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We check out the latest addition to the Balans franchise in London’s Covent Garden.
Food and drink
We got stuck in with three small plates. The crunchy crab croquettes came with a deliciously savoury crab aioli while the three little pulled duck soft tacos had a well balanced heat and a great aniseed kick. The lamb and apricot meatballs had a Moroccan vibe thanks to a punch of mint, minced preserved lemon and chermoula sauce.
When choosing mains the coffee-rubbed bavette jumped off the page. According to our waiter it’s one of their most popular dishes and it didn’t disappoint. The super rich, tasty chargrilled beef came with huge onion rings and a perfectly seasoned tomatillo salsa. Avoid the rather wet and under-dressed green salad – better to go the whole hog and opt for the delicious (if over-salted) twice-fried chips.
We also couldn’t resist the ‘Infamous’ Balans Burger. It’s a larger and more old-school take on the burger, compared to those of London newcomers like Honest and Meat Liquor. It came thick, chargrilled and medium-rare (exactly as requested) in a brioche bun with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle and red onion (and those ‘double-dip’ chips) – all for a very reasonable £13.
We tried a couple of cocktails from the reasonably-priced list: the ‘Blueballs Smash’ of Buffalo Trace bourbon, blackberries, basil and lemon juice is served long and made for a refreshing start to the evening. The ‘Bloody B*****d’ is also worth trying – a lighter take on the classic Bloody Mary. Here it has an amazing colour and delicious earthiness thanks to the addition of beetroot juice (surely at least one of your five-a-day?). With our mains we opted for a French Merlot from the short, no-nonsense wine list.
They’re not big on desserts. There’s a selection of gelato – and if you’re really hungry you could opt for the pancakes from the brunch menu. Instead we found our way back to the cocktail menu – at our waiter’s suggestion – and finished with de-caff espresso martinis!
Look and vibe
If, like me, you spent your formative years in London in the 1990s, you’ll remember this place as The Box – a gay bar bustling with muscle Marys and their admirers, alongside other strays from nearby Soho. It’s had a few incarnations since then and this feels like its most successful. It has more of the look of a café from the outside, which is undoubtedly on purpose since this all-day venue needs to earns its crust between services.
The interior is modern bistro chic – bentwood chairs, ceramic tiles and cosy banquette seating – in a tasteful palette of grey, red and beige. The tables are ever so slightly small for dinner, but eclectic flea-market finds make for interesting artwork and the reclaimed industrial light fittings add an urban edge. We loved the quirky details, from the Aleister-Crowley-esque logo to the cheeky salt shakers which look like poppers bottles. Vintage furniture drawers used as condiment trays are an inspired finishing touch.
Small plates are £6.50 – £9; mains are £10 – £16. Expect to pay around £55 per head plus service (based on three small plates, two mains, four cocktails and a bottle of wine).
The bottom line
Unpretentious food done well and kickass cocktails in the centre of Covent Garden? Now that’s worth going back for.
Balans Soho Society Seven Dials, 32-34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, London WC2H 9HA