I started being a customer at Balans well over a decade ago when I was at the Waldorf, in the mid afternoon break I would go for a walk and pop in for a banoffee pie and a cappuccino which was and still is one of the best out there. Great service, good execution of product and smiles..
This carried on when I moved to Miami, so was great to see a regular small brand, even though eating at places like Sushi Samba, China grill and Capitol grill were always the name to go to, I often recommended and took clients to the Lincoln road branch. Now, based in London, I have been to both Balans in Soho and was at the Kensington Branch yesterday on the way to Imbibe at Olympia.
In the past 7 days that’s three times, which is quite a loyalty and it was only two months ago I received a loyalty card (which I keep forgetting to use).
After work drinks in Soho last Friday I popped in and had a BBQ chicken with polenta fries (pont neuf size deep fried fingers). Well the service was good, not as chatty as usual and the starter was good too. The chicken arrived kind of stuck together – a leg and a breast, but the breast was rib cage up. As I pried them apart there was an indentation in the flesh that showed these two pieces of meat had been squashed together IE: in a vacuum bag. Now there was plenty of meat, BBQ sauce, but not a barbecued texture in sight. Not even a flash under the salamander to crisp the skin up. The polenta fingers where tasteless, no seasoning, Parmesan cheese and far too sloppy. I paid and left as there will always be exceptions.
This afternoon after a meeting in Mayfair I walked through town to Regent street, went to Apple and thought of a nice banoffie pie with a cappuccino would be great, so after walking past Pollen Street Social, Otto Lenghi, Bills, etc I ended up at Balans in Soho, by then I was peckish and ordered a two course lunch menu, seafood linguini with a saffron Cream sauce and a raspberry lemon curd Eton mess along with wine and drinks.
The Linguini arrived and I added lots of black pepper and parmesan - yes with seafood.. and once I had fished out the shells – three mussels 4 vongole , mixed the remaining small two shrimp whilst looking for the sauce. Not much here, I ate the seafood I could find and 1/3 of the pasta with the parmesan and ended up with 2/3 of the pasta floating in ½ centimeter of oil. No saffron cream here, also the whole thing was quite bland, not even shallots, chopped parsley or a julienne of basil, thankfully the cheese and pepper made it palatable. I left the rest of the dish. The waiter cleared and did not even ask if I enjoyed it until I asked him if that was supposed to be with a cream sauce? This started a short discussion at the bar. The manager came over and apologized and said that the dish was not supposed to be served like that – then why did the chef serve it to the waitress and the waitress serve it to me?
I was the served a very large Raspberry Eton mess sundae – which I did not order, which was very well presented, but I could only finish half as was expecting smaller “Pris Fix” menus size. Not the full Monty.
I called for the bill and the waitress came she said she was sorry I did not enjoy the Linguini, I told here it was badly executed and she simply repeated that she was sorry I had not enjoyed it – erm well obviously.
On received the bill and they very graciously removed the £5.95 for the Linguini and charged me £5.95 for the full Ice cream Sundae which I never wanted and only half ate. The usual 12.5% service charge was added but not earned (I could not be bothered discussing this, they should send people to Miami to see how waiters work for their tips). Poignantly the place was nearly empty, a death when it comes to service as complacency can set in.
I left Balans.. and left my loyalty card on the table as I will no longer eat there. After walking over a mile to this destination, past 100’s of other choices, I have decided that between Frith Street , Wardour Street and Dean Street there are plenty of other choices within 500 meters walking were I can spend my money. Perhaps whilst Balans have expanded they have lost a grip on their Brand Quality Standards?
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