19 June 2013

The Burger Bulletin: Balthazar London

Despite numerous trips to the Big Apple over the past few years, I've somehow never managed to go for dinner at Balthazar. I went for breakfast once, four or five years ago, and I've had dinner at several of its sister restaurants — Pulino's, Pastis and the Minetta Tavern — but an evening meal at Balthazar has remained elusive. Last time we tried, we couldn't even get a reservation for 10.30 pm on a Wednesday. As such, I assumed that it would prove as problematic to get a table in the relatively new London outpost, and yet a table was waiting for us at 6 o'clock last night.

Balthazar London. Seems strangely familiar...

Inside, Balthazar London looks just like its New York sister: a grand, high-ceilinged French brasserie, as envisaged by an American. There are comfy red leather booths, as well as a well-stocked bar and an impressive fish bar. The lighting wasn't ideal for photography, which is why some of my shots are a little yellow, but it created an intimate atmosphere, and the place was buzzing, even at 6 pm. The menu is not what you would call adventurous, which is fine for me, given how I struggled to choose between the many tempting main course options. Steak-frites, grilled chicken, and mac and cheese were all on the shortlist.

First, though, we ordered some cocktails, which tended to err on the manly side. I chose the flavoursome, fruity Aviation (gin, Maraschino Miclo Violet and lemon juice). To start we decided to share half a dozen assorted rock oysters, which were delicious, as well as the nettle agnolotti — a type of ravioli, stuffed with nettles and served with pine nuts and pancetta. Yum.

The Diplomat and the Aviation.

Rock oysters a-plenty.

For my main course, though, it was always going to be a burger. Next time I'll try something different. I promise! I was a little nervous when I asked for my cheeseburger medium rare and was told that they could only only do medium and up. Luckily, it arrived how medium should be: very pink inside and juicy and flavoursome. It wasn't the best burger I've had in London, but it's definitely up there. The fries were fine, and the steak-frites did also look very tasty. It would be pretty difficult to order badly at Balthazar.

The Balthazar cheeseburger.

I definitely didn't have any room for a pudding but we found ourselves ordering a chocolate soufflé to share. It was light and rich, soft and creamy; pretty tasty, basically.

Chocolate soufflé goodness.

I really enjoyed my meal at Balthazar and I hope to go back soon. As to whether it's worth the hype and worth the potential queue, I'm not so sure, but only because there are so many great restaurants in London these days. Besides, next month two more great American institutions will be opening their doors just across from Balthazar in Covent Garden. I'm most excited about the arrival of Shake Shack, on 5 July, but I'm glad that Five Guys is coming too, as I've yet to try one of their burgers. These are happy days for a London-based hamburgerologist.

Balthazar. 4-6 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ (Tube: Covent Garden). Website.

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