Gentrification is an inescapable part of London’s history and future. Talk to any Londoner over the age of 40 and they will lament the days of Notting Hill’s quirky independent market (without the rip-off prices) and Camden’s punk scene, along with Soho’s seedy yet electric atmosphere. From ‘80s wild child to tripper town, Soho has lost the red-lit doors, film companies and flyer-plastered phone boxes, replaced instead with coffee chains and spatially unaware tourists. There are still some old timers that haven’t been lost to Soho’s dulled revamp, take Balans Soho Society, for example, a restaurant that stays up later than you and serves food and cocktail with wonderfully camp flair.
Venue and Atmosphere
Velvet curtains usually hide something fun, or so I’m told (my life is certainly not thrilling enough to know first hand). And behind Balans Soho Society’s thick, crimson curtains is a mixture of ornate, Parisian-style interiors and simple staples. Paintings depict characters engaged in various sexual acts, beautiful people sink into the low sofas and walls are papered with a swirling pattern. Behind the main restaurant the private rooms are shielded from view with even more velvet curtains, hiding pearl-draped chandeliers and snug booths.
Casting agents looking for the next face should head to Balans, as the Saturday night crowd is more genetically blessed than most. They’re also here to party, with huge crowds of birthday parties shouting above the din at one another. On one table, a waiter places a cooler of absinthe in the middle, along with tea cups and sugar and leaves the group to pour as they wish. Good-looking waiters fly around the space, greeting each and every table like old friends, though with Balans Soho Society's reputation, perhaps they are.
Food and Drink
Balans Soho Society still whispers of London’s wilder, unchecked days, with breakfast served from midnight until 6am, and then starting again an hour and a half later at 7am. The dinner menu is a more refined affair, with easy, meaty British plates. The crispy pork starter (£8) was deliciously salty, with a hunk of soft belly pork crunched against crackling and charred squid, and a spicy XO sauce cutting through the fat. The vegetarian ‘Chickpeas’ (£8) option was big enough to feed a small family as a wooden board was piled with hummus, fried chickpeas, falafel balls, and a tangy harissa yogurt.
Mains were similarly as generous, with a list of easy British dishes such as fancy fish and chips and an award-winning burger. I opted for the yogurt spiced monkfish (£18), which came as a thick fillet of deboned white fish, flavoured by pomegranate seeds, carrot pickle and a smattering of peanuts. If a liquid dinner is more your style, the cocktails at Balans are equally as consumable, so much so that my companion slurped three Porn Star Martinis (£11) made with Tito’s Vodka, from the first legal distillery in Texas. I like my drinks sharp and citrusy, and the That’s Amore! (£11) was like drinking orange sherbet straight from the glass, with egg white, Campari, orange and prosecco muddled together.
Perhaps Soho isn’t as gentrified as we all first thought; it’s just knowing where to look. Balans Soho Society is a slightly tipsy, naughty auntie that will cook you up Eggs Benedict for the 4am hangover, or wine and dine you in style before hitting the town. Pull back the velvet curtain and find out for yourself.