Bala Baya – it’s a bit of a limerick to say quickly, but Elldrew have been saying it a lot since we went there a week ago. It rocked. Not just because it’s under train arches, nor because of the flying camel logo, but because it’s one of the best restaurants we’ve been too recently and we’re happy to stamp our fictitious ‘Elldrew Loves’ badge on it.
Bala Baya comes from the Ottolenghi style of cooking (infused Middle-Eastern and Asian comfort food) and indeed the owner and chef trained under Mr O himself, but Elldrew didn’t love Ottolenghi (expensive prices for what’s on offer), nor were we wow’d by similar restaurant Foleys, but we loved Bala Baya. For us Bala Baya got it right; the menu was lighter on the quinoa and “trendy” green-esque rabbit food, providing a balanced mix of meat, fish and vegetable dishes to cater for all taste buds. A great recommendation Megs (you know who you are).
The food at Bala Baya is designed around sharing plates and, consistent with current trends, it “comes out when ready”; so there’s not actually any concept of courses. Our dishes came leisurely paced throughout our sitting, so no mad dash to empty half eaten dishes or to find a clear spot on the table for the next plate. We were encouraged to have 3-4 dishes per person; there are some meaty “feast” plates that count as two dishes, but given our vegan friends we ordered a couple of meat plates and shared the broad vegetarian selection from the menu. We also had a generous share of pitta (it comes with a few dishes) and also ordered extra. Baked fresh on premises, it was delicious and had Elldrew wondering if we could ever eat supermarket quality pitta again.
Hands down our favourite dishes were the ‘kebab dumplings’ (lamb, semolina pockets & yoghurt) and the simply named ‘Thirty One’ (a pistachio & tahini purée, freekeh & porcini tagine with an oyster mushroom nut crunch). Even mushroom hating Drew ventured for a taste and enjoyed the balanced flavours and textures. The ‘crispy, sticky, crunchy’ chicken with bitter orange, harissa, butternut squash and kimchi was exactly that: crunchy, sticky and moorish. We had to order a second serving of the ‘pink fir potatoes & horseradish cream’: OMG so good.
There were some downsides, it can’t all be good after all. Notably the braised plum ‘pork cheeks’ with sharon fruit salsa and soft herbs; whilst very tender the dish was really under seasoned, and the ‘aubergine mess’ with summer herbs, lychee and tahini felt bland for what it promised.
We didn’t have dessert, we had no room after we’d mopped up the hummus & chickpea salsa with more pitta, but next time we’ll leave space for the ‘burnt babka’ (seasame & pistachio spread, stewed plums and whisked anglaise) – it looked so good on its way to our neighbouring table.
The only regret is Bala Baya is all the way down south in Southwark, nowhere near our home, otherwise Elldrew think they’d be there regularly. A must visit, we will be back soon I’m sure.
Arch 25 Old Union Yard Arches
229 Union St, London SE1 0LR