Balthazar was to 2013 what the Chiltern Firehouse is to 2014, lots of hype, impossible to get a table and oozing with celebrities of varying degrees of fame. It is the London outpost of a New York institution, right down to it’s red leather banquettes and soft focus lighting, making everything appear to be straight out of a Instagram shot. I want to sound a bit dismissive of the whole concept, but I can’t deny, it’s attractively done and sinking into my seat, I’m quite happy to call this home for a few hours, a few drinks and a decadent meal.
It’s an extensive menu but I’ve done a bit of homework and the garlic prawns come highly recommended and so it’s the prawns for me! Friends at the table order up Octopus, tomato and basil salad and the Steak Tartare. The garlic prawns are a clear winner, the fougasse is warm and fresh and there’s no decent way to eat this dish than to tear great bit hunks of bread off and dunk them into the sweet garlicky broth that the prawns are bathed in. The steak tartare is pronounced fresh and light and the octopus salad full of perfectly cooked octopus dressed lightly with tomato and basil.
The mains are a great deal harder to choose from, the most famous dish of the day is arguably the much lauded lobster risotto and two members of our party have opted for this, so on the assumption that I can sneak in a bite, I go for what I think is the lighter option, all in the hope that I can then fit in dessert – the grilled salmon with a warm spinach salad. It’s a bit of false advertising as no other salads I’ve ever had can compare to this one, it’s a rich beautifully cooked piece of salmon, which flakes away at the lightest amount of pressure from my fork.
The Dover sole is a little sparsely presented but the lobster risotto is every bit as rich as its reputation, but I’m glad that I didn’t order it as it’s a little too rich for a lunchtime order and a few bits is about all I can manage.
Of course the major benefit of not having a rich main is the guilt free addition of dessert. I go for the Raspberry Souffle with Creme anglaise, it takes 20 minutes to make but that gives us time to linger over our beautifully complemented wines and anticipate what is always the best course of the day!
The souffle came with Creme Anglaise which I ignored entirely, the souffle alone is too good to mess with acrouments. Others have complained of souffle graininess but about the only complaint I could level is that towards the end, it’s starting to be a little bit too rich and sweet. The profiteroles, chosen by another member of our group are light and fluffy with hot chocolate sauce poured all over it.
Some have slated it, it may well be a case of over-hyped expectation, much like what I felt about Chiltern Firehouse, but the fact that I went a year after launch meant that expectations were dimmed and I got what I expected, a very nice meal in very pleasant surroundings, a lovely addition to my London dining hot spots.
Balthazar can be found at 4-6 Russell St London, Covent Garden, WC2B 5HZ. Reservations are recommended.