What can you tell us about Bala Baya?
Bala Baya is bringing Tel Aviv to London, by way of up-and-coming restaurant destination Southwark. Southwark is now home to some of the most exciting new eateries opening in London. The head chef of Bala Baya, Eran Tibi, trained under Ottolenghi so the bar has been set high - but luckily he more than meets it with this new opening.
Where can I meet my friends for a drink before?
Southwark is still finding its foodie feet so choices are limited but the Blackfriars Wine Bar, tucked under a nearby railway arch, is a nice starting point for the evening. Otherwise, Bala Baya’s wraparound bar is the perfect place to perch while you wait for a table.
Where should we sit?
We liked the trendy mezzanine level: an industrial, hangar-like space which is warmed up with leafy plants and rich oxblood leather seats. Being up there felt secluded and snug, while still allowing us to spy on the people coming and going below.
What should we eat?
The menu is based around sharing plates (it does away with starters altogether). The meal starts with a complimentary hunk of pitta with silky smooth yoghurt and harissa for dipping. This pitta is unlike anything you’ll pick up in a packet at Tesco - it’s thick, chargrilled and wonderfully chewy.
Our waitress recommended three plates per person, although it was a difficult task to try and narrow down the choices to just six. We opted for a mix of the meats, fish and vegetables on offer, although we weren’t quite brave enough to take a risk on the offal.
Instead we started with Calamari & Jam (£9), which was a completely different take on the classic squid dish. The sweet saffron and butternut jam brought out hidden depths to a meal many of us have eaten countless times. My partner claimed it was the best he’d ever had, and other diners were just as enthusiastic.
The descriptively-named Crispy, Sticky, Crunchy (£9) was a similarly interesting twist on fried chicken. The bitter orange combined with butternut squash gave a Middle Eastern take on the sweet and sour flavour pairings, with kimchi adding some extra bite to the dish.
The Cauliflower (£9) with a crumble and yoghurt dressing was everything you’d hope for from a Middle Eastern eatery - nicely spiced with a crunchy exterior. Next up were the Pork Cheeks (£10) which, while perfectly cooked, could have benefitted from some of the more interesting additions from other plates to add some extra flavours to the dish.
The Lamb & Dumplings (£12) did this perfectly, as the savoury Persian dumplings were the perfect foil to the richness of the lamb neck. The Scottish Shawarma (£11), salt baked salmon with aubergine braise, was a lovely, light dish to finish on.
How about a sweet treat to finish?
Of course, we had to try some of the traditional desserts. The Tahini, Banana, Pistachio, Cheesecake (£8), won us over with its kitsch banana fritter, while the Burnt Babka (£8) was a deliciously sweet taste of the Middle East.
What did you wash it down with?
The wine list is short, simple and on the expensive side, leaning towards around £40 a bottle. However, it’s the cocktail menu, curated by Ali Reynolds, which is worth a second look. It’s mostly made up of sours, from the ice-cold, refreshing Basil & Mint Sour (£11) to the punchy Honey Sour (£11), which we found wasn’t as sweet as the name might suggest.
We can see ourselves craving a second try of many of the plates served up on the evening. The memorable flavour pairings and the trendy, neighbourhood-vibe of the place is sure to make Bala Baya a favourite weekend hangout for anyone who discovers it.
Bala Baya is at Arch 25 Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union St, London SE1 0LR. Find out more about Bala Baya.
Hot Dinners were invited to Bala Baya. Prices are correct at the time of writing.