4-6 Russell Street
I won’t lie to you, I bought into the hype. Months before its grand opening, I had heard nothing but buzz around the Balthazar grand opening and how it was the hottest seat in town. Reading from their website: “The original Balthazar was opened in New York City…in the spring of 1997….The French brassiere-inspired menu will include an abundance of fruits de mer as well as a wide selection of classical French brassiere and bistro dishes.“. Naturally I tried to book a table, out of curiosity if nothing else. I was told there was nothing available…for 3 months…so I paid a visit to Tesco and thought nothing else of it.
Fast forward four months and for whatever reason, I couldn’t get the thought of this place out of my mind. Maybe the change of season brought a change of heart. I think it was the sting of rejection… I’ll show you Balthazar. I’ll eat sh*ts like you for breakfast.
Walking into the dining room, I had no idea what to expect – maybe a little bit of French flair viewed through the eyes of an Englishman/American but really little else. What I was hit with instead was something I am still trying to work out.
Just in case you forgot, the decor quickly reminds you that Balthazar was established with a French influence. Well, that and the French staff. In fact, the only way it could be more subtle is if they handed you a note on your arrival which read “We are a French inspired restaurant. Bof.”. I have no doubt countless amounts of money and thought has gone into the fit out but if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I had just walked into any other faux French cafe with a bar and classic music playing in the background. In any case, the staff were friendly and my party was lead to our table booth where we settled in.
Scanning the menu, nothing particularly jumped out at me except the price but in fairness this is an instance where you pay for the name, location and ambiance so I took my seat with that expectation. Was it worth it? That’s debatable. I am always hesitant to pay a premium just for the sake of saying I’ve been to “X” (the irony is not lost on me in this case) but I don’t mind paying more for good service and on this front I have no complaints – so lets call this one a draw. The menu was quite extensive for a breakfast offering, both for a savoury man like me, or for those with a sweeter tooth. I went for the egg-white omelette, out of curiosity if nothing else, with a toasted bagel and my companion for the morning elected to try the avocado on toast.
We weren’t left waiting too long before our meals arrived which on a quiet morning, I would say met expectations.
The avocado on toast was presented beautifully – the wonderful blush of fresh tomatoes in the salsa and the green (as opposed to brown!) of the avocado looked vibrant on a backdrop of granary brown toast resting in a shallow sea of olive oil. The picture itself does not do it justice (damn you iPhone 4…). and the taste itself did not disappoint. The bread to avocado ratio was spot on and it blended perfectly with the salsa made of tomato, onion, parsley and lime juice. Once the poached egg was broken, the yolk provided some additional moisture to the overall dish which was delightful.
After trying the avocado on toast, I have to say that my taste buds had to come back down to earth before I could really appreciated the egg white omelette. It was always going to be a tough follow-up given that egg whites have little flavour of their own and looked quite anaemic, but a quick drink of water and some swallowed pride later, I was ready to dive in. What I found was surprisingly palatable. The omelette had a light and subtle flavour which needed some time to process but once done, you begin to appreciate the creamy taste from the egg whites and milk combined with the aroma of the added chives. The mixed salad was dressed with vinegar and provided a nice accompaniment but really is nothing to write home about.
For those of you who are still reading (and if you are, thank you!), you would’ve noted that I ordered a bagel with my omelette. Little did I know that when ordering a “toasted bagel”, I should have been clear to differentiate between the “toasted bagel” side (£1.50) and the “toasted bagel…with smoked salmon and cream cheese” (£9.50). So word of warning – order carefully (though the waiter did take the dish back and was very apologetic = considering he thought I needed 2 breakfasts!). As much as I love carbs (and I really do), I have no real desire to be paying £9.50 for my fix. I am not yet at that stage of my baked goods obsession though I do admit the bagel was very good –dense yet fluffy and with the fresh butter provided, really hit the spot, especially when taken, literally, with a pinch of salt.
So to conclude, breakfast at the Balthazar was pleasant and it was good to find out what all the fuss was about. The food was delicious though I personally think it is expensive for breakfast and the ambiance at times felt a bit forced and a little bit pretentious. I’m glad I went, but won’t be going back in a hurry (for breakfast anyway).