Gina Baksa discovers an elegant dining spot at The Balcon restaurant, and samples Executive Chef Matt Greenwood’s exciting new menu
Centrally positioned in white-stuccoed St James, just off Pall Mall, The Balcon restaurant is a wonderful find. A grand entrance leads directly into the high-ceilinged 100-cover brasserie, which is surprisingly warm and welcoming, considering it was once a bank. Décor is smart and sophisticated; the lighting subtle. Gilt and marble columns command your attention, as does a bespoke wire chandelier overarching the top tables while silk draped double-height windows afford diners a view over the grandeur of Waterloo Place. You can’t miss the Champagne balcony, framed by two oak spiral staircases that overlook the dining area, showcasing the wine cellars with tasting room directly underneath.
The elegance and sophistication continue into the St James bar area, where my companion samples a ‘Round The World’ cocktail from the resident mixologists. I remain G&T faithful and enjoy the best ever – the botanical notes of Jensen’s Old Tom Gin – from Bermondsey distillery on Maltby Street Market – providing the perfect apéritif. The snug intimate bar has a delightfully decadent feel: sink into French antique gilt chairs, mahogany leather and blue mohair banquettes, while you admire the amethyst-topped bar and the gold-studded ceiling, replete with a Thierry de Crosmières painting of a Duke holding the head of a cockerel. As you do.
We are here to sample Executive Head Chef Matt Greenwood’s (Blixen, Smokehouse, Caravan…) new menu. With extensive experience in New Zealand (his home) as well as Australia, Matt launched Caravan in Exmouth Market and King’s Cross, followed by the well-received Blixen in Spitalfields Market.
His love of fusion remains, together with a strong allegiance to The Balcon’s traditional French cuisine leanings. New dishes include the refreshing Yuzu Cured Salmon with Edamame Purée, Wakame Salad and Tobbikko, plus Foie Gras with membrillo, spiced walnuts and pain d’epices crumbs starters.
A fish fan, I plumped for the succulent grilled scallops (fresh diver-caught from Scotland), boudin noir and apple croquette and carrot pickle. A divine taste pairing, as was my companion’s twice-baked goat’s cheese soufflé (‘delightfully light and cheesy’) with pine nuts, mint and a smooth apple sabayon.
We segued seamlessly into the main course – smoothly transported by a fruity medium-dry Rothschild Pinot Noir. I opted for roasted hake fillet with ratatouille, green olive tapenade and shellfish oil, while my carnivorous friend chose a succulent grilled longhorn sirloin with rosemary salted fries and a deliciously creamy béarnaise sauce.
Sides on offer included cumin roasted carrots and butternut squash with pumpkin seeds that complemented our surf and turf choices. The hake – sourced from The Upper Scale at Billingsgate was perfection, as was the sirloin: medium rare, juicy, full of flavour and great texture.
Matt Greenwood prefers to use only fresh, seasonal produce, sourcing primarily from recognised UK farmers.
“I always endeavour to make sure our high-quality produce comes from sustainable sources,” he tells me. “These include small and large suppliers from around the UK and also continental Europe.
“The lamb comes from Daphne’s Welsh Lamb, one of the finest lamb producers in the country. And our steak and burger mince comes from rare breed cows from Charles Ashridge at Taste Tradition in north Yorkshire.
“He breeds and farms high-quality cows, pork and lamb.
“Vegetables are from Covent Garden Fruit Suppliers while we source our cheeses from the UK and France. Suppliers include Simon & Tim Jones (Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barrel) and Goddess cheese from Alex James.
And the Foie gras? “Smaller goods and French meets come from Classic Fine Foods who supply us with our foie gras, snails, Alsace bacon and other artisan products,” he tells us.
There is always room for dessert, and after a gap I ordered the visually arresting floating hot pear and sorbet (aka Pear and Poire Williams île flottante). A recommendation from our waitress, this refreshing hot-cold combination was intoxicating. As was her recommendation of profiterole with banana caramel, vanilla ice cream, hazelnuts and Frangelico ganache. A gustatory work of art. Really.
The food here is superb, coupled with great service in a sophisticated yet relaxed environment. A private curtained room off the main dining area has seating for around 30 guests. You could try the 7-course tasting menu there and make it a party to remember.
The grand Neo-Classical building is also home to Sofitel St James hotel, which adjoins the restaurant. Guest can unwind in the plush, inviting Rose Lounge library where afternoon teas are served amidst books on English and French culture. Or head, as we did, to the snug St James Bar and sample their new cocktail list featuring ingredients and influences from around the world.
Dinner, lunch or breakfast at The Balcon is a delightful experience to be shared and savoured, especially with someone you love.
The Balcon – Where and How?
Address: 8 Pall Mall, St James, London SW1Y 5NG
Reservations: +44 (0)20 7389 7820
E: [email protected]