It’s hard to stand out from the sea of eateries in the vicinity but Balans Café is a good all day (yes 24/7!) eatery serving a contemporary global menu.
In the heart of Soho, Balans is in close proximity to theatre-land and the many locals clubs, and is easily accessed from Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road. The black and red décor reflect the contemporary menu with tables set close, making the space feel busy and atmospheric rather than cramped. There’s also wi-fi for those needing a technology fix. There are no reservations.
The ambience varies according to time of day, but generally expect a buzz about the place. Music is unobtrusive and adds to the atmosphere, and is clearly chosen not to alienate any of the broad spectrum of diners that can be simultaneously enjoying cocktails and all day breakfasts.
The menu is split into sections of small plates, big plates, salads and sandwiches, and the all-day breakfasts. As a starter the duck spring rolls with cucumber and hoisin (£5.50) are hot and crispy with a good duck flavour contrasted by the classic hoisin and strips of cucumber. More of a challenge for one is the Greek plate (£6.25) with tangy tzatziki, smooth houmous, creamy taramasalata, feta, kalamata olives and hot flatbread. It's large enough to be an ideal sharing dish.
In the big plates, chilli con carne, nachos, sour cream and rice (£9.25) comprises chilli with a ‘not blow the head off’ kick, crispy nachos and cool sour cream, all balanced by the plain rice. The perfectly cooked seared tuna steak (£13.50) comes with a hearty and piquant combo of cherry tomatoes, huge capers, pine nuts, olives and herby gremolata, with the colourful contrasts as good as the taste.
Salads and sandwiches are all in the £8-£9 area while sides are £2.95. The commendable all-day breakfast selection ranges from toast and crumpets (£2.95 each with butter and preserves) to steak and eggs (£10.75) with a host of options in-between including a full English at £8.50.
There are just three desserts on offer, at £5.25 each: baked New York cheesecake, banoffee pie and pecan brownie. The cheesecake is a light creamy version with a flavoursome blueberry sauce and berries.
Balans isn’t the place to go for a large selection of fine wines, but it does offer the basics, with their Merlot and Sangiovese both being perfectly adequate drinkers. There are three reds, three whites, and a rosé, all available by the bottle or by small and large glasses. Prices range from £4.20 a glass to £18.95 per bottle. In the champagne section there are two Perrier Jouets – the brut at £8.25/£39.95 or the more expensive rosé. There is a wide choice of spirits, soft drinks, teas and coffees, and a dozen cocktails leaning to more classic options. Not on the menu is the passion fruit margarita – but worth asking if the chef will oblige – the sweetness coupled with a shot of champagne is well worth a try.
The Last Word
If you don’t know which to choose from the array of restaurants in the surrounding streets, Balans is a safe bet. The menu is varied, the food is pretty good, prices are reasonable and the service excellent.