Balthazar's 1920s-style décor

Balthazar is one of the most enjoyable dining experiences to be had in London right now, says Miranda York, who discovers that restaurateur Keith McNally – beloved of the New York set due to his eatery of the same name across ‘The Pond’ – has successfully transplanted the original into London’s theatre district.

First impressions

Brightening up the rather lacklustre Russell Street in Covent Garden, Balthazar’s red awnings are hard to miss as you exit The Piazza. Housed in the old Theatre Museum, the building has undergone extensive renovations to become one of London’s most talked-about openings.

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking the London edition is a carbon copy of the New York City original. Though slightly smaller, the décor, the service, and even the menu, mirrors its older sibling. Once inside, it feels like you’ve stepped into a classic 1920s French brasserie: huge mirrors adorn the walls, columns and mosaic floors add a sense of grandeur, as does the imposing bar and inviting display of fruits de mer (seafood).

Balthazar fruits de merSample fresh fruits de mer
Balthazar / David Loftus

There’s a real sense of occasion as we sit down to dinner, and the atmosphere ramps up the later it gets. Service is swift and professional, as you’d expect from a Caprice Holdings establishment (the restaurant group also runs Le Caprice, The Ivy and J. Sheekey among others); staff mill around, adding to the hustle and bustle of the restaurant.

Ideal for…

If you’re all about the buzz this is the restaurant for you, for this is a place to see and be seen. Going to Balthazar is a statement, a sign that you’ve got your finger on the pulse of London’s restaurant scene. Couples, groups of friends or colleagues can sit among the rich and famous (Meg Ryan was spotted recently) filled with heady glamour. Families may find it too raucous in the evenings but lunch is a more casual affair. Tables are booked up for months, so walk-ins will undoubtedly be disappointed.

Best table?

There isn’t a bad table at Balthazar, but if you want to be at the centre of the action, the banquettes are the place to sit. For people-watching – and this is the perfect place for it – choose a table on the periphery and take in the frivolity in front of you.

Balthazar barSample a signature cocktail at the well-stocked bar
Balthazar / David Loftus

The drinks

Though it's almost impenetrable when we arrive, the bar is a fun place to hang out before dinner. Signature cocktails – including the Screaming Viking and Bermuda Triangle – are more serious than their names suggest, and the excellent bartenders will mix anything you ask for. The large, all-French wine list is cumbersome and a little expensive, but we enjoy the wines available by the glass, particularly the Vouvray Sec.

The food

The all-day offering runs from breakfast and brunch to late-night supper, so there are several menus. French brasserie classics – onion soup, escargots and fruits de mer – all feature, mingled with Italian-American favourites and a few McNally inventions (the Balthazar salad and duck shepherd’s pie being particularly notable).

Balthazar foodChicken liver and foie gras mousse and rhubarb crumble soufflé
Balthazar / David Loftus

I choose the onion soup to start: a Gruyère cheese lid grilled over a substantial bowl of thick country bread, immersed in sweet, soft onions and a rich chicken stock. You’ll want extra bread for dipping: the sourdough baguette and dark ale pain de seigle are too good to leave in the enticing bread basket. A main of lobster and truffle risotto is undoubtedly the star of the show: perfectly cooked and delightfully indulgent. My dining partner’s roasted fillet of cod with crushed potatoes, piquant olive tapenade and pistachios is also devoured without complaint. And there have been complaints: many critics feel the food at Balthazar does not live up to the overall experience. We are not exposed to such disappointment.


Afternoon tea is the most recent addition to the menu (choose from Traditional, Champagne or a simple Cream Tea) and it’s sure to be popular. If you’re in a rush (or can’t get a table), the Balthazar Boulangerie is housed next door and serves artisan breads, homemade pastries, salads and sandwiches to take away throughout the day.

balthazar boulangeriePop next door to the boulangerie
Balthazar / David Loftus

So despite high expectations, Balthazar lives up to the hype, the gossip and the breathless anticipation – and if you can get a table, you’re in for a treat. If you can’t, you can always head to the boulangerie next door and create your very own perfect bread basket.

4-6 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ
Tel: 0203 301 1155.
Price: A meal for two, including wine, water and service costs about £120.

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