Balthazar started life in New York in 1997, founded by a pioneer of the Manhattan food scene, London-born restaurateur Keith McNally. In 2013, McNally brought its buzzing ambience and simple classics back to his home town, teaming up with Richard Caring (The Ivy, Annabel’s, 34 Mayfair, Sexy Fish) to open Balthazar London in Covent Garden. The restaurant is known for its exciting collaborations (in the past with Bobbi Brown and Matthew Williamson), and the latest is a second collaboration with London flower delivery service Flowerbx, for a special afternoon tea. Also, for three days next week, award-winning New York cocktail bar Saxon + Parole will be hosted by Balthazar’s new American Whiskey Bar, celebrating the restaurant’s American roots and serving a collection of specially created cocktails.
With smoky yellow walls, antique timber floorboards, giant smoky mirrors and hanging ceiling fans, this grand restaurant has a definitive air of Hollywood about it. It’s the shiny red leather banquettes, dark wood tables and brass finishes that elevate it into that majestic French-style Manhattan brasserie. The bar area has wines and spirits stacked high along the back wall, flanked by decorative nymph sculptures, and with pillars lit by Art Deco light boxes, the whole of the vast dining room is bathed in an amber glow – it’s as if you’re viewing the whole evening through a vintage Instagram filter. The scale of the space is, most days, disguised by the sheer volume of diners keen to enjoy the delicious classics on offer. The result is a fantastically bustling, movie-set atmosphere, punctuated by well-dressed waiting staff flitting from table to table to ensure your every need is met.
A real stalwart of the London dining scene, Balthazar caters for everyone from the omnivore to the vegan, for breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The à la carte menu is chock-full of delicious, hearty classics making it difficult to choose. Brummell ordered the generous crapaudine beetroot salad with roquefort crumbs and candied walnut, and the warming pumpkin tortellini from the hors d’oeuvres section of the menu. Our roast cod main with ragu of chorizo, butter beans and winter vegetables was tender and moreish and the grilled lobster was sweet and succulent, but the pièce de résistance was the ramekin of gratin dauphinois we ordered as a side, which showcased the wonders that can come from the humble potato. There’s a dessert to suit every taste and the simple selection, from the chocolate orange fondant with marmalade ice cream (more please!) to the apple tarte tatin with caramel sauce, is artfully presented and is executed perfectly.
There is an extensive wine list and an extremely well-stocked bar, so whatever your tipple, you won’t be disappointed here. Despite the mouthwatering selection of cocktails, the bar staff will create something bespoke depending on what you like. We went for a refreshing gin fizz and experimented with a cherry fizzle (cherry brandy and visciolata, soda water and egg white), which looked a bit like a long glass of Guinness but had a sweet/sour kick that was the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate fondant. There’s also a dedicated American Whiskey Bar serving 150 varieties from more than 15 states. When Maxime Belfand, Saxon + Parole’s bar director joins the Balthazar mixologists for the pop-up collaboration next week you can expect to see original creations using Rebel Yell whiskey such as Manhattan ‘on draught’ (Rebel Yell, martini vermouth and leather bitters) or whiskey highball with quince syrup, malic acid and quince cider.
Three-course dinner with cocktails or wine for two, £130
Balthazar delivers on the glamour of Manhattan dining, with brasserie-style grandeur, attentive waiting staff, and hearty, familiar classics done well. The only problem is deciding what to have from the extensive menus. But that’s just the kind of problem we like to have.