Israeli food has had a massive boost in the capital of late, spurred on by restaurants like The Palomar and Berber & Q, and now Bala Baya. Situated in the buzzy railway arches of Southwark and opened by chef Eran Tibi, the restaurant is an homage to the convivial and communal dining that has made Tel Aviv such a welcoming destination to the international traveller. Bully for us, then, that we don’t necessarily need to purchase a trans-Mediterranean ticket to experience the food.
The dining room is spread over two floors with a very good-looking burnished steel bar, an open-plan kitchen and a mezzanine dining area upstairs that lets you in on the action. Modern accents play against the bare brick concave arches. There’s a clean white and rose pink colour scheme as well as a very striking stainless steel chandelier. Throughout it all, there’s a clubby atmosphere with a soundtrack of low-key house and techno. The lights are brought down low early in the evening. Not long after we arrived, it was packed.
We kicked off our meal with a pair of Gazozini. Crafted from a traditional Israeli soda water flavoured with ginger, it was then topped off with prosecco for an incredibly fresh aperitif. We opted for the tasting menu to get the full range of the Bala Baya experience. Cauliflower crumble with syrup and yoghurt was fizzing with flavour and earned top status as one of our favourites of the evening. Cured and spiced salmon was served with rhubarb, preserved lemon and dill jellies. It was a tour de force of freshness. Blackened aubergine with summer herbs, lychee and tahini was a similarly light and fluffy dish.
However, heavier options were equally charming. Chickpea bedded down with tender braised oxtail, tahini, warm hummus and an airy pitta was a stunner – the somewhat unorthodox flavour combination hit it out of the park. Braised beef shoulder on the bone with whipped tahini, pulped tomato, crisped shallots and strained herbs was even more deeply rich than its predecessor. We wrapped things up with a twosome of toothsome desserts: burnt babka with a sesame and pistachio spread, stewed plums and whisked anglaise as well as ‘The Filthy’, a heady melange of mascarpone, tahini, tonka cream, milk caramel, sesame crumble and banana compote.
Throughout the meal, the menu was so colourful, the dishes so flavoursome and punchy that is was tricky not to get excited about what dish was coming next. Southwark hasn’t been on our radar as much of a foodie destination, but with restaurants like Bala Baya popping up, it’s well on its way.
To view their website, please click here.