Balham's community of city types and young parents means it boasts a nourishing mix of hip bars and suburban restaurants. There are unassuming pubs paraded next to places with polenta chips. It’s hard to get bored in Balham. But when you do need a break, you stand half a chance of getting a seat on the Northern line.
NOTE: We’re defining Balham as south of Clapham South, down to Tooting to the south, and Tooting Bec Common to the east. To the west, Wandsworth Station.
By far the most inventive breakfast you’ll find in Balham is the commuters’ favourite — the Balham Kitchen. You might know the stall at Elephant and Castle, which serves bacon and egg chapattis outside the tube (a welcome morning smell indeed).
If you need to sit down, M1lk, on Bedford Hill, is somewhere bright, light and breezy for a lazy weekend. Its quirky dishes include the fillet o fish sandwich, made with red snapper, baked eggs and nut milk. And to continue the Aussie influence there’s the much improved Brickwood — another cousin of the ‘Common’ enemy. You’ll find Balham’s branch of the small-time café chain on Hildreth Street, where you’ll eat very fine Brixton bread and drink hot Caravan coffee.
For coffee alone, there’s Balham’s own Camden Coffee House next to the station. The man is friendly, super-fast and makes them strong.
A bit like Shoreditch, or most places in London these days, it’s hard to see past burgers and hot dogs for lunch time inspiration, but try Balham Farmers’ Market at Chestnut Grove School, not least because while you tuck in you can stock up on your grocery shop from proper producers.
Balham’s also got a branch of Hache. You’ll likely know what to expect, but if not, it’s higher-end burgers with plenty of cheese.
Beyrouths, on Bedford Hill, is a beautiful Lebanese place for the cuisine and street food of Beirut. Falafels, moussaka, delicious hummus and halloum meshwi will fill you amply before a stroll back up the high street.
Because Balham’s still relatively ‘village-like’, set on its own below the real hubbub of London, its dining scene is more homely charm than edgy experimentation. But it works on the whole, no more so than at Franco Manca, also on Bedford Hill. The neighbourhood Italian’s got all manner of pizzas — they've got sourdough bases and decent wines.
Italian restaurants are a recurrent theme. Round the corner on Balham High Road is Ciullosteria. It definitely provides for those with babysitters. It has warm pastas, usually good mussels and a feeling of pleasing authenticity. Gazette doesn’t so much have the appeal of authenticity as it does somewhere to go if you’re in a muddle and the babysitter’s late. It’s got a chain feel through and through, albeit a small-time one in the south west of London. The French-inspired menu does pots of crab and terrines well — and the interior is nothing short of beautiful. It almost makes you feel like you’re on holiday.
The Chicken & Egg Shop is a synonymous feature in plenty of London areas, with its grilled Nandoesque birds, excellent chips and good coleslaw. Lamberts on Station Road couldn’t be more of a contrast, with a changing menu and a family feel. Expect dishes such as beetroot, pickled radish, and goat’s curd to start, and raw venison, kohlrabi, walnut for mains.
There’s a brand new place in town
Foxlow, the work of Hawksmoor, has just set up camp in Balham. The neighbourhood counterpart to the steakhouse has brought with it anchovy and goats' butter crisps, Brixham hake and shortrib with kimchi. There’s no more a statement of Balham’s status as a Clapham extension these days.
New age pubs
Balham’s not short on ‘trendy’ drinking holes, but two stand out.
Hagen and Hyde on the high street is the place with polenta chips. You might also find yourself indulging in a couple of sweet potato arancini, a corn dog with ketchup or a smoking beef brisket. Behind the bar there are a few cocktails for later in the evening (closes at 2am at the weekend) and the usual craft beers.
Around the corner, the newly refurbished Regent is a similar sort of set-up. There are low-hanging light bulbs and withered, aged looking tables. But it’s steeped in history too and has been standing as a pub for years. The Regent does lots of cocktails — such as a Soul Power (lots of rum) — plenty of wines and traditional, if modern pub grub.
Rather than have a separate section on bars — it’s Balham, not you-know-where — we’ll just squeeze The Owl in here. It’s a ‘speakeasy’ below Foxlow. Cocktails, music, dim lights and low-set chairs.
The Balham Bowls Club (BBC) shows sports and is one of those massive, roomy south London venues that wouldn’t fit north of the river. Children are allowed in until 9pm to eat the likes of gnocci or lamb rump. And it’s all about the ale.
The Devonshire Arms is one of the places to go for a Sunday roast. But it’s also cooking up lavish fish and chips and pretty juicy steaks. It prides itself on local booze and has a lovely garden. Not too far away on Balham High Road is the Balham Arms. Ignore the cocktails in jam jars, order a bottle of wine and have a serious ham, egg and chips, or even try the chef’s lounge.
After hours eats
The Kebab Company on the High Road makes exceptional kebabs. We can attest to this, from intoxicated experiences or otherwise. But if you fall asleep and end up in Streatham, go to Xpress Grill and get some Portuguese flavours.
Article by Josh Barrie.