Eran Tibi is rapidly becoming an icon on London’s dining scene. From his time at Made In Camden and JW3, Bala Baya is the latest in Tibi’s culinary venture, offering Tel Aviv style and substance to Southwark’s hungry audiences.
An inexplicable mix of desire, tease, expectation and surprise, Bala Baya’s menu is a flirt on a plate.
The plates themselves are bursting with temptation, leaving new diners questioning whether they’ll opt for the new or the safe. For us, always the new. As recommendation came flooding through, we opted for their Crispy, Stick, Crunchy (chicken with bitter orange, harissa, butternut squash and kimchi), Calamari & Jam (crispy calamari with saffron and butternut jam, served with lime aioli), Fish Tartar (red snapper with green vinaigrette), Scottish Shawarma (salt baked salmon with an aubergine braise) and their apparently famous aubergine tea with milk. Each dish is bursting with energy and excitement. Not only is this new (to me at least), it’s celebratory of its and Tibi’s Middle Eastern heritage.
Heritage is at the core of this new kid on the block. In fact, Eran had his father create and send over an authentic Middle Eastern pitta break oven to ensure that what they serve is authentic as it could be. In all honesty, I have never particularly been excited by a pitta bread, but how things change. Still warm from the ovens, lavishly fluffy and far from stodgy, an order without a pitta is a experience missed indeed.
The design is slick and current and far from trying too hard. Exposed brick walls offer that much needed edge, but it’s not pretentious. Exposed brick is matched with modern and clean white surfaces and open lighting. The restaurant had a gradiented system with its ambient playlist, beginning the evening with a chill “luxe Mediterranean holiday” vibe and and slowly blurring into a electronic/house heavy party vibe by 9:30pm. It’s clever, consumer orientated and composed for every type of diner, from the romantic twosome to the pre-night out tribes.
Bala Baya’s menu is certainly an experience for the typical vanilla London diner, offering so much new. For myself, this would be the first time that I’ve eaten Israeli cuisine. For those not wanting to go full-out, the restaurant offer a slick ‘all-day dining’ menu with two plates (or one plate and one dessert) at £20 served with that soon-to-be iconic pitta, salad and gazoz drink between 12-6pm.
The staff here are on another level. Our waitress – Catarina – is a jewel to the Tel Aviv pastiche, offering refined presence without the overwhelming try-hard nature that many waiting staff offer in high end venues. Knowledgable, slick and willing to join you for a post dessert shot or two, the restaurant’s staff are as willing as you want them to be, adding multi-faceted enjoyment to your evening.
For dessert – because there’s always time for dessert – we tried out their Burnt Babka (smeared chocolate & hazelnut spread with stewed plums, caramelised pecans, whisked anglaise) and the tahini, banana, tonka and pistachio cheesecake (served with biscuits, caramel, mascarpone and praline).
The Babka, in lament terms, is practically a more exciting, more decadent and infinitely delicious Israeli bread and butter pudding. The pecans in particular added a whole level of depth to the dish, declaring itself as the classy option, but still oozing in sweet and stickiness. The latter dessert – the cheesecake – can only be described as a culinary dream with layers of not only taste, but culinary integrity.