Having read great things about the re-emergence of Covent Garden as a foodie-capital I decided to take a trip to Balthazar, the new French brasserie-style eatery on Russell Street, alongside the newly refurbished Tuttons restaurant. According to the London Evening Standard Balthazar is a celebrity haunt; the New York original is a favourite with A-listers including the Beckhams and Robert de Niro. And from the moment you step inside you get a feeling that this place is rather special. The interior is very impressive. High ceilings, columns, dark wood and red leather furniture, huge antiqued mirrors set at angles, aged mosaic tiled floors and plenty of warm lighting. The designers have created an instant classic – apparently a copy of the successful New York version - and with an entourage of busy looking uniformed waiting staff there's an excitement about Balthazar, no mistake.
Tables are on the small side for couples and those on the outer edges and at the back of the restaurant are lined up in rows facing the leather banquets and with little space between them. Here, an intimate liaison is out of the question although that would be missing the point. Balthazar is all about the 'buzz'. It's a place to see and be seen. It's fun. But fun doesn't necessarily equate to good and sadly, from the evidence of my visit, this fun and expensive restaurant isn't actually very good at all. What lets it down, badly, is the service. Those busy waiters who appeared to be checking on every table attentively actually did very little. They were more decorative than useful, as if a group of good looking extras had been hired simply to fill the space and provide atmosphere. And it wasn't just me. Several diners within earshot were grumbling about the service, or lack of it, too. Perhaps it was an off day, we all have them, and my observations are based on just one experience. I'm tempted to veto this restaurant for evermore but the atmosphere and the food was good, so good in fact that I think I'll give it one more go.
Balthazar, 4-6 Russell Street, Covent Garden, London WC2. Tel: +44 (0)20 3301 1155
Look out for the latest issue of GS Magazine, containing several 'Launchpad' features like this one, including a review of Balthazar's neighbour, Tuttons.