What’s in the name..
Keith McNally. Balthazar. These are a couple of names that could give (some) restaurant scenesters a very sturdy erection. In NYC Balthazar has been one of the city’s *top* reservations, the partyground of the beautiful and the famous, and it’s the sort of place that you feel could transform you. When the ever jolly doorman leads way to the pale amber-shaded dining room, the bustle hits you in the face and makes your blood sizzle. When you sink your well-garbed buttocks onto the gleaming red leather banquette, seeing big trays of casually dressed lobsters flying past and peeping at the trendy universe that revolves around you over those oversize brass mirrors, you know this is sort of *it* – the place to be. And this is what exactly Keith McNally has created, a venue that makes you glow and indulge a little with sense of self-importance (nothing’s wrong with it, of course), and this is, to me, what’s in the name of Balthazar.
In London the transfer of such vibe couldn’t be more spot on. I had my handsome and cheerful doorman. I had my bustle (as well as an army of receptionists). I had my red banquette, my mirrors and then trays of lobsters (not mine) flying past. I had my pale yellow light (not ideal for iPhone photography). I even had the one and only Keith McNally inches away from me. This was, of course, not to mention that I had also spent a good 25 minutes or so over the phone re-dialing and queue-waiting to make this reservation. The eating experience – bear in mind this was their first public service – was just nice.
What’s on the menu..
The menu covers pretty much most of your well-known, humbly presented French brasserie dishes, from Onion Soup to Dover Sole Meuniere. The price for starters is between £6 and £15.25; for entrees/mains, between £13.50 and £35; for side dishes, £4.50; for desserts, around £7. The grillades and the fruit de mer platters are more dearly priced (forgot to note, sorry). Escargots (£10.50), containing six plump snails with your typical garlic and parsley butter, were good and not excessively greasy. Lobster and Black Truffle Risotto (£10.50) was finished with cauliflower cream and black truffle butter. While the risotto itself was adequately studded with lobster morsels, the truffle flavour was missing. The al dente texture here was, to me, quite soft and spoke of an American descent rather than European. Steak Tartare (£15.25/Main Size) was pleasant. I liked the careful mixture of both coarsely and finely chopped filet mignon, the rather chilled temperature and the slap of acidity. That said, it could have done with more salt and mustard-y boost. The toasted bread was also too thickly cut and rough on the hard palate, and the watercress salad too wetly dressed. Pithivier (£14.50) was a vegetarian dish at Balthazar. The pastry was nicely cooked and not heavy; the filling of spinach, squash and pine nut had iron-y bitterness and was not the most remarkable; the mushroom fricassee did not stand out. Steak Frites (£17.50) for my lovely dining companion fared better. The beef (I forgot to ask which butcher’s it was from) was requested medium rare and arrived accordingly. It was gently charred, though not to the point it formed a delicious crusty exterior. The fries, for which Balthazar NYC was famous, were nothing spectacular. I also didn’t think highly of the Bearnaise sauce, but that could be because I have a penchant for a thicker and more yolk-y version.
The desserts (both £7), sadly, were a leap below the savoury courses. Profiteroles were nice enough. I enjoyed the vanilla ice cream, which was half way between milky and icy (rather than being full-on creamy), and the warm chocolate sauce. The profiteroles cases, however, were a little dry and lifeless. Not so good was Rum Baba, served in an inglorious pool of pineapple and papaya fruit salad and topped with Chantilly cream. The baba itself was a heavy sponge soaked in inadequately boozed and over-sweetened syrup and the experience of eating this dish was akin to savouring a Gulab Jamun. (Being in England, we, of course, said it was “ok” when asked).
Worth a try, still?
4-6 Russell Street
Tel. 020 3301 1155