the edges, you’ll find tributes to Soho past in the detail. The edgy and slightly risqué artwork and festooned lighting are a nod to all things theatrical, (there had to be some element of drama!), reflecting the area’s theatrical history.”
Navigating my way through a busy and crowded Compton Street, I became quite agitated, but as soon as I stepped into Balans Seven Dials, I instantly became calm. It’s in complete contrast to the sometimes too intense vibrancy of the heart of Soho. I believe that the stylised décor itself was the most significant factor for this surprising tranquillity, coupled with the immediate hospitality of the manageress, Ines. Because it was a warm sunny evening, the bay windows were open so we could absorb the lively atmosphere
from outside but still retain that sheltered relaxation within. Tony was our wonderfully eager waiter for the evening. His passion to ensure we had a great Bohemian experience was electric and uplifting. He guided us through the vast selection of small and large plates of food. But what I really appreciated about Tony was his attention to our needs. I invited a dear friend for the evening, someone that I haven’t seen for a very long time and we had a lot of catching up to do. Now most waiters would, at the most inopportune time, interrupt the conversation with the classic line “Is everything OK?” I’m sure I’m not the only one who loathes having my flow of conversation utterly obliterated by this mundane comment. Not Tony, he expertly assessed the situation and did not unnecessarily interrupt us. He had a sixth sense to know when to approach and when not too.
That’s enough of my moaning, back to the important part which is the food itself. Being ravenous (which for those who know me is my usual disposition), I wanted to indulge myself, so I greedily and eagerly ordered multiple small dishes. I love trying a selection of little portions like in a tapas bar, rather than experiencing the margin of diminishing returns you get with a huge plate. Of course, lots of little portions can be quite expensive, but it’s definitely a lot more fun.
First to be sampled was the Coconut Shrimp (with mango salsa and sweet & sour essence) 9. This was exquisitely exotic with the richness of coconut but not overwhelmingly sweet. We shared the spectacular Seared Scallops (roast & puree fennel, orange, bottarga) 9 , the Crab Croquettes 8, light but still substantial and the House-cured Salmon (avocado mousse, beets, orange, soda bread) 8 . All of these were excellent. Tony’s infectious enthusiasm for the menu encouraged us to continue sampling even more delicious delights, even though my friend was already feeling full. We just couldn’t restrain ourselves! My next dish was the crescendo of culinary excellence, the brilliance that was
the Coffee-Rubbed Bavette (onion rings, chipotle tomatillo salsa) 16. Now I adore steak and I am infamously difficult to please when it comes to a good steak. I often judge a place by how expertly their steak is cooked, and this was sheer perfection. The coating of the steak was saliva stimulating, with a tantalising spiciness, and the heart of the meat was mousse-like with tenderness. With all the praise I have heaped upon the food I haven’t even mentioned the cocktails. Well, if there is ever an Aperol Spritz on the cocktail list, then I will make a beeline for that. And it definitely didn’t disappoint. And the non-alcoholic piña colada was ambrosial.
After such savoury supremacy I was greeted with the puddings. I had the Raspberry Chocolate Mousse, and my friend had the Coconut & Rum Panna Cotta 6. Of course I had to try both, and to be honest I would recommend the coconut panna cotta as it was exceptional, but the mousse was pretty darn good as well.
So in reflection, this latest incarnation of Balans to a more Bohemian formation has totally elevated the standing of this rapidly expanding chain. I have often been critical of the usual banality of chain restaurants, but I am genuinely welcoming the expansion of Balans Soho Society further across London and beyond.
Balans Soho Society Café Seven Dials, 32 – 34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, London WC2H 9HA.
Heart London 5 Star Rating
Darren Cheers, Heart London Magazine