Covent Garden is a unique place. To most it's a tourist or shopping destination and as such most of the pubs and bars will be visited just once. But to locals - those who live or work in the area - Covent Garden is something different. It has a strong community spirit and as with all communities there are certain venues that are more popular than others. Invariably, this has little to do with exciting interior design - modern design tends to be the hook that draws new guests to a place but it won't keep them going back. What really makes a place popular is the atmosphere, recreated every day, initially by good management and convivial staff and then sustained by its guests. Locals play a significant role in this process - regular guests are as important to atmosphere in a bar as good permanent staff.
The new Balans Soho Society Café at Seven Dials hasn't been there long enough to have locals, it opened just a few weeks ago, but it does have the most fantastic atmosphere and a great pedigree - this is the sixth restaurant within the group. The original, known simply as Balans, opened in the 1980's in Soho's Old Compton Street and, at a time when London's underground gay scene was beginning to flourish it became a popular haven, welcoming patrons from all walks of life and staying open through the night, ready to serve hearty breakfasts to early morning workers and to those who were re-surfacing from the area's most hedonistic night clubs and bars. The re-brand of Balans, created by marketing agency Big Fish, has taken its Soho roots and developed a slightly bohemian, naughty and decadent identity.
Even when it's not full there's a special atmosphere in this new venue; it's warm and friendly and once you're in you won't want to leave. It's an all day venue, open for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinners and late night cocktails and the quality of food is consistently high. The café-style menu has been overseen by Executive Chef Crispin Chetwynd, the super star's chef, who has spent time touring the globe with the likes of Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd. The interior, credited to fashion set designer, Simon Costin, has added subtle hints of theatre to the place. The light filled open space retains an original nicely worn geometric tiled floor, the colours of which have been matched in the leather banquet seats, the ceiling, the lights and even in some of the painted bentwood furniture. The overall effect is that of an established, rough at the edges but much-loved local café.
Top marks in every respect to Balans Soho Society Café - Seven Dials. The service, the design and the menu work well together to provide a venue that is brimming with character and personality and welcoming to all. It is the kind of place you'll want to return to when you're in the area and when you do you'll no doubt start to recognise a few familiar faces, locals from the Covent Garden community who have made it their own.
Balans Soho Society Café Seven Dials, 32-34 Monmouth Street, London WC2.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7836 2982