Our dinner at Balans Soho Society wasn’t off to a great start. The staff were a bit pre-occupied and running around like headless chickens. Given that only the alfresco part of the restaurant was full, I was surprised that they appeared so stretched. We had to wait a good ten minutes before someone took our orders or offered a glass of water. So far, it was not so good.
Kris wanted to sample their cocktails (all at £9.5) so we started with a Black Negroni (Charcoal & lemon zest-infused Broker’s gin, Averna Amaro, Carpano Blanco). It had a gentle bitter taste and the whiff of smoky charcoal coming through. It was an interesting, favourable take on a classic.
I had a Tiki Daiquiri (Redleg spiced rum, lime, vanilla, grapefruit, pineapple). It was one of those drinks that had ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ written all over it. It was innocent looking, delicious tasting but quietly lethal.
We ordered a plethora of starters but we were not sure whether we would make it to the mains, given the slow service. I was becoming increasingly ‘hangry’!
But then the starters arrived and things perked up!
First up was the Seared Scallops – roasted Cornish new potatoes, asparagus, caviar dressing (£9). The scallops were sweet, buttery soft and perfectly caramelised. The beautifully garlicky new potatoes were a perfect match to the tender scallops. Thin charred stalks of asparagus sprinkled on top added green and bite. Everything worked together well on the plate and I was pretty happy with this.
The Manchego & Serrano Ham Croquettes with Spanish paprika aioli (£8) impressed even more. It was a fine rendition of hot and gooey croquettes, exploding with all those creamy and meaty aromas and encased within a perfectly crunchy golden exterior. The aioli was sensational, humming with all that smoky paprika.
Last but not the least – the Squid Ink Risotto Cake with Charred Squid, Chilli Jam (£8) had real depth of flavour. The sauce and peppers added sweetness to balance the punchy saltiness of the dish. The squid was a tad overcooked but mostly this dish delivered on its promise.
I was beginning to think if I had been wrong to dismiss them so soon. Perhaps I had been too hasty in judging them. We decided to stay for the mains after all!
For his main, Kris ordered the Cornish Crab Linguine with Chilli (£16). Whilst there was flavour and mild heat from the chilli, the pasta was dry and hadn’t infused the sauce and the ‘crabby’ flavours. The presentation was poshed-up with a singular claw but overall it missed the mark slightly. There were also annoying bits of shell in the pasta.
My Roast Chicken Suprême, Peas à la Française, Roast Gem Lettuce (£17) fared much better. The chicken was tasty and there was a lovely crunch from the charred hunk of a gem. It was a pretty decent version of refined country comfort food but once again, for me, it was missing that memorable wow factor.
So, in the end it was a real mixed bag for us. It was surprising how different the starters were to the mains. It almost felt like two different chefs were cooking in the kitchen. However, the good news is that the service did improve. As the evening drew to a close, they became more chatty and attentive!
I would recommend this place for the cocktails and the starters, all of which were excellent and resonated with us. However, the mains were underwhelming and need jazzing up. Stick to the starters and cocktails and you will be fine here.
Location : 16A Clapham Common South Side, London, SW4 7AB
More information can be found here.
N.B. All photos and opinions are mine. I reviewed this meal anonymously as a paying customer. The meal was discounted at 50% off food as part of the restaurant’s new menu promotion.