Bala Baya, in a small complex of restaurants under the arches in Southwark, is an Israeli restaurant, that describes itself as offering ‘Tel-Aviv eating.’ It’s quite a big operation, but as with all London restaurants, is currently offering restricted covers outdoors, under some cleverly erected awnings and an array of infrared heaters, many of which swivel to distribute their heat load evenly.
It’s the restaurant of Eran Tibi, who came quite late to cooking as a profession, and spent almost three years as sous chef with Ottolenghi, before moving to Made in Camden, where he spent a further four years, with more than two as head chef. Bala Baya launched in January 2017.
We visited early evening on a weekday, and ate well – and quite fast: with this horrible May the UK is experiencing, eating out is a test of thermal fortitude, even with the infrared heaters. It’s small plates, with the exception of the signature dish (more on this later).
A monkfish tempura dish started things off badly: it was tasty enough, but tiny, and a bit generic. But the second dish, a remarkable roast cabbage, was one of the best I’ve had in a long while. It had so much flavour and texture, and was brilliantly creative.
Third up, and equally impressive, was the cauliflower steak crumble. This was a lot of flavour, but they all seemed to pull together.
Finally, the aforementioned signature dish. Fish and fennel (pictured top). It was filleted, but maintained the form of a whole fish, and the flavours from the burnt sage, fennel, and pickled vegetables were very well judged, It’s £28, but feeds two admirably.
To drink? Sparkling water. The wine list makes an effort with a few Israeli wines listed (not the more interesting things coming from this interesting wine country, alas), and then the rest is not all that inspiring. It’s short too. You feel that much more could have been done here. Just two beers on the list.
Still, I’d come here again for these three dishes again.