On the night of the skies being red from the aftermath of Hurricane Ophelia, my guest and I arrived at The Balcon situated in Pall Mall. We walked into the restaurant at the entrance just opposite the iconic landmark of London’s Georgian heritage, the Institute of Directors. The wind blew their enormous flag like a feather. Welcomed into the warmth by our hostess, we were pleased to be at this beautiful venue and out of the blustery weather.
Located in the St. James area of London, an area known for its lavish nightlife, world class shopping and grand architecture; the French chic brasserie is part of Sofitel St James, a 5 star accommodation. You will also find the St James Bar and The Rose Lounge within the luxurious building.
Our food journey started with the Beef tartare with truffled egg yolk and artichoke crips and the Grilled Gambas with Squid in Arancini Rouille. The beef tartare was delicate yet rich with wonderful flavour. The finely chopped pieces of luxury beef was smooth like butter and the artichoke crisps added a slightly liquorice crunch to the French favourite dish. Our second starter we only wished we had more of. The Gambas dish was moorish and heavenly. Although it was just one – the memory of the flavour did linger for some time. The arancini was perfectly cooked and the use of squid ink gave it a unique early flavour and the outside was perfectly crisp with a velvety creamy rice inside. The rouille was a perfect balance sealing the whole dish together with perfect flavour combination.
We also had the Welsh lamb Wellington with a pea puree with a Girolle sauce. The lamb was so tender, it completely melted in the mouth. The pea puree was fresh and light and complimented the lamb very well. The texture was perfect with a tiny bit of a bite from the pea shoots on top. The mushrooms sauce filling was not too overpowering and the dish in a whole, which looked quite filling, was actually satisfyingly appropriate as part of the first course.
We took a moment to admire our surroundings. Upon entry and to the right, there was a set back dining area. We both commented as to how it resembled a summit of international relations. The room was buzzing with its diners; obviously enjoying their private atmosphere. The chandeliers and leather seating was in good proportion to the airy and light decor within the dining room. Strategically placed in the centre back of the Grade II-listed grand brasserie restaurant were the stairs lead up to grand champagne balcony, The Balcon.
Our host returned to fill our glasses with Pinot Noir and our mains followed soon after. If I had been able to I would have had most of the mains, the descriptions all sounded very inviting. We had painstakingly narrowed the choices down to the Roasted pork belly, black pudding croquette, pear and watercress salad and Turbot meunière, baby potatoes, brown shrimp butter
Visually pleasing plates arrived and I was eagerly looking forward to trying the black pudding croquette. Having now lived in Scotland for 2 years, I became a new lover of the “marmite” of breakfast”. There are so many variations, so I was quite keen to see how this would work in a French restaurant setting. I was very delighted indeed, the flavour and texture surpassed my expectations. The ratio of black pudding to potato was spot on. Again with that lovely crisp outer layer the croquettes were a great addition to the dish. The pork belly was a bit too fatty for me but the thin crackling and crispy bacon were enjoyable with the tender meat. The fruity tartness of the salad was subtle but an appreciated inclusion which tied the whole dish together.
The second main that made it through the selection process was the Turbot meunière, baby potatoes and brown shrimp butter. Don’t let the muted colours of this dish fool you. The flavours packed a huge punch of tangy, fresh, and salty; gosh it was like sitting at a coastline capturing what the sea would taste of, if plated. I have a small weakness for seafood. The fish was delicate and buttery, the potatoes, served separately, were nutty and firm and the brown shrimp butter was exceptional. I normally stay away from the small prawns, but these were sweet and sour and lovely compliment to the fishy dish. All in all the most memorable of all the dishes we had that night in regards to taste.
Our side dishes were cavolo nero, carrots and peas along with a cauliflower and raclette cheese gratin. Pungent aromas and flavours consumed our table; I would say they probably could have been main dishes in their own right!
We made it through all of our meal, almost in silence, with a few mmmm’s and ahhh’s escaping after certain mouthfuls, we were completely satisfied with the cuisine and were excited for what was to come in the pudding round.
My pudding criteria are normally, semi-sweet, tangy or chocolatey. I am not a fan of puddings that are warm with ice cream. Yes, I am one of those people who don’t like “wet” or “touching” elements on a plate. I don’t even eat warm apple pie, I’d much rather have it directly from the refrigerator or even freezer. The choice was difficult but I decided to ignore my pickiness and go for the Raspberry soufflé with white chocolate ice cream. My guest looked at me with astonishment. I was going wet, gooey, warm AND with ice cream. Well, in a French restaurant it seemed absurd to not go for the soufflé, even if it wasn’t a twice-baked one. The soufflé was served with one of the St James’s Bar’s Cocktails, the 221B Signature cocktail. The cocktail ingredients were Metaxa 12, crème de fig infused with Anichai tea, lime juice, honey and dark chocolate syrup, Bob’s Liquorice bitters, egg white and was served in a chilled copper cocktail glass. A very pretty drink and quite a strong taste, but very lovely indeed, with the sweet and sourness of the raspberry soufflé. The pairing was perfect. My verdict on my first ever soufflé? Well I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I think it had converted me into a warm pudding lover, OK maybe not lover, but I can say a strong like!
The dinner evening was delightful, the highlights were the tartare, the black pudding croquette and of course the beautiful fish dish and lets not leave out the raspberry soufflé. I would definitely recommend The Balcon for a quiet and enjoyable gourmet-dining destination. Chef Matt Greenwood’s magic with the fusion of French traditions and modern tastes and textures is something to explore for yourself. His team and front of house gave us a splendid experience. I actually returned later that week to the bar and the cordial hospitality was repeated!
8 Pall Mall