For awhile now we had been wondering what would become of the old Haverstock Arms pub, on Haverstock Hill (its claim to fame is that its landlord was the on-screen barmen in the 90’s hit talk show “TFI Friday” and it’s where producer Danny Baker and then radio DJ Chris Evans came up with the show concept, and, of course, not forgetting its history as a local watering hole to the non and famous NW3 set)! One becomes complacent when the hoarding has been erected for so long, and although we were secretly hoping for a new local gastro pub or even better still a nice wine bar, we were at first a little deflated to hear the premises would be occupied by a new restaurant – wasn’t there enough in the local area already?
Driving past the venue in its final days before launch we started to get glimpses of the interior as the hoarding was slowly removed. And as if like magic our nosiness had paid off as we received an email from a restaurant review site announcing the launch of Ballarò (aptly named after the famous food market in the Sicilian capital Palermo) promoting a 50% off food offer during its soft launch, we would be stupid not the try it. Eagerly calling up to make a booking for it’s first weekend (we had to brag to all our friends that we were one of the 1st to dine there of course!) we were told that the restaurant was fully booked, but we could come for an earlier sitting at 7pm. Perfectly fine with us, we envisaged a nightcap on the way home afterwards.
We arrived to a very friendly welcome by all of the staff, but the restaurant was empty, apart from an elderly couple sitting in the corner. We were slightly concerned but suspected more people must be on our heels as we assumed the restaurant would be staggering tables as this was their first weekend. We politely nodded at the couple we were seated next to, eyeing off their mains that looked delicious. A complimentary glass of sparkling arrived, followed by a plate of canapés; olives, tapenade, parmesan cheese chunks and mixed breads, which we delightfully nibbled on as we perused the menu. The menu had a great mix of seafood, pasta and meats…a fine selection of Sicilian fare.
Food ordered we struck up a conversation with the adorable couple, to our surprise they lived on the same street (she being a retired actress who had appeared in Eastenders and had been at the Douglas-Zeta-Jones wedding in LA after treading the boards in the West End with a very young Catherine). They had been told to come at 6pm so were glad to see us when we appeared at 7pm, and funny enough, we were all equally delighted when another couple arrived at 7.30pm…was this what a soft launch was meant to be like?
By 8pm the tables were filling up and the rather relaxed staff were now in full swing, but everything seemed to be working like a well-oiled machine – the vibe of the restaurant had finally kicked in and even the head chef (Carmelo Carnevale, former Head Chef at Novikov) made an appearance to greet a table of friends, or old loyal customers, we will never know, but the waft of truffle coming from their table did make us wish we had ordered the pumpkin soup!
So how did the food fair?
We started by sharing two starters; the crispy deep fried squid with a spicy lime mayonnaise and chickpea pancake which was nice – the highlight was the chickpea pancake, tiny nuggets of unusual flavour bursts which complemented a nice but ordinary calamari – and a very succulent baked aubergine role with tomatoes and scamorza cheese from Ragusa, full of flavour that left us wanting more.
The main we chose was the house special, a 28-day matured Florentina T-bone beef steak with vegetables and rosemary potatoes for two. The steak was totally mouth watering, cooked to perfection and packed with delicious fresh Mediterranean flavours. We also ordered a side of deep fried zucchini, equally delicious, albeit unnecessary given how big the steak was!
For dessert we shared the scrumptious home-made Tiramisu. It was seriously good and delicate with a nice balanced punch of Marsala and tasted like a recipe that had been passed down through the generations! And just to top off the general consumption of alcohol that evening, we were offered complimentary glasses of port, that just finished the meal perfectly – any thoughts of a nightcap on the way home had vanished!
A fantastic meal and enjoyable evening, we were truly impressed with everything Ballarò had to offer. We did have to wonder about the pricing as, at full price, it would be rather too expensive to become a regular post-work supper venue, and it didn’t seem to have the vibe to become a well-known destination restaurant. Then again, this was the soft launch. We needed another date post-launch to truly assess them.
Fast-forward 1 month, an overseas friend visiting, a prime opportunity to try Ballarò again. You can read all about that experience tomorrow, here on Planet Elldrew.
154 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 2AY