Entente Cordiale at The Balcon, Sofitel London St James’s:
I’ve been to The Balcon before. In fact I used to dine at the venue, then Brasserie Roux, quite regularly before it was rebranded as The Balcon, not because I preferred the old restaurant, but simply because I used the IOD, just across the road, for business meetings. My treat, if things went well, was lunch and a glass of wine. The Balcon took that really rather good restaurant and improved things as much as anything by an Entente Cordiale – a way of working that embraced local British produce while giving things a distinctly Gaelic flair.
And, that hasn’t changed though they are clearly also catering for an upscale customer with a short Caviar menu and a choice of good Champagnes, as well as an eight-course tasting menu at £69 per person or £110 with matched wines.
Nothing so ambitious for us, though I was determined to focus on healthier options and despite something of a yearning for seared foie gras opted instead for a dish of pan-fried snails on sweet potato puree with oloroso jus and hazelnut. It was a comforting dish that worked well on a chilly evening and yet, the overall effect was not heavy.
We were not entirely sure what to drink with the meal and instead asked the sommelier to pair dishes for us. There are plenty of wines available by the glass or 500ml carafe at Balcon which makes it easy to enjoy wine which will complement your food properly. As the sommelier explained, my instinctive choice of a red wine might not have worked well, given I’d picked a lighter fish dish as my main and would certainly want white for that.
In the end, a Viognier, Secret de Famille Cotes du Rhone, Paul Jaboulet-Aine was his recommendation, with a Chablis for my companion to pair with her grilled scallops with pea tortellini, pea shoots and lobster sauce which looked delicious.
We both chose fish for the main course. For me, a substantial dish of roasted hake with English asparagus, smoked mash, prosciutto and romesco sauce. This sort of thing I try to make myself at home, but never quite get the perfectly cooked fish on a balanced dish of vegetables. Paired with a glass of chenin blanc, the Ladybird, Laibach from Stellenbosch South Africa, I was more than happy.
My companion opted for the crispy skinned sea bream, samphire, salsify, laverbread and chive beurre blanc. For her, the Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau River from Marlborough New Zealand.
Having foregone the temptation of confit rabbit and foie gras or Elwy Valley lamb sirloin we decided that a side order of Rosemary salted fries was not too excessive. Especially paired with spring greens, broccolini and wild garlic butter.
On to dessert and cheese, I ordered a Pear and poire williams ile flottante with pear sorbet. It takes 15 minutes to cook this particular dish to order, so if you are in a hurry it’s not the one for you. But it is definitely worth the wait.
My pairing for this dish was a luscious Carmes de Rieussec 2013 Sauternes, probably my favourite wine of the evening. Aromatic and citrussy, I remember more about the wine than the dessert!
My companion ordered French cheeses with membrillo, a good variety and a healthy sized portion which was served for her with a glass of Taylor’s 20 years old port.
I don’t think either of us could have faulted the food or the service. I was particularly impressed by our Sommelier and by the attention to detail on all the dishes. Hotel restaurants, particularly those without a ‘famous name’ steering the helm, don’t often stand out. This one does and I’d happily go back to my old habit of lunching there once a month or so. Sadly I’m no longer a member of the IOD so I doubt I’ll get that excuse again. I’ll just have to find another one.
Congratulations then to Matt Greenwood for a great French/English dining experience
We dined as guests of Balcon at Sofitel London St James