Balans Soho is a chain of restaurants and has branches in both London and Miami. The menu in the UK is slightly different from that found in Florida but the style is the same, as are the majority of dishes.
It’s situated on Old Compton Street, named after Henry Compton who raised funds for a local parish church in 1686, although this area was later to become known for less-godly pursuits. This corner of London is geographically and historically a long way from those sunny neighbourhoods of Florida; it does, however, have one common ingredient in that it became a refuge for immigrants through the ages. The area in general and this street in particular became home for French refugees after Charles II gave protection to that country’s fleeing Protestants in the early 1680s.
The ground floors of those original houses have become shops and restaurants. Balans makes its home in one of these with a small facade which hides a sizable restaurant stretching back in Tardis fashion, offering different and defined dining spaces for its clients, who can enjoy Balans for almost 24 hours a day. There are few places in London, or indeed the UK, where one can enjoy some food and perhaps a cocktail at almost any time.
Balans Soho was warm and welcoming on a cold and wet Sunday morning. It has the casual air of a French bistrot with a high bar at the front and booths with red leather, velvet curtains and that distinctive gold-marbled mirror glass that reflects a rich light. That description of the front section is accurate, but if it makes Balans sound rather French-classic the staff and clients contrive to make this a truly contemporary and animated restaurant.
The daytime menu has those comforting and substantial dishes that Sundays deserve. A full English Breakfast is here and will likely be the plate of choice for those early-morning risers and for those who have not yet made it to bed – this is Soho after all. But this is Balans and it would be a shame to stick to the traditional British fare. Steak and eggs is a hearty start (skirt steak, potatoes, and two free-range eggs) and appealing if you are a truck driver, but another choice for those craving some Americana are pancakes with either fruit or bacon; or cinnamon-sprinkled French toast served with strawberries and banana. It’s a rib-sticking start but the fruit will make you feel noble.
We ordered pots of tea and toasted crumpets (yes, real crumpets with the holes on top to catch melted butter) and scanned the menu for dishes that would set us up for a day of walking. My guest was tempted by corned beef hash with poached eggs and fire-roasted tomatoes. The meat was proper corned beef cut from a cured joint rather than the sort that was ubiquitous a while back – mushy and from a square tin. Lots of onions in this version of hash, and a manly portion.
Ham and eggs was my breakfast and it was a considerable plateful of gammon steak cooked on the grill, Balans roast potatoes garnished with chillies and spring onions, and two free-range eggs fried over-easy. They don’t short-change the morning diner here, it’s quantity and quality.
Balans offers this same bill of fare for every day but Sundays are special. One has time to meet friends and enjoy food together but the occasion is so much more relaxed when it’s not you doing the early morning cooking and the inevitable washing up. Balans is an ideal place to take guests who can choose their brekkie favourites, but Balans could also be your regular haunt if you are looking for a cosy banquette to nestle with the papers and perhaps some luxurious smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.
Monday to Thursday – 7.30am to 5am
Friday to Saturday 7.30am to 6am
Sunday – 7.30am to 2am
Old Compton Street
London, W1D 4UG
Phone: 020 7439 2183
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018