The Balcon is a truly memorable restaurant set on Waterloo Place on the corner with Pall Mall. This wide thoroughfare is in fact an extension of Regent Street with all its smart shops. It’s a small area with a host of statues and monuments that honour heroes and statesmen of the British Empire and various wars.
Waterloo Place was created at the end of the 1820s as the final section of the Triumphal Way that connects Regent’s Park with Pall Mall, started in 1810 to a design by John Nash, the famed Regency-era architect. The magnificent neoclassical buildings around the square display ornamental friezes and columns, and still offer an air of grandeur.
Formerly the banking hall of Cox’s and King’s, this grade II listed building now houses Sofitel St James and The Balcon restaurant. The company has contrived to preserve original features but also showcases contemporary elements. The Balcon can be entered via the hotel foyer or directly from Pall Mall where the entrance is opposite The Institute of Directors, which also has imposing architecture. The restaurant has a double aspect onto both Pall Mall and Waterloo Place. If you ask for the table in the corner on the raised section then you can comfortably pivot your gaze between the two iconic views.
It’s not fusion for fusion’s sake
The chef, Matt Greenwood, is a new addition to the restaurant, joining Sofitel London St James in December 2015. He is a New Zealander and has worked in Melbourne, Sydney and Christchurch, before moving to London 9 years ago. He demonstrates his love of fusion on his menu but it’s not fusion for fusion’s sake. His flavour and textural combinations really work.
We started our evening with a glass of English fizz. No, don’t knock it! We have won prizes for our sparkling wines in international blind tastings. Balcon is a restaurant in which to linger: the high ceilings, those magnificent views and the ambiance encourage slower sipping and unwinding. Lots of time to pore over the menu.
The menu isn’t a mile long and neither is the wine list and that’s reassuring. It’s presentation of quality and freshness and attention to detail which elevate Balcon above some other restaurants which offer ‘fine dining’. There is a dish for every taste and a wine to accompany it, and that wine list presents the finest expressions of the main wine varieties – many can be sampled by the glass or carafe as well as by the bottle.
A wonderful introduction
I started with Twice Baked Goat’s Cheese Soufflé with pine nuts, mint and apple sabayon. A light and flavourful dish with tang from the cheese and freshness from the fruit. A simple presentation and well worth ordering. Lots of folks think they don’t like goat’s cheese but this soufflé would be a wonderful introduction. Not too goaty.
My guest ordered Yuzu-Cured Salmon with Edamame Purée, Wakame Salad and Tobiko. He is a good eater and enjoys fish so this was bound to be a winner. Here we had Japanese ingredients presented in non-challenging fashion. Edamame are green beans often seen in bars as a snack with drinks. Wakame is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed, with a sweet flavour and it’s good for you! Tobiko is glistening flying-fish roe. It’s a common topping for sushi and can be coloured with natural ingredients and in this case it was wasabi, Japanese horseradish. This was strikingly beautiful as well delicious, and even the crockery looked Japanese.
Lobster and Seafood Bouillabaisse with braised fennel and topped with rouille was my main course. This was truly a taste of opulence. Anything containing lobster is luxurious but this is a soup and really nothing to look at. But taste one spoonful and you will be smitten. It’s rich and almost meaty. It’s silky and comforting and thoroughly decadent. Indisputably French and fitting so well at Balcon with its accents of La Belle France.
Topping of oxtail
My companion chose Rarebreed Beef Burger with Braised Oxtail, Roasted Garlic Aioli and a pot of fries on the side. This might seem an unlikely dish for such a classic restaurant so let’s consider why it works here. Firstly a burger is chopped meat and the quality of the burger is defined by that. The Balcon example is as far from fast-chain food as one could hurry. The topping of oxtail adds a meaty richness and almost creates a sauce. The bread bun was grilled and first rate, and the fries were exceptional …and French!
Profiterole with banana caramel, vanilla ice cream, hazelnuts and Frangelico ganache finished our meal. This was the very essence of banana and that always works with chocolate; well, everything works with chocolate. A classic recipe given a new lease of life.
Balcon is an attractive space, has classic good service, an outstanding location, a menu to suit anyone who has the slightest interest in good food, a wine list over which to drool, and is great value for money. Is there anything I didn’t like about the dinner? Yes, it ended too soon.
Monday to Friday 6:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Saturday 7:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Sunday 7:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Afternoon Tea: Noon – 6:00 PM
Lunch and dinner:
Monday to Friday 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Saturday 11:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Sunday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM
The Balcon London
8 Pall Mall
London SW1Y 5NG
Phone: 020 7968 2900
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018