8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5NG www.thebalconlondon.com
The last time I came to this room, and it was a while back, Albert Roux had franchised it. A drawing of his sour, puckish face was on everything and I mean everything. Even the butter was wrapped in Albert. The only place Albert wasn’t, as I rather wryly noted at the time, was in the kitchen. The food was average at best.
So what with that and my experience of hotel restaurants in general, I wasn’t holding out too much hope for anything special at The Balcon on this humid evening.
We’re seated next to some rather old-school businessmen, the kind who have a Jaguar in the drive of their home in Weybridge with a set golf clubs in the boot. These are loudly discussing Brexit and seemed pretty united in their desire to get Britain’back on its feet again’ by pulling up the drawbridge. Of course they are not against French food.
Ignoring them and looking around it’s clear the Grade II listed room is still gorgeous, the high ceilings giving a good Parisian feel to the place and, as it was reasonably busy, it had a good atmosphere.
Chef Matt Greenwood is in charge now and his Asia-Pacific influences on French cooking are obvious in the new spring menu with dishes such as Pork cheek and shiitake dumpling, pickled mushrooms, mange tout and sesame salad and Yuzu cured salmon with edamame purÃƒÂ©e, wakame salad, tobiko on the starters.
P has the latter, having a weakness for salmon. The dish looked very elegant on its non-standard plate and with some quick smartphone use it was revealed that yuzu is a citrus used to’cook’ the salmon, akame is a seaweed, with a good iron tang to it, and tobiko has to be the salty fish roe. An extremely good dish, P said, scraping the plate enthusiastically.
My grilled scallops, pea tortellini, pea shoots, lobster sauce is another visual stunner. The scallops excellently cooked, the tortellini full of peas make a nice twist on the usual pea puree accompaniment with al dente pasta to offset the buttery shellfish. The sauce is particularly gorgeous; my only caveat is that it’s a trifle too thin to cling to the pasta or scallops, as I would like it to, so I have to mop it all up with the good breads on offer.
These starters were so fine we begin to feel really rather good about Balcon, we never expected this kind of quality off Pall Mall on a Thursday night. Will it all collapse in the second half with the goal scorers falling over and missing the net? Well not at all.
Roasted hake, English asparagus, smoked mash, prosciutto, romesco sauce is another winner with a large meaty piece of hake perched on a lattice of asparagus over the smoked mash with the prosciutto hiding coyly underneath. On top is a jaunty bonnet of romanesco. It all plays together perfectly, even though I felt the very centre of the hake was perhaps a tad underdone. Very morerish cooking, structured but not prissy. Just what I like to eat.
P has a pithvier, a rather gorgeous pastry-topped combination of confit rabbit and foie gras, black-eyed peas, buttered savoy cabbage with a jug of mulled jus on the side. She enjoys her pithvier so much she almost forgets to add the juice, but that’s soon rectfied and the noises of approval are loud and constant with her changing her mind frequently about which part of the dish she likes best.
But then came dessert, which I have to say is disappointing after such class starters and mains. The desserts seem tired, like they’ve been hanging about waiting for a customer. Not bad, but not in the same league as the dishes before. Creme caramel with Pedro Ximenez infused prunes is not as exciting as it sounds, and not much evidence of that sticky, treacly sherry either, and a rhubarb dish is simply dry and exhausted and P is disinclined to finish it.
If Balcon can just up the standard of those desserts, make the execution match up to the conception, I’d say they’d be a real destination restaurant and not simply a’hotel restaurant’. The cooking is much, much better than that.