Balham: not quite Clapham, not quite Tooting. But a small suburban neighbourhood with a Michelin star a short walk out of the centre, a dependable pizzeria, a reliable and fun Indian restaurant, and somewhere to find serviceable pasta. Here are the eight best places to eat in Balham.Read More
The Best Places to Eat in Balham
Blistered sourdough pizza, steaming, garlicky mussels, breakfast burritos — and more
By far the most critically acclaimed restaurant on the list, Chez Bruce has long been serving some of the best food London has ever coughed up. The restaurant opened in 1995 and is overseen by director Bruce Poole, who has since earned the place a Michelin star. The last person to do so in the area was the man who now sells stock cubes. Chez Bruce is technically Wandsworth, but it is a mere ten minute walk from Balham. On the other side of a patch of grass lamb sweetbreads may be waiting. They might come with aubergine puree and the earthiest of girolles. Expect the likes of succulent roast cod, and braised duck in the richest of sauces. A classic, brilliant restaurant. Please leave room for the cheeseboard.
Arlo’s is known for its atmosphere and inclusive pricing; it’s a huge hit with Balham locals and has absolutely nailed the concept of a family restaurant. On a big night, the place is buzzing, bavette steaks flying out of the kitchen. Order one to share (starting at £29 for two — a generous 500g — and running up to £110 for 2kg, which feeds a big family), and slap on a sauce for a quid. Choose from chimichurri, bearnaise, or peppercorn. And by no means miss the “trenchers” — seasoned sourdough chunks served under the steak and deployed as soft little bread vehicles with which to mop up juices.
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A cobblestoned amble from Balham station, Milk is easy to spot: a throng of al fresco diners and eager queuers snakes down Hildreth Street market. Coffee is from Berlin roasters The Barn, made well and quickly, with an enviable collection of loose-leaf teas. Order of the day though, is brunch. Look out for mainstays that change constantly: pancakes might feature alphonso mango, black lime and Amalfi lemon posset; soft serve might be meadowsweet or black cardamom. This innovation, paired with matchless sourcing, is worn with a light shrug rather than a heavy mither and difficulty never supersedes deliciousness; even more importantly, the irreverence never feels inhospitable.
Balham’s best breakfast. Marvellously close to the train station, the coffee is exceptional, and so is the food. The “marcus breakfast” — while not cheap and a little curiously priced at £10.80 — is a solid bit of work. Soft bacon leads to crispy fat, sausages are plump, and the egg yolks are always the happier shade of yellow. Never mind the fact the beans are served in a pot. The star of the show is “bob’s your uncle”, a glorious combination of pork belly, fried egg, cucumber, spring onion, sriracha, and tomato relish, all bouncing around a pita bread.
There is little that can be said about Franco Manca that hasn’t been said before. Balham has one, and it’s as reliable as any other; the brand has defied the common cruelties of expansion. In Balham, the clientele is just as likely to be parents and kids tearing into sourdough as it is young professionals. It still has a treat factor, actually — affordable and creamy mozzarella, cured chorizo and chilli oil goes down well with the after school crowd. It might not be London’s best, but good pizza is needed everywhere.
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Thali & Pickles
Thali and Pickles is a fun restaurant with an extensive menu that isn’t exhaustive. Lamb dhansak gives a rounded heat, unsurprising in its moderate succulence; the rice is fluffy, as are the naans; papadi chaat brings crunchy wheat and soft potato covered in sweetness, sourness, and cool yoghurt. Decent puri too — crispy, hollow balls which welcome chickpeas, tamarind water and coriander. Chicken tikka is excellent, and really everything is very fine: certainly worth a trip.
Firefly Bar and Thai Kitchen
Firefly doesn’t stick with the Thai food (sadly) familiar to London suburbs. Alongside the great-with-beer satay chicken, tempura prawns, spring rolls and dumplings are the likes of gaeng ped: duck with aubergine and pineapple; and neau makham: a sour beef dish with spring onions, garlic, and tamarind juice. It is genuinely busy almost every day, which is rare for a regular old haunt in the suburbs. The service is always amicable and the beer is varied and excellent. Firefly shows sport and gets lively on the weekends.
Here, one of those old-style Italian restaurants that have been mentioned many times before. The fact Bucci is still about says all that needs to be said: people will always want an uncompromising carbonara for £8. Precede the silken noodles with bruschetta, a seafood salad or prosciutto and melon — indeed, the latter dish can still be found in the most fashionable of central London restaurants — and the bill is still barely breaking £30. Mussels come steaming in garlicky bowls of chilli and wine; service could be amusing; it’s a wine list where treading carefully is rewarded, and necessary. Stubborn quality.