Balans Soho Society restaurant
60-62 Old Compton St, Soho, London
Known for its all-night soirées, the grande dame of Old Compton Street will have you dancing till dawn
Born of humble roots, Soho stalwart Balans’ first incarnation was as a good ol’ reliable sandwich shop on the corner of Old Compton Street. This was in 1987, in the days before mass market on-the-go lunch took over, when cofounder David Taylor and ex-business partner Prady Balan welcomed the exodus of West End workers who queued round the block come midday. Service soon developed into a 24-hour affair, sating the needs of the squiffy-eyed revellers who stumbled out of local bars and clubs. Packed to the rafters on a regular basis, the pair launched a second venue, which is the Balans Soho Society we know today. That was 30 years ago and the original site, now Balans Café, has been joined by four restaurants across the city and a new launch is imminent in Clapham.
A buzzy, bohemian vibe pervades when we visit on a wet Monday evening. The tiled entrance, framed by the restaurant’s iconic raku-style Hague blue facade, invites us to ‘Abandon All Plans’, so we do, grabbing a blackberry fizz cocktail laced with King of Soho gin. There’s more than a hint of raffish fin-de-siècle Paris about the recently revamped decor with its glowing amber bar, post-coital lovers sprawled across the walls and mismatched mirrors that play tricks on the eye. Not to mention the clandestine draped nooks and velvet banquettes – ideal for postprandial recline.
A modern British menu lifted by globetrotting accents is a roll call of exactly the sort of food you want to eat. Forget your diet here: the portions are generous. Start with the likes of crunchy smoked almond brie with white truffle honey, which arrives oozingly warm and is best mopped up with chunks of sourdough. Asian-Caribbean jerk chicken samosas come with a kicky ’slaw and pineapple jam. For mains, tender confit pork belly is our pick. It’s served with rich glazed cheek, a prized slither of crackling and the sweetest slick of parnsip purée. Beer-battered haddock with mushy peas and double-dipped chips does a solid job on the fish front, while the Infamous Balans Burger is just that. As we go to leave, the waitress suggests that we come back around 2.30am to see it in full swing. Next time, we certainly will.