Balthazar opened in February this year to great excitement. It’s the brainchild of New York restauranteur Keith McNally who grew up in London’s East End but became the darling of the NYC restaurant scene after opening the celebrity-adored Odeon in Tribeca in 1980. He opened Balthazar in NYC in 1997.
It was time for his return to London to open up his Covent Garden branch. Before my visit I read so many reviews of the restaurant, all a bit puzzling. Everyone seemed to be saying that the food wasn’t really much (or actually quite bad) but they loved the restaurant. A bit of a contradiction. Time to see for myself.
Balthazar is housed in the old Theatre Museum just off the Covent Garden piazza. I’d read that people had felt transported to Manhattan on entering and found it disorienting on leaving to find themselves on the streets of London. Okay, I haven’t been to the NYC branch but I felt like I was transported instantly to Paris. Red leather banquettes, fake nicotine-stained high ceilings and plenty of polish – this is one glamorous setting. And it was packed – we managed to get a table for 2.30 (it’s pretty much full for normal times) and there wasn’t an empty spot in the house.
The French brasserie-inspired menu is right up my street with plenty of solid, traditional choices. My starter of Jambon de Bayonne was served with celeriac remoulade, grainy mustard and cornichons and was absolutely perfect.
The Frisee au lardons chicory salad with a warm bacon shallot vinaigrette and a soft poached egg could have done with a few more lardons but was tasty nonetheless.
I opted for the duck shepherds pie, one of the specialities, and found it warm and comforting with good chunks of succulent duck meat and a cheesy potato topping. A rich and substantial dish.
A classic French dish of Lapin a la moutarde completed our choices. Lovely rabbit on a bed of cabbage in a mild mustard sauce.
Well, although I must admit the food wasn’t stunning, it was certainly good enough. The service was spot on – attentive without being overcrowding. I simply love the actual restaurant. It’s glamorous, buzzy, bright and contemporary. I wish they’d open up the bar for drinks only, it could well become my local. I will be back…and soon.
Balthazar is at 4-6 Russell Street, Covent Garden.