I was trying to remember when I last went to Balham. And more importantly, why?
For those of you who are not familiar with South London, Balham holds the centre ground between the Chelsea of the south that is Clapham, and multi-cultural, rough-around-the-edges Tooting. As the gentrification of Clapham took hold, Balham became an affordable alternative for those who thought Brixton was too edgy, and Streatham too…well, Streatham. It helps that is on the Northern line, and therefore commutable to the City and West end. It also has a decent high street, and relatively affordable housing. But again it brings my back to the question: Why would I be there?
One reason is Harrison’s – a local establishment that was started in 2007 by Sam Harrison, and is co-owned by no less a restaurant luminary than Rick Stein.
It’s a good-looking place, with a neutral colour scheme, turquoise bar stools and dining chairs, and rich orange, deep buttoned banquette seating in the front window area. Harrison’s nod to sustainable hipness comes courtesy of the reclaimed factory pendants with bare light bulbs hanging above the bar.
Downstairs at Harrison’s is a new candlelit cocktail bar with intimate booth seating and a specially designed bar running the full length of one wall. The design is heavily influenced by Sam’s favourite New York bars, and while that might sound like PR overload, it is a very cool looking bar that would not look out of place in Shoreditch. Apparently you can either have table or sit at the bar, as part of the no-standing policy. A fine idea, but it will be interesting to see if it works. Nevertheless, my friend and I started the night with a cheeky cocktail or two downstairs of which the Smoked Manhattan particularly hit the spot.
We shared the salt and pepper squid, and lamb’s belly fritters with pumpkin puree and salsa verde to start. The squid was plentiful, mostly crisp, and nicely seasoned. The fritters were superb – moist and tender and full of spring flavours, complemented by the warmth of the puree and zest of the verde. For our mains we took the waiter’s recommendation of the 8 oz flat iron steak served medium-rare, to which we added fries and curly kale. The steaks were served more on the rare side, and unfortunately proved a tough cut to digest, even for this over-sized carnivore. Whether it was the cut of meat, the way it was cooked, or a combination of both, it didn’t quite work. Harrison’s version of the chocolate fondant pudding was much more successful. The bitter chocolate cake with a rich chocolate sauce was delicious, as were the butterscotch martinis we had to round off the evening.
Harrison’s proved a mixed bag on a wet and cold Wednesday night, but the warmth of service and French brasserie atmosphere helped tip the overall experience into the positive. It brings a nice touch of central London to an up-and-coming suburb, and brings as good a reason as any to go to Balham.