In A Word
Those who enjoy French cuisine entirely without financial constraints and with some unmistakable English touches.
Those looking to prove a point, make an impression, or dent in the wallet. Amidst old money, the banking sector and some third category of moneyed people that I can’t come up with (wait: YouTube personalities?), you too can be successful!
People who want a blue steak, exactly as the French do it. And food with lots of butter on. Delicious butter. Delicious butter everywhere. Or olive oil, if you should prefer it. They’re quite flexible…
We Can Do It Like The French Do It
I’m pretty sure The Balcon occupies the former site of Albert Roux‘s Brasserie. I’m also pretty sure that the sign says ‘Bacon’ – maybe this is my brain seeing what it wants to (afterall, it wants to see bacon / see ‘theory of Reticular Activating System’).
Nah, ‘Balcon’ actually refers to the restaurant’s balcony, which is also the restaurant’s champagne cellar (because who said cellars had to be underground, eh?).
So what’s the Balcon about then? It’s about the Anglo-French food, with more emphasis on the French part of the word, and at a pricepoint that makes me a more than a little uncomfortable. I suppose it is styled somewhat on a brasserie, but certainly a very high end, full on kinda one.
There’s an international crew of French and Indian guys beside me discussing quarterly returns (I’m probably not allowed to say what business they were in) – and lots of talking about “market makers and banks”.
Turns out the third, more quiet guy is an English bloke who I run into in the corridor. He asks me what I do, I say ‘writer’ – I ask him what he does, he doesn’t really answer the question – so I’m going with investment banking, some other kind of crazy finance, or The Illuminati.
Eventually, after much questioning, he will say that that he is ‘in chocolate’. Maybe he owns a chocolate factory? Or a chocolate producing country?
I end up listening to them for quite some time whilst I wait for my +1, Elsie, to arrive. Actually, for all I know she could be practicing Jiu Jitsu on the moon because yes, once again, my phone has died and I, for some stupid reason, haven’t asked for somewhere to plug it into charge.
I’m taking her out for her birthday (in a weird, simultaneously doing a review kinda way), but I don’t tell the venue this ‘cos I’m pretty certain that the maître d would lose his shit trying to accommodate a birthday and a review simultaneously.
At some point later Elsie creates a short lived shitstorm on social media by thanking the wrong Jack Oughton on Twitter. I try to internet befriend the guy because we have THE EXACT SAME NAME AND ISNT THAT AWESOME but he doesn’t seem all that keen about it, which is OK, I guess.
(No, I’m not resentful…OK, I am a bit.)
On our left there’s an enigmatic looking older bloke who looks like he runs the fashion industry or something. He has a bunch of short haired Chinese looking women on his arm, and I wonder what he does, and what has brought him here.
The music is, on the main part kinda surprising – I could swear they were playing low volume dance music and disco at various points – which is a departure from the languid jazz you expect to hear in places like this one.
Amidst all the extremely French accents (mostly emanating from the staff – who I assume are actually French and not just putting it on to ‘create atmosphere’) – there is a woman in a business suit with a weapons grade Brummy accent. This is fantastic, cutting though the surroundings like a hot (Brummy) knife through (Balcon branded) butter.
Asides from the Vegetables exhibition, which is how I ended up being invited here, the lobby is also full of what is kinda risqué art. I take photos as small blonde children sprint beneath my lens. I wonder who owns these children? WHERE DID THEY COME FROM AND WHERE ARE THEY GOING
Melanie, our waitress, is a very nice woman – very French, and very happy/able to provide recommendations. Excellent craic for someone with English as a second language as well.
Desserts and main menu all arrive on the same piece of paper – I’m not exactly sure what this means – though I suppose it’s kinda convenient (also, the fuck is a ‘croque monsieur’?)
I take a look at the prices and am immediately struck, forcefully, with the idea that I would NOT be here on my own dime. We’re talking £16 for a cocktail and £6 for still water. I think this is probably the most expensive place I have been sent to review.
The ‘De-Light Menu’ – every dish on this has the calories accounted for, and very specifically. Which is pretty cool and maybe a bit neurotic. They describe their small plates as ‘French Tapas’. If Tapas hasn’t lost all culinary meaning yet, it will soon
The food and drink selection is not actually too overwhelming here, it’s a good selection but they are kinda selective. A selective selection. I guess for the (unbelievably wealthy and) ‘decisively challenged’ amongst us, this is a splendid thing.
Braised Angus beef short rib and carrot Bourguignon
Elsie’s starter. My tasting notes for this read ‘FUCK YEAH’ in massive letters – which I got from just one bite, l3l.
Forman’s smoked salmon, goat cheese, nori bread, shaved fennel and dill salad
Is not as good as Elsie’s starter. The cheese kinda buries the salmon. I like cheese, but it doesn’t like me – and this dish is a bit too much of everything – I can’t get much salmon taste underneath said cheese. About as subtle as a hand grenade (full of cheese and salmon).
Aged Scottish Sirloin Steak
Ok, I’ll admit it – this is a masterful piece of steak. I mean, it’s kinda rare occasion when you get a bad steak (HAHAHAHA SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) in central London, but the standard of competition is kinda ridiculous at this point.
At the Balcon, they do them by weight. So I try to get a laugh out of Melanie by telling her that I ate a 1kg ‘Bull’s Head’ at Gillray’s once and wondering if there’s an upper limit on how much I can order at The Balcon. The portion of steak I end up with here is uh…more ‘reasonable’
And about that steak: a little black on the outside, very blue on the inside – I couldn’t have asked for better. Which proves, at least, that the French should know how to make a blue steak when you ask for one.
The béarnaise is generous, spilling from the container. Like most béarnaise it also exerts some kind of magnetic force over me, which results in the dunking of anything even remotely edible into it. I am yet to dunk anything inedible into it cos…y’know…it’d be inedible – but I am very nearly there.
The chips supplied with said steak are nigh on fkn perfect. English style – chunky like Ronnie Coleman (yeahhhhhhhhhh buddy lightweight baby!) and they are also 97% optimal in their crispness. Wow.
Spinach with garlic and butter
Elsie, asks for olive oil on her spinach, instead of butter – Melanie actually pre empts the question before Elsie can finish her sentence, which is pretty impressive. Melanie will also replace our menu at some point, because the current one has a wine stain on it. I’m not sure if that stain got here before or after we arrived but you can’t fault that level of detail
Around point the chef, Vincent Ménager, comes out. You can tell that he’s running the brigade because he has the giant hat. He also is very French, and we have a rather short and stilted conversation where I tell him something to the tune of ‘this steak is making me get emotional’
And suddenly he is gone with nothing but an enigmatic smile, probably surprised/a little uncomfortable to see a guy dressed in a check shirt dining in The Balcon.
A cursory glance of the cocktail menus and I can’t say that I recognise any of the offerings
I am a little surprised that the most expensive wine on the menu is ‘only’ £85. And, speaking of wine – they do it in 750ml, 500ml, and 175ml increments – so I assume they have one of those enomatic (but not enigmatic) machines.
The dessert menu is pretty compact – 8 dessert foods, 3 dessert wines – I am unable to find it online for later.
I’ll be honest with you (I always try to be honest with you) – this is way out of my price range and I would only have ever gone here on a PR company’s dime. I’m not one for the ‘high end’ restaurants and places approaching this level of formality are out of sync with my outlook.
That said, some of the food is spectacularly good – causing me to write five word capitalised tasting notes and accidentally cause problems with the restaurant staff BUT this is definitely the kind of place you expense (if you’re in the fortunate position to do so).
Definitely a good place to impress people, and try something inventive that fuses English and French together but with the money you’d spend getting it, I could probably buy a supermarket in Croydon.
A good time, all things considered.
8 Pall Mall,
020 7968 2900