Constant Eater By Jonathan Byrne
Bala Baya – The Flavours of Tel Aviv.
The phone app – been – shows I’ve been lucky enough to visit 20% of the world and 38% of Europe during my travelling career. Although I’ve not been to Israel, the fusions and flavours of Mediterranean style of food are my favourite choice and I am a big fan of Israeli/British Chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Hence my friend Amanda’s suggestion that we try Bala Baya sounded very exciting. Most of our visit was excellent; one part was poor.
All areas of London have undergone a transformation over the past ten years so SE1 is no exception with the developments of The Shard, Southbank and Bermondsey Street. The streets around Southwark Underground Station had remained unloved until more recently. Now The Old Union Yard Arches are a thriving hub of restaurants and bars with Bala Baya right in the middle. Amanda and I were warmly greeted by Omar, Carl and Memaj who took time and great care to explain the menu to us, advise about our choices and demonstrate real enthusiasm for Bala Baya’s food. The menu explanations don’t generally do credit to the delicious flavours and eye catching presentations you’re going to enjoy, so being able to interact with the team adds to the whole experience.
Bala Baya is a sharing plate experience and four between us was more than enough. Wild tomatoes are a festive plate of heritage tomatoes garnished with mooli, pickled red onion dandelion leaves, coriander and blueberry vinaigrette all lightly pungent which highlight and develop the taste of the tomatoes, our first success. Another riot of flavours is Cauliflower and Roe – fried cauliflower florets, spicy fermented harissa, smooth baby corn husks and cured fish roe. Each mouthful is warming, comforting and leaves you highly satisfied. We thought we were going to love the Prawn Baklava – king prawns in kadaif pastry but the combination of sweet and sour was a little confusing. Bitter lime syrup, pistachios and rose petals did not quite match of balance the savoury prawns.
Of course we had to try an Israeli wine and The Givon Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 from Upper Galilee sounded just perfect. It’s a pleasant wine with the berry and tannin characteristics you might expect from this grape variety. Perfectly drinkable although light and lacked any impact.
Both Amanda and I love venison. When Omar explained that Chef Eran Tibi selects high quality deer from a farm in the West Country, then personally butchers the whole deer and uses every cut, we were inspired to choose – Game – for our main course. Perhaps they were down to using the non-prime cuts by the time we visited because we could not cut through the meat and sinewy with a steak knife. When we did separate mouthfuls they were cold and un-chewable, quite a disappointment. However Omar saved the day recommending Laffa Couture – Iraqi flatbreads held in taco trays filled with slow roasted lamb belly, smoked sticky plum, radish and chervil. This time the sweet and savoury flavours were delightful rounding off a memorable meal and a fun evening out.
£181 for two people which includes wine