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Restaurant Review: Balans Soho Society, London

Balans Soho Society
187 Kensington High Street, London, W8 6SH
Cuisine: British
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Helen Hokin: There’s a very EC1 vibe in W8 tonight. Inside Balans Soho Society on Kensington High Street the serving staff are all in check shirts and jeans; I’ve even spotted a couple of beards.  So far so not Kensington High Street.
 
The youthful energy in here is a breath of fresh air and it’s all feeling a bit Shoreditch. I mean that in a good way. Contemporary, upbeat places to eat on Kensington High Street are in short supply. No, let me rephrase, they just don’t exist.
 
I must have walked past Balans, as it was previously known, hundreds of times without giving it a second glance, in fact I barely knew it was here; hidden amidst a row of about a dozen or so fusty, dusty, tired old eateries that I gladly hurry past en route to the tube to take me somewhere else to eat.
 
Shocking to think one of the most well-to-do high streets in London has barely a decent restaurant to its name.
 
So when I accepted an invitation to try the new Balans Soho Society right here on my doorstep it was with high hopes. Originating in Soho, Balans is a small chain of five eateries – it’s apparently been around for years.
 
Kensington High Street is the second in the group to undergo a revamp. But never having set foot in a Balans I have nothing to compare it with so I ask our server Elizabeth what’s new: “Everything’s changed but the staff,” she smiles placing a couple of Grey Goose Le Fizz cocktails before us. I’m none the wiser but distracted now by the cocktail which is deliciously dry, citrusy and really quite elegant, we leave it at that.
 
We chew over the menu and some sourdough bread and butter. Wild Hare Pate looks an encouragingly bold move for a restaurant chain. Then again, Im reliably informed Executive Chef, Crispin Chetwynd, has rustled up meals for rock-star royalty and if he’s fed Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd on the road, and lived to tell the tale, then this should be a shoo-in.
 
His menu is seasonal, built around local produce where possible, and the ketchup is designer, not Heinz.
 
That hare pate sounds too good to pass up. It comes with a little ribbony swirl of cold celeriac remoulade – a clean and crisp foil to the unctuous pate. A neat square of quince jelly lends sweetness and then there’s the, oh-so-comforting crunchy warm toast. Standout.
 
We also try the duck spring rolls - straight from the fryer they are piping hot, super crispy and filled with shreds of mouth-wateringly juicy duck. Strips of pickled cucumber serve to cool it all down. I want more.
 
It’s only 7.30 but the place is packed. Clearly the word is out. A long table running down the middle of the restaurant has a tree growing out of its middle and a group of about twenty people sitting round it - you can’t see the table for drinks, it’s going to be a belter of a night for that lot.
 
At one point, the manager stops by to introduce himself: “My name is Darko, like Donny Darko from the movie.” I enquire further into the changes taken place in its transition from Balans to the new, Balans Soho Society, and it seems it has gone from a sort of American diner serving pancakes and burgers and Heinz to a more foodie-focused affair with careful sourcing of ingredients, proper cocktails (see above), moody lighting and something altogether more in line with London dining as we know it (except on Kensington High Street).
 
For our main courses, my meat-feasting friend makes straight for the rib-eye steak with béarnaise sauce and a side of triple-cut chips. Elizabeth, does not flinch when he orders his steak well-done. And I love this place all the more for it.
 
My skillet of roasted chicken is indeed served on its skillet – it’s enough for a small family lunch, but who’s complaining. This dish is all about texture: chewy faro, crunchy pine nuts and sticky slow-cooked figs – light and lovely Mediterranean ingredients.
 
There’s no room left for dessert so we go ahead and order one each. My dining buddy is going to have to hit the gym as he follows his meat fest with a pyramid of miniature doughnuts. Dusted with icing sugar they are all warm and fluffy on the inside. They come with rich plum compote for dunking and cold whipped cream presumably for decadence.  
 
Virtuously, I order a  pineapple and chilli tarte tatin – it's the only blip of the night. But I’m so psyched to find a decent place to eat on my doorstep that I am just going to leave it at that.
 
Kensington High Street won’t know what’s hit it.
 
Balans Soho Society,
187 Kensington High Street,
London, W8 6SH
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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