The Southwark Railway Arch Where You Can Dance Until The Small Hours, Tel Aviv-Style
Is London really a late-night city? Opinion's divided. Naysayers point to strict closing hours: even in Hackney new, post-midnight licences are rare as gold dust and roughly as expensive. Others claim things are on the up: we have a Night Tube. We have a Night Czar. We have a bunch of places where you might be able to scare up a drink after 1am if you ask really nicely.
And now we have Bala Baya Nights. Just one night a month, but hey, baby steps — as a city we're still relatively new to this dinner-clubbing game. Unlike Tel Aviv, whose 'sun-kissed youthfulness' (their words) this Southwark restaurant is an homage to.
The homage takes the shape of a Bauhaus-inspired, greenery-draped spot inside a railway arch, and a vivid, colourful collection of modern takes on Middle Eastern flavours.
And those Tel Avivians know what they're doing. There's something inherently great about sitting down to dinner at 9.30pm on a warm evening, knowing the night's sprawled out ahead of you.
So we're extremely into the concept. And the execution? The whole dinner-segueing-into-disco thing could be a bit smoother. On the food side, they've got it nailed: the sharing plates aren't cheap, but they are intense, interesting and often brilliant. The Crispy, Sticky, Crunchy plate is one of our favourite kimchi cameos in the capital: a hot, sun-coloured dish of fried chicken, orange, kimchi, harissa, and butternut squash. The burnt babka dessert is a heavily-luxe dish of golden pastry, stewed fruit and enormous dollops of dairy that lures us into more food we didn't think we had room for.
On the dancefloor side of things, the music's good, the drinks are flowing, but it's still a bit desultory. Waiters start clearing the furniture to the edge of the room as people finish their food, leaving a scattering of people eating dotted around the restaurant, and others doing some half-hearted grooving in between them. People seem well-fed and sleepy — and maybe a bit too British to just storm the dancefloor, under the watchful gaze of everybody still with a babka to finish.
Still, you can't deny the alluring promise of a relaxed dinner that could maybe, if you want it to, turn into something a lot louder and sweatier. If Bala Baya can get the transition down, their monthly event's going to be a seriously hot ticket.
One Friday a month, Bala Baya stays open till 4am for drinking, dancing and late night feasting. To find out the next Bala Baya Nights date we suggest pestering them on firstname.lastname@example.org or stalking them on Twitter.
Bala Baya, Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, SE1 0LR.
Last Updated 24 May 2018