We’ve all had to become more savvy since the economic downturn hit home. So take a tip from us – Balham Bowls Club is a dream come true for those seeking good value for money.
Located a short walk from Balham Tube and train station, Balham Bowls Club is neatly tucked away off the main high street. Inside, it’s a real cornucopia of delights with the kind of authentic kitsch styling that Shoreditch can only ever dream of. The sprawling venue, which includes a bar, a huge dining room and a garden, isn’t trying too hard. The uncontrived style comprises of mix and match furnishings, with granny lamps, mismatched tables and chairs, and even church-pew style bench seating. And this is further highlighted by a scattergun approach to decorative flourishes. Shelves filled with trinkets, walls covered in trinkets, fireplaces layered with, yes, trinkets, are all a feast for the eyes and you’ll find yourself gazing around the place like a kid in a sweetshop.
The laid back style of Balham Bowls Club has a knock-on effect on the atmosphere, as everywhere from the bar to the dining room has a chilled out ambience. Mainly filled with locals to Balham and nearby Clapham, many are regulars catching up with friends, wearing smug smiles that they have found this place and can share it with a select few. The staff are incredibly friendly and the wait times for food – even when the venue is busy – are minimal.
There’s a lengthy bar menu if you fancy snacks like fishcakes, a Ploughman’s salad or aubergine marinated olives but with prices in the dining room so reasonably pitched it’s well worth booking a table for dinner. For the quality of the ingredients and the expert way they’re assembled, the prices are, frankly, incredible. For starters, the sweet potato and cumin soup with organic toast (£4.50) is an example of hearty soup done well. Thick with a velvety finish, the delicately sweet flavour lingers in the mouth and is so thick you can practically spread it over the crisp toast. Alternatively, they show off their inventive flair with scallops that have been cured instead of pan fried (£6). Although strange at first if you’ve not tried them before, the soft, cold scallops are lifted with citrus accompaniments and a crisp rocket salad.
However, it’s the main courses where the skills of the kitchen really shine. The pan fried duck breast with sesame noodles and pak choi is a steal at just £12.90. The generous portion of duck is perfectly cooked – delightfully pink, full of flavour and ever so tender. The noodles are the perfect consistency and well seasoned and spiced and the pak choi is fresh and lightens up the otherwise bold dish. Also excellent is the pan fried sea bream fillet with samphire, Romesco sauce and fresh new potatoes. For these premium ingredients to come together for £12.50 is a marvel, particularly when it’s cooked so well. The sea bream is fresh and flakes wonderfully and the flavour is complemented by the strong garlic hit of the Romesco sauce. The samphire is crunchy and has a pleasant salty undertone and the new potatoes help to add depth to the dish.
Finally, the desserts round up the selection. The strawberries with a balsamic reduction and Dulche de Leche ice cream (£4.80) is surprisingly light with the strawberries and balsamic vinegar complementing each other particularly well. The selection of English cheeses is also strong with a delightful choice of Rosary goat’s cheese, an unusual Oakwood smoked cheddar and Oxford Isis for just £6.10 for an entire board. The only criticism would be the charred flavour of the toasted bread takes something away from the delicate cheese and biscuits would be preferred whilst the salad really should come undressed to allow the cheese flavours to shine. However, when you see the bill, any small concerns will quickly melt away as the overall skill of the kitchen pitched at this price point is undeniably impressive.
It’s good to know that Balham Bowls Club hasn’t put so much thought into its food menu that it’s neglected its drink selection as this is a neighbourhood pub, after all. The wine choice is good and surprisingly cheap, ranging from £13.95 - £24 a bottle. The Rioja Blanco is an unusual white version of the classic Rioja and for just £17.50 is a real steal. However, it’s the beer that really shines here. As well as Amstel, Grolsch, Heineken and Peroni on tap there’s the almost impossible to find draught Blue Moon from America. This is bolstered by three stouts and ales (Guinness, Purity UBU and Adnams Lighthouse) and a strong bottled selection.
The Last Word
It’s always exciting to come across a pub like Balham Bowls Club that seeks to surprise from the moment you step across the threshold. Worth hunting out if you don’t hail from south of the river.