After such an exquisite meal at the soft launch we thought Ballarò would be the perfect place to take an Australian visitor so they could experience beautiful and fresh Sicilian food, without having to make a detour via Italy, and with an extra mouth we could taste more dishes on the menu (see our first review here).
With the restaurant now fully operational we secured a table at a more grown-up time of 8pm (you will recall that at the soft launch we had the 19.00 early-bird sitting!). Already busy with a buzzing vibe when we arrived, we were again warmly greeted and shown to our table, the canapés had been replaced by an equally welcoming selection of tasty breads – the menu had also been updated and was much more extensive, although with a few of the launch “signature” dishes still taking pride of place.
The first thing we noticed was that the prices had come down; not lots but enough to change it from “an expensive restaurant” to “expensive for a local restaurant”. Starters are in the £8 – £12 range, some pasta’s are as high as £18.50 (albeit with lobster), whilst main’s are around £15 – £25. At these prices we won’t be going every week but will once in awhile, as a treat. We noticed that they also now do a very reasonable set lunch menu and we would love to see that extended to mid-week dinners (£14.95 per person for 3 courses is very palatable)! The wine list, however, remains on the expensive side with the cheapest bottle starting at £25.50. When the £31 Pinot we ordered had been sold out, we were recommended a £48 bottle as an alternative…you wouldn’t really put that in the same price bracket so we would prefer to see a bigger selection of lower priced wines.
The food itself was just as delicious as our previous visit. The menu is bigger now so rather than trying the antipasti, which we’d had on our previous visit (and knew was divine), we gave the pasta an opportunity. The highlight was the ricotta gnudi (gnocchi-like pasta dumplings) with saffron pecorino cheese and pistachio. DIVINE. We would come back just to eat this dish again, and again (or sneak in to take it away if we could)! We also tried the Casarecce pasta with purple aubergine sauce; this was nice but lacked the pizazz of the gnudi and as such ended up being a rather unexciting dish.
For mains, there was plenty of fish to choose from, but preferring meat we stuck with that section of the menu. The rack of lamb with pumpkin puree was perfectly cooked and had lovely homely flavours, whilst the baby roast chicken left us licking our sticky fingers with glee. And of course we HAD to order those lovely crunchy salty zucchini fries again.
Although we were stuffed, we ended the evening sharing that classic Tiramisu and a divine moist chocolate cake, served with a wine sauce and figs, opting for pistachio ice cream on the side.
The interior is small, bright, modern and fresh, a balanced mix of lime green fabrics, slate flooring, mirrored walls and retro lighting, not to mention the massive food market poster with caricatures of the proprietors. It looks pretty funky and the tables packed closely together create a buzzy, fun and casual brasserie (osteria) atmosphere – it’s a bit like an upmarket Carluccios – however Elldrew wonder whether this casual vibe really works with the fine dining food, prices and service on offer? We also noticed that Ballarò are doing a roaring job at turning over the tables – not surprising when we had finished our main course in under an hour of arriving – so the speed also didn’t leave us feeling like we had enjoyed a gourmet experience.
If we’re honest, and based on both visits combined, it feels a bit like the restaurant doesn’t quite know what it is yet (or is it trying too hard to be everything?). Added to this, the rest of the building has been converted into an upmarket B&B with Ballarò offering a continental buffet breakfast for hotel guests, and we assume the general public? Elldrew feel that a quality local, casual Italian restaurant is just what’s needed in the area, but at £50+ a head Ballarò doesn’t quite plug that gap. Granted the food is divine and our complements to the chef, but if they cut out the lobster, truffle, saffron and 20% of the price, then we would be there regularly…as a casual local restaurant we would like to walk in and feel like someone is inviting us into their extended Italian family for a feast of amazing flavours. If it’s fine dining, competing with the likes of Cecconi’s for example, will require Ballarò to dim the lights, up the silver service, bring out the crisp white tablecloths, provide more space around the tables and mix in an atmosphere of unconstrained decadence. Alas Ballarò, you are somewhere in the middle I’m afraid and we think the pricing should reflect this.
Either way, please keep up the great work, and the amazing cooking (thanks to the staff also, they should not be forgotten)…we will be back as soon as we can, we just need to save the pennies first!
Expect to pay £50+ per head for a three-course meal, with wine.
154 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 2AY