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Bala Baya

Restaurants, Middle Eastern Southwark
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(22user reviews)
1/4
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A clubby Tel Aviv-style restaurant in Southwark, from an ex-Ottolenghi chef.

There’s disastrous potential in trying to create a restaurant that feels like a nightclub. Done right, it could be upbeat, exciting and vibrant. But done wrong, it could mean pounding noise, lots of shouting and the vague sense that someone who’s tripping balls on weapons-grade MDMA is about to fall face first into your baba ganoush.

So full credit to Bala Baya: a Tel Aviv-style restaurant set in a Southwark railway arch with something of a clubby vibe. The volume’s pitched loud enough that the constant mix of piano house and minimal techno is buzzy, but not so loud that conversation is difficult. It’s lively, energetic and chic: the kind of place you’d go for dinner with mates when you’re a bit tiddly. It also feels genuinely cool – and this is despite every man in the restaurant being a 40-something in an immaculately pressed shirt and suit trousers.

The food also manages to turn your expectations on their head. Little Middle Eastern-inspired sharing dishes include ingredients that sound like they’ve been picked blindfolded, but they’ve been turned into cooking that’s clever and delicious. Crispy, Sticky, Crunchy turned out to be phenomenal: crusted Korean fried chicken topped with houmous, nuts and kimchi (I did warn you about the ingredients). Spring Salmon was like gravadlax on crack – a beautifully balanced plate combining oily fish with beetroot crisps, rhubarb and little jellies of dill and lemon sour enough to make your eyes water. Chickpea and Ox was an insanely creamy houmous, topped by melty oxtail and a layer of sweet tomatoes, then served with incredibly smoky, puffy pitta. Every dish was surprising and delicious.

Downsides: the kitchen forgot a couple of our dishes, but the free cocktail shooters more than made up for it while we waited. And the sweet, nutty crumb atop the tea-smoked, yoghurt-injected aubergine in a dish of ‘aubergine tea’ made it a bit desserty for my liking. But that, basically, is it. The food is astonishing, the atmosphere is great and it’s a brilliant place to go with friends. It’s a party, with food. Get down, and get down.

Details

Address: Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches
229 Union St
London
SE1 0LR
Transport: Tube: Southwark
Price: Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £115.
Contact:
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Users say (22)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:14
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:1
LiveReviews|22
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tastemaker

I never knew Iranian food was so good! This restaurant, in Southwark, down a pedestrian street lined with restaurants, is set over 2 floors. We were a bit squashed at our table upstairs (we had booked) but their food is delicious. A table of four of us came on a Friday evening and ordered multiple dishes and shared everything, which is the best want to enjoy everything. Stand-out dishes were the fish and fennel- a whole roasted sea-bass (really juicy); squid; chickpeas and of course, aubergine. All were good portions and full of flavour. I’m not a dessert fan but I really, really enjoyed the Burnt Babka (chocolate, nuts and anglaise with plums), and the Filthy (Mascarpone, tahini, tonka cream, milk caramel, sesame crumble & banana compote). Neither were overly sweet.

The cocktails were unnecessarily strong though and tasted like rocket-fuel!

Service was friendly and efficient, albeit a bit too hyper.

The 4 of us paid £60 per head including drinks and service, which isn’t bad for such good quality. If the dinner is anything to go by, I’m really looking forward to having their weekend brunch which is very popular and seems like good value.


 Really disappointing- bad service and the dishes we had were really average. The salad was really chunky unlike what it's supposed to be and humous was tiny. We asked for more bread and it took them ages. Never again...

tastemaker

When I heard about this new Tel-Aviv inspired restaurant opening in my neighbourhood I couldn’t wait to get my taste buds down there and try out the delicious dishes they have to offer. Having been to Tel- Aviv a couple of times indulging in the local cuisine I am delighted to say that this restaurant did not disappoint. The brains behind the menu is the talented Chef Eran Tibi, who was inspired by his love of Tel-Aviv and its unique eating habits.


The restaurant’s décor is modern and edgy with white walls, low lights, bare bricks and a splash of colour from the Mediterranean style tiles. During the evening the restaurant was buzzing with diners and with the mezzanine floor it almost feels like you could be at a rooftop bar in Tel-Aviv.


The food – my Mum was visiting from my home town of Liverpool and I was eager to impress! We went for the £46pp tasting menu which was worth every penny. The menu consisted of cauliflower crumble (in my opinion, cauliflower at its best), spring salmon (a fresh tasting dish with flavours of rhubarb), chickpea and ox (warm rich hummus with slow cooked ox tail), beef and onion (Braised beef shoulder on the bone, whipped tahini, pulped tomato and crisped onions). For the grande finale, we had burnt babka – smeared chocolate and hazelnut spread, stewed plums, caramelised pecans and whisked anglaise.


Overall impression– one of the best places to go in London for food from the Middle East and a restaurant that can transport you to the buzzing city of Tel-Aviv. Fabulous!!


Thank you Bala Baya - amazing evening. It felt like being back in Tel Aviv, delicious food and just a very relaxed, casual vibe. Love the music and what's you've done with the space

tastemaker

Bala Baya - not only very fun to say, also serves up a great lunch. It's a great location in old railway arches in Southwark, and the restaurant is light and airy.


I visited at lunch time and went for their 'grab and go' pitta lunch. I went for the chicken on brown pitta and it was brilliant. The chicken was amazing, it was crunchy and tangy, with lots and lots of sauce (very messy.. don't try to eat and walk like I did). The vegetables were a little overdone for my tastes as I could've had some crispness but it didn't really retract from an otherwise fantastic lunch. 


It is on the pricey side. The lunch portions are substantial but £7 for a pitta is pushing it.. it was extra for a side salad which would've come to £10 for essentially (very good) street food. For £7 it was worth it, but I wouldn't pay anymore.

tastemaker

Bala Baya is a bright and airy restaurant hidden in the arches in Southwark. I hadn't heard anything about it before booking a table, so was dubious as to what we would find.

The food is all Levant inspired and I have to say I enjoyed most of the food. It's based on a tapas style sharing menu. We ordered 6 dishes between 2 and a dessert and we were pleasantly full. The dishes are quite small and priced at £9 to £12 per dish, which I'd say is quite pricey for the portion size.

My favourite dish was the crunchy chicken. It was sweet, tangy and crunchy and I'd go back just for that one dish! They serve a variety of cocktails and can also make the classics. The cocktails are priced as the dishes.


Love Bala Baya! Fave restaurant at the moment.. just read a review in Olive Magazine today which got it spot on... the food is delicious, the drinks are amazing but more than anything it is just to much FUN!


xx 


Just got back from dinner here.. wow... so full.. so tasty... can't wait to go back


I never write reviews but reading a couple of the comments below means that I feel as if I HAVE to...


I have now eaten at Bala Baya four times, both for dinner and brunch. It is AMAZING! The food is so tasty, every dish has such a unique flavour, the cocktails are so unique, the staff are so lovely and friendly. The atmosphere is always buzzing (although I was once there early on a Saturday morning and it was a little quiet, but they had only just opened... I don't think any restaurant can buzz 24/7!)


I can't believe anyone would even say anything but incredible things about this place. I would love to actually meet the reviewer below who says the food is taste-less... WHAT?? ARE YOU CRAZY?? IT'S AMAZING!!!!


I love this place so much... I have never felt this way about a restaurant. Just booked to have my birthday there next week... Nicholas R - you're not invited  :-)  

tastemaker

I expected a lot more from this place. The staff were more than welcoming and lovely, and the cocktails were delish. The food on the other hand was mediocre. It was presented well and was tasty too but I was told from many reviews that it was exceptional. We went on a weekend - there was no-one else in the resturant except us. It turns out they only serve from their brunch menu on weekends. There wasn't much savoury choice on the menu but they were kind enough to make us a few items from here All Day Dining menu.

tastemaker

I really enjoyed the atmosphere and food. We went for the £35 fixed menu option which allows you to taste many different dishes.


Have unfortunately told all my mates not to go.


Overpriced for minuscule portions, a fair amount of the food is tasteless. Drinks were nice and staff lovely.


I love discovering hidden gems and Bala Baya ticks all the boxes for me. It's situated down an unassuming yet very quirky side road (Union street) which is lined with non-chain restaurants and cafes. The decor of the place is creative and unique even to the smallest detail; I loved the plants framing the top seating area, the intricately detailed glass plates as well as the balcony and elaborate lighting fixtures. It's a buzzing atmosphere due to the open kitchen set up (love to watch chefs at work) but also due to the historic arch of the building and trains occasionally running by at a low rumble, it all makes for a novel and charming dining experience. The food menu provides a selection of delicious starters and more filling main dishes which are very conducive to sharing; we had the salmon and aubergine mains which were fantastic and nothing like anything else I've had in London. I believe that during the day the venue runs as a pitta-themed lunch service, only transitioning to a restaurant at night, making it all the more quirky. With reasonable prices, delicious cocktails and it being nice escape from all the standard London dining haunts I hope to visit again soon.



Tastemaker

The restaurant is wonderfully decorated and vibrant. We were looking for a place with a choice of vegetarian recipes and this was perfect, with unusual & creative dishes.


One thing I didn't expect to be so amazing were the desserts - burnt babka is just beyond anything I've tried before, and I'm a massive sweet tooth :)


Tel Aviv style tapas at their best.


Such creativity and love in everything. Amazing! Also, best looking waiters I've ever seen! 


Wow. I don't know what to say. I have never been to Tel Aviv, but if it's anything like Bala Baya I'm going to book tomorrow.


So much life and energy in that restaurant tonight, and it's a Monday.


The food is so creative, some dishes are maybe a little too adventurous for me, but I ordered what I thought I would like and it was INCREDIBLE.


Love the decor and thank you to Tomer for the free shots and service


I'll be back! 


I went tonight for dinner and I have to say that it was one of the best meals I've had for a long long time in london.

The Lamb was sensational, their hommous and oxtail was like nothing I've ever tasted before and the Burnt Babka desert was heaven.

And don't get me started on the cocktails ... and this on a Monday night!!!

Go go go ... it's stunning!


One of the best meals I have ever had. The food is just amazing, the atmosphere is buzzing and the service is so personal.


The staff obviously love working here and it shows. Everyone has so much life and energy!


FIsh and Fennel was the best dish I think I have ever eaten in my life.... so much flavour. I literally had no idea fish could be so tasty


Excellent place, buzzy, inventive and different. The service was personal and attentive without being overbearing, the food is on the right side of creative but really heart warming and filling, the desserts are the best. The design is superb and cocktails are delicious. Try the sour cocktail with the green tea aubergine and you in heaven! A must visit in London, I cannot wait to go back!


The atmosphere is lovely and the food tastes great. But it is FAR too expensive for what you get, so I won't be returning or recommending. 

Tastemaker

Came here during their soft launch, and really enjoyed it. While I had a discount I feel the dishes were good for their size. Don't go too hungry as the dishes were slightly small, but great for sharing. We shared about 6 small/medium dishes between the three of us. I would highly recommend the hummus with oxtail - it was by far the best thing I ate there, we even ordered it again to share as it was so good - make sure you ask for extra pitta with it too. 

The lamb was also very nice, however I was slightly disappointed by the salmon, as it was a bit bland and slightly over cooked in places. 


It was their soft launch, so its all very new and was busy, but the only thing I would advise is to let their waiters chill out a little bit - they would fill everyone's glass with water only about a third full, and continue to come and pour more water in almost every time you took a sip, and were very hasty to take plates away which can get tiring, especially when you are still eating from them! Really nice place, and I hope they do well! 

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