I love a good notebook – it’s currently a black Moleskine filled with my food notes. I have a list of new restaurant openings, which has quickly got very long – it’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the new places. Occasionally though, there is somewhere that’s the hot new opening, with lots of buzz.
The London outpost of the New York institution Balthazar opened recently, and seems to have been one of the biggest launches of 2013. Which means it’s very booked up. Yesterday I went for a work lunch, with a reservation at 12, as there was no way to get a reservation at the usual 1pm (fine by me, I’m usually hungry by 10am anyway).
It’s in Covent Garden, just down the road from the Royal Opera House, in the old Theatre Museum site. They serve food all day, with a large French Brasserie/Bistro inspired menu, including bread and patisserie from their bakery next door and lots of fruits de mer.
We didn’t end up trying any of the seafood – our starters included a warm goat cheese and caramelised onion tart (£8) and an indulgently rich lobster black truffle risotto (£10) with cauliflower cream and black truffle butter. I had the Bayonne ham with celeriac remoulade, mustard, cornichons and grilled bread (£9) which was nice but could have done with a bigger pile of the tangy remoulade.
For mains we went for classics - a good cheeseburger (£16) and steak frites with herby maître d’butter and lots of the lovely, skinny, crispy fries (£19.50). My lamb T-bone (£21) was enormous and nicely pink, with flageolet beans, chantenay carrots and little slices of sausage in a meaty jus.
The only dessert we tried was their homemade raspberry sorbet and chocolate ice-cream (£7), but the baked cheesecake with a warm cinnamon and apple doughnut sounded delicious (the pastries in the bakery next door looked great too).
Amid all the hype, I had read very mixed reviews of Balthazar – overall the food was good solid brasserie/bistro fare, and it’s a buzzy space that feels like it’s been there forever. It has had lots of comparisons with The Wolseley and The Delaunay, with its all-day brasserie feel – I prefer the shiny marble and glamour of The Wolseley, but I’m sure Balthazar will become a Covent Garden stalwart to pop-in for a coffee, or a great Steak Frites.