Monday, 23 September 2013
Brunch - Balthazar, Covent Garden.
As soon as it was confirmed that London would be home to it's very own Balthazar, an extremely popular French inspired brasserie in New York, expectations began to grow.
When it finally opened and food critics scrabbled to be the first to review it, the accounts weren't exactly positive.
Jay Rayner said "Balthazar has arrived in a cloud of hype, a shame then that it fails to live up to expectations".
Zoe Williams said the food was "undistinguished" and Giles Coren gave the food a 0 out of ten in his review.
Before it had even opened I was a bit bored of hearing about it and by the time it was physically possible for norms like me to get a table I had been convinced by the reviews I had read that it was a massive dissapointment.
The whirl of excitement was over before I had even got close to enjoying it. A bit like when I got into the Lost TV series, a year after everyone else, only to find, after devoting whole days to binge on the programme, that everyone else was over it.
So, I can't say I went into Balthazar with a huge amount of expectation when I visited for brunch this weekend. However, perhaps naively, I assumed that whilst the dinner service had come in for heavy criticism they surely wouldn't struggle to provide a more than adequate brunch.
The decor is like an upmarket Cafe Rouge, with it's false 'authentic' French feel most prominent in the yellowed wallpaper made to look as if it's absorbed a century of Gaelic chain smoking.
It had the rousing hustle and bustle you would expect from a brasserie set right in the heart of Covent Garden, at the weekend. Although, the majority of the activity was by the fleet of waiting staff, colliding, crashing and fumbling over the brunch service.
Our waitress was affable and cheerful but she seemed to be juggling too many tables which lead to myself and diners around me receiving our coffee and teas after we had finished our food.
I ordered the scrambled eggs with Cornish crab (£11.50) and my partner had the New York pancakes with banana (£8).
Having walked past the Balthazar bakery next door, on the way to the restaurant, we opted to try their breakfast pastries based on how impressive the bounty in the bakery window is.
When they arrived the pastries were cold. At the risk of sounding like a right diva, a cold pain au chocolat, or, croissant is a devastating thing. You take each bite knowing how much better it would taste if it had been warmed up and the delicate layers of pastry were crispy rather than hard.
Le Panier (£15) consisted of one pain au chocolat, one plain croissant, one almond croissant, a pain au raisin, some rye bread and a white flute. All were cold and extremely average especially considering the price.
The 'selection of homemade jams, marmalades and hazelnut chocolate spread,' did not arrive. After ten minutes of fighting to get the attention of the waiting staff we received a strawberry and raspberry jam (nice enough but definitely not superior to the Tiptree brand I buy in the supermarket and a marmalade (the star of the breakfast it was zingy and fresh). The other spread never arrived and no-one explained why.
The second part of our breakfast arrived (my tea didn't) and it was also cold.
The crab was clearly good quality but because the eggs were cold (partly thanks to the large dollup of creme fraiche on top) it was impossible to enjoy.
What had probably been a light and fluffy brioche was, by the time I received it, a lump of dough sodden with cold eggy residue and absorbed crab juices.
The pancakes were enjoyable but no more than those served at The Breakfast Club for half the price.
When we had finished our food and it had been cleared away my tea arrived.
All credit to our waitress, she removed the cost from the bill and was very apologetic but really, as a basic right, breakfast should come with tea, I mean, i'm pretty sure even inmates aren't deprived of tea with their sloppy porridge.
Balthazar will continue to be busy because of it's location and recognisable brand but I wonder how many diners will be returning guests.
Next time I fancy an indulgent breakfast I'll return to The Wolsey, always sublime and they care about tea far too much to forget to serve it.