The best restaurants in Balham
‘Steak is what we do’, says the blurb, but don’t come here expecting the dark, sultry glitz of a US steakhouse. Arlo’s is a bright, clean-lined child-friendly spot where the owners seek out the more obscure grass-fed native British breeds and offer three cuts (bavette, hanger, rib-eye) with various sides – although we’d pick a zingy salad over their washout hand-cut chips and sourdough ‘trenchers’.
Balham’s poshest gastropub is a summertime hole-up par excellence, with no fewer than three outdoor spaces to explore: a chilled courtyard area, a buzzy terrace and a fully laid-out garden. Inside, the bar is a good-time spot for drinkers, while the elegant dining room caters to those who prefer chorizo scotch eggs, stone-baked pizzas, dry-aged steaks, plant-based ‘B12’ burgers and sweet banoffee pie.
Famous as an iconic music venue and comedy club, this sprawling Balham boozer is now making some noise as a foodie destination following its re-launch. Head to the handsome dining room at the back for a savvy menu of crowd-pleasers (fish and chips, burgers, steaks) mixed in with the kind of dishes that’ll make you feel trendy (pumpkin ravioli, Moving Mountains vegan burgers, flatbreads with labneh etc). They do proper Sunday roasts too.
Put together on a shoestring by three multi-talented, twentysomething school friends, Brother Marcus sells itself as an all-purpose neighbourhood hangout. By day, it offers breakfast and brunch, small plates and Caravan coffee; in the evenings, it’s all about cocktails and warm focaccia buns; and at the weekends (evenings only), the kitchen is handed over to one of the owners’ street-food or supper-club buddies.
The best of both worlds? Killing two birds with one stone? This chicken/burger hybrid may be a hangout with a split personality, but the wood-boarded site is in good shape and the food is just right. The menu couldn’t be simpler: wood-fired, spit-roasted chook and flame-grilled ‘dirty’ burgers, plus crinkle-cut fries, tangy slaw and puds including warm, chewy macadamia-studded brownies.
Neighbourhood trattorias often sell themselves as cheap and cheerful, but few do it as well as family-owned Ciullõsteria. Classic terracotta floor tiles and kitsch artefacts set the tone, while the kitchen scores with its handmade pastas, grills and thin-crust 12-inch pizzas with regional toppings. It’s noisy, bubbly, gregarious and built for parties – so don’t come here hoping for some hush.
A stone's throw from Balham station, this self-styled ‘modern British pub’ has all the hipster trappings you could wish for: craft beers, small-batch gins, artisan wines and a street-side terrace for people-watching. It also serves up a vegan-friendly all-day menu of seasonal small plates (obvs) and gastropub classics – think pig’s cheeks with peas and ‘nduja followed by a ‘nourishment bowl’ or beer-battered haddock. Saturday brunch and Sunday roasts complete the package.
Sibling of the Putney original, this cycle-themed, bike-friendly café is about all-day brunch: The Full Dynamo is an all-the-cool-stuff plate of Antipodean sunshine food – corn fritters, bacon, halloumi, avocado and sriracha aioli – although the real killer (at a price) is the banana french toast. Also look out for pizzas (from noon onwards). You can hang your wheels here, but don’t expect anyone to fix your puncture or broken bike chain.
Having run pop-ups across town, the Balham branch of Foxcroft & Ginger sees the owners back on their home turf, although their bakery is now in Brixton. This cute but cramped café does the trick with its suntrap front terrace and a brunch menu that sticks to the simple stuff. Full marks for the sweet potato fritters and no-fuss banana bread.
From Wednesday to Saturday, Balham Kitchen’s black tent is a familiar sight outside Balham tube station – and a godsend for famished commuters who regularly queue up for its hearty bacon and egg chapattis. Now the owners have opened Full Fat – a modest bricks-and-mortar café and snack spot serving a slightly enlarged menu on Chestnut Grove. With its extended opening hours and cups of spiced chai, this is a big bonus for chappati-craving Balhamites.
It may be billed as a ‘Diner’, but this popular Nepalese spot is more serious than that. Smiling staff and folksy native music create just the right mood for some excellent-value authentic food: from momo cha (juicy steamed dumplings served with sweet-and-sour achaar sauce) to curries of richly spiced pokhoreli lamb or prawn asworya (‘favoured by young princes for their romantic nights out’, apparently).
A bastion of zesty British food, Lamberts puts its menu where its mouth is. Main man Joe Lambert is uncompromising when it comes to sourcing seasonal ingredients, and you can taste the results in the swish dining room with its squishy banquettes and polished floors. Dishes change with the calendar (think cured duck with hazelnuts and damson syrup in January) and there’s British booze too.
South-west London is well-served by Megan’s, and the Balham branch has all the necessary neighbourhood credentials. During the day, its twee interiors (paper flowers entwined over the ceiling, fairy lights in the windows) are manna for local yummy mummies wanting brunch, coffee and cake, or simply a salad and some healthy juice. In the evening, thoughts turn to deconstructed kebabs and naughty cocktails.
Never one to rest on its laurels, this hip café is still the place to be seen for breakfast or brunch in Balham. Staff are full of smiles as they serve up tongue-in-cheek fillet o’ fish sandwiches, Kurdish baked eggs and suchlike. Terrific coffees and a playlist of the owners’ favourite records add to the feel-good vibe, and it’s also open for supper from Thursday to Saturday.
The first south London branch of a long-standing Japanese mini chain, Balham’s Taro follows the group’s remit to the letter – serving a whole range of ‘everyday’ dishes at affordable prices, with page after page of sushi, sashimi, karaage, tempura, gyoza, rice bowls, teriyaki, katsu curries and more besides. Expect bright lights and bustle, big crowds, basic blond-wood furnishings and a long bar.
This Balham restaurant and takeaway has a fresh and largely ghee-free take on Indian street food, specialising in grand thalis – complete meals on a platter with lots of little dishes, plus breads, chutneys and desserts. There are street nibbles too (including kati rolls at lunchtime), plus a few more familiar curry-house standbys (tikkas, biryanis, dhansaks etc) if you don’t fancy the full thali.
What was the humble Paddyfield (a Vietnamese/Thai café) is now a swish modern Japanese restaurant serving an izakaya-style menu against a backdrop of glossy woodwork, stone walls and designer light fittings. Misfires aside, there’s some decent stuff here – notably the punchy Korean-spiced lamb chops, deep-fried black-pepper squid and an impressive riff on Nobu’s yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño. Obliging staff also get our vote.
A dinky fast-food diner, Wicked Vegan deals in the best kind of plant-based cooking: the naughty kind. It’s all here: burgers, wings, mac ’n’ cheese and nachos. While some dishes are fine but forgettable, others are very decent – especially the signature jackfruit burger with a whole heap of pickles. We also really rate their health-boosting smoothies and indulgent shakes.
If you fancy fish and chips in Balham but want something a bit trendier than your average local chippie, then Seventeen should do the trick. White tiled walls, grainy wooden tables and benches, plank floors and dangling lights scream hipster, while the menu keeps it traditional with battered cod, haddock, plaice, fishcakes, saveloys, Pieminister pies and the usual vinegary add-ons.
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