Keith McNally’s New York institution recently cloned itself in London—but does the buzz match that of the original? T+L hops across the pond to find out.
For me, entering Balthazar London ($$$$) is an out-of-body experience—as if I’ve been beamed up from New York City to Covent Garden, where Keith McNally’s new brasserie is a dead ringer for the 16-year-old original, or—as we Balthazaristas call it—the Mother Ship. I walk in, expecting to see familiar faces—is that Meg Ryan?—but instead hear the whispers (the British are not subtle), “Is that Gwyneth?” “Is that Nigella?” “Is that…?”
Yes, it is Alan Bennett, the English playwright, with the cast of his latest show, People—and indeed, Balthazar is a grand, gorgeous, beautifully lit set. Both of them are. Distressed French mirrors, brass rails, red leather banquettes—this is Paris of the imagination.
Balthazar London is a replica…almost. The food is possibly better. On four occasions, friends and I had salmon on lentils (preferable to New York’s trout version), prawns (trumps the shrimp cocktail), steak frites (just like home). They also do afternoon tea, of course.
“Dessert?” asks our waiter, smiling, attentive. As in New York, the service is terrific—especially appreciated in a city where it’s usually lousy. No surprise—U.S. staffers came over to help with training.
A few London critics were devastating when Balthazar opened (snarkiness is a national pastime), with one calling it “the greatest mass delusion since Nazism.” Yes, it’s almost a carbon copy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t stand on its own.