Balham Arms

Bars and pubs, Gastropubs Balham
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Balham Arms

A new pub with food, in the location that was formerly The Clarence.

Formerly called The Clarence, this pub on a busy main road was taken over by the Metropolitan Pub Company (of the Belle Vue and Alexandra in Clapham) in summer 2014. Its modern, shop parade interior has been decorated with vinyl album cover art and candles. The beer list too has been modernised, with both cask ales (Sambrook's, Greene King) and craft ales (London Fields) on tap.

What has not changed is that it’s a noisy pub: with the music cranked up on our evening visit, customers had to shout above the noise. This seems at odds with a kitchen that’s got gastropub ambitions. The small plates menu was perhaps a little too small, with £6.50 charged for two baby aubergines nicely grilled, the plate decorated with labneh and bright swirls of pomegranate.  Mutton was served with a salsa verde that could have used more caper bite, and the meat was remarkably pink and rare; this may have been a rare case of lamb dressed as mutton. Duck egg with girolles and salsify didn’t include the fermented garlic promised on the menu. Service, though friendly, was amateurish and slow. 

It should be noted that our visit was in the opening fortnight, and it seems likely glitches like this will be smoothed out as both kitchen and service become more practised.

By Guy Dimond 








Venue name: Balham Arms
Address: 90-92 Balham High Rd
SW12 9AG
Opening hours: Noon-midnight Mon-Thur; noon-2am Fri; 11-2am Sat; 11am-midnight Sun
Transport: Tube: Balham tube/rail
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service: around £50
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Nestled halfway down Balham High Road among middle-class stalwarts Waitrose & Oliver Bonas and a dozen estate agents vying for your cold hard cash, sits the Balham Arms. Billing itself as a modern, friendly local specialising in pints, pizzas, wine on tap and a buzzy atmosphere, it’s a good place to head to on a sunny Sunday afternoon for decent plate of food and a catch-up with friends.

A large split level dining room with an outdoor garden offers tables with chairs, sofas & stools while a sun-lit pool table at the back gives you the chance to relive the sporting glory of your university days. The bar itself is quite small so you may find yourself queuing for a while on busier days but in general, the staff are friendly and quick at getting you served. FYI, the Amaretto Sours are pretty damn good and if you start a tab, your drinks will be brought to your table as well as your food.

The menu has a good selection of small plates priced between £4 and £9; the Baked Aubergine and Ham & Cheese Croquetas were generously portioned and full of delicious flavour while of the mains (£10-£16), the pizza was fresh, light & crispy and the Buttermilk Chicken Salad was fresh, crunchy and plentifully drizzled with creamy Caesar dressing & Parmesan curls. Definitely worth leaving an inch or two of room for is dessert; the almost molten-in-the-middle brownie was one of the best I’ve had in a-while and the sundae – often avoided because hey, it’s not 1983 anymore – was actually gorgeous and packed full of honeycomb, mallow & luscious ice-cream. 

There are plenty of deals on offer if you need a cheap night out; 2 burgers or pizzas plus 2 cans for £20 on Tuesdays and BYOB for £5 on Wednesday and if you fancy yourself as a pizza prodigy, each month there’s the chance to create your own and enter it in the pub’s regular competition and if you win, see it sold on the menu.

It’s worth noting that they show sports on their TV’s so it got pretty loud and noisy when we were there but I think you’d struggle to find a pub that didn’t show a Man Utd game on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend. When we visited, there were also at least ¾ of the tables reserved so check ahead of time if it’s a chilled & peaceful pub lunch you’re after.  

As pubs go, if it’s a quiet pint and a plate of artisan food you’re after, there are probably other places better suited to you. If however, you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, somewhere to watch sports or a spot in which you can grab a decent value dinner and play one of the board games stacked up in the corner, you might have just found a new local.