Its consistency changes with each mouthful; it gets smoother and smoother until it clings to the sourdough like melted butter. Running my knife across the crisp toast, I lather layer upon layer and take bite after bite. Arousing my palate to an irrepressible culinary climax, I take a deep breath, turn to my dining companion and say: “This is, without doubt, the best mousse that I have ever had.”
This was Thursday night. I was in Covent Garden at new restaurant Balthazar and I was tucking into their chicken liver and foie gras mousse. Opening in the heart of the West End just last month, the restaurant has already gained an army of fans, and arriving at 7.30 p.m I was faced with an hour wait.
Well we were faced with an hour wait. I was out with cityboy again (my dinner date for that notorious Hakkasan meal last year), but this time I got to choose the restaurant and after slating his choice so publicly, the pressure was on! Balthazar, thank goodness, did not let me down.
Though new to London, another Balthazar exists across the Atlantic. The chain (well now a chain) was set up by Keith McNally 16 years ago in New York. Inspired by the food of French Brasseries, Balthazar’s menu features the staple classics Coq au Vin and Moules Frites as well as more experimental dishes such as Ox cheek bourguignon and Duck Shepherd’s Pie.
I chose the aforementioned chicken liver and foie gras mousse followed by a starter size portion of the Lobster and Black Truffle Risotto served with cauliflower cream and black truffle butter. Cityboy went for the Balthazar salad – haricots verts, asparagus, fennel, ricotta salata and truffle vinaigrette followed by Duck Confit with roasted potatoes, cipollini onions, wild mushrooms and frisée salad.
This was after we had been seated. The hour before was spent conversing at the jam-packed bar and drinking Moscow Mules which were made – to my delight – with Fever Tree ginger beer. I was in an exceptionally good mood even before I’d tried the world’s best mousse, not only due to the drink but also due to the fabulous atmosphere. Waiters do loops round the restaurant floor carrying plate upon plate of exceptionally presented dishes, sounds of laughter and jovial shouts pump through the air and warm lighting makes everyone look radiant.
We had a bar table and were the magma of the operation rather than the core, but even though we were on the peripheral, we were still absorbed in the buzz of the place. It was the perfect place for a date; loud enough to drone out any potential awkward silences, quiet enough to allow for deep discussion – a fine balance not often achieved by restaurants.
On past the mousse,ah the mousse of dreams, the mousse of Mt Olympus…
Enough, on to the main – or rather the starter that was my main, the Lobster and Black Truffle Risotto.
As you can see from the portion choosing a starter was a wise decision – a main would have pushed the food coma. Once adjusted to the strength of the Lobster this dish just kept giving, rich and filling, though perhaps slightly over-sauced, it was the epitome of indulgence.
Cityboy said his Balthazar Salad was good and a bite of his Duck Confit, which fell perfectly off the bone, assured me that it wasn’t just the rich and indulgent dishes that they could execute brilliantly.
Puddings included Crème Brûlée, Baked Cheesecake with a warm cinnamon and apple doughnut and Apple Tart Tatin with butterscotch sauce and Calvados crème fraîche, but rather full and conscious of our triathlon and bikini bod (respectively) we opted rather to round of the meal with a pudding wine.
Narrowly pipping La Sophia in my personal best restaurant of the year 2013 (so far) competition (not on the food front but overall), Balthazar has both great food and an atmosphere so brilliant that it could save even the worst date. What’s more, you can also – unlike so many restaurants of the moment – book! And that my friends, is just what you should do, for this restaurant is getting deservedly more popular by the day.
Food **** Drink **** Atmosphere ***** Price £££
BALTHAZAR, 4-6 RUSSELL STREET, LONDON WC2B 5HZ