Balham's community of city types and young parents means it boasts a nourishing mix of hip bars and suburban restaurants. There are unassuming family pubs sat right next to pop-up joints serving halloumi fries. It’s hard to get bored in Balham. But when you do need a break, at least 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, across to Tooting Bec Common to the east and Wandsworth Common to the west.
By far the most inventive breakfast you’ll find in Balham is commuter favourite the Balham Kitchen, located right outside the station. If you've seen their second home in the Artworks, Elephant and Castle, you'll know you're in for hearty serving of bacon and egg chapattis (a welcome morning smell indeed).
If you like a seat with your breakfast, Milk on Bedford Hill is bright and breezy, perfect for a lazy weekend morning. It's a hip brunch spot, with quirky dishes including the fillet o' fish sandwich made with red snapper, baked eggs and nut milk. To continue the Aussie influence, there’s the much improved Brickwood. You’ll find Balham’s branch of the small-time café chain on Hildreth Street, serving up farmhouse style breakfasts and lots of people queuing for their cup of beloved Caravan coffee.
South River Coffee is putting some serious oomph into its java offerings. Single origin beans are roasted by its Brixton neighbours, Volcano, and brewed by passionate baristas who know their art. One for those who appreciate a refined flat white.
Another cafe getting local brew-lovers excited is Brother Marcus, where the coffee comes strong and the creative breakfasts are a feast for the eyes as much as the stomach. If bread is your jam, get yourself to Blackbird Bakery where freshly baked carbs are a welcome morning companion.
For coffee alone, there’s Camden Coffee House next to the station. The man serving is friendly, super-fast and makes them strong.
A bit like Shoreditch, or indeed most places in London these days, burgers and hot dogs seem to dominate the pop-up market trade, but try Balham Farmers’ Market at Henry Cavendish Primary School on Saturdays. Not least because while you tuck into fresh pastas and breads, you can also stock up on your grocery shop from proper local producers.
Balham’s also got its own branch of Haché. You’ll likely know what to expect, but if not, it’s higher-end burgers with plenty of cheese. If you want to avoid the chains, opt for neighbourhood hangout Heart of Balham (also known as HOB). Here you're assured of extremely tasty food in a simple, cafe environment. The Middle Eastern inspired menu is great for veggies and vegans, and although it's possible to just stop for a coffee and a slice of cake, why would you when the food is this good? Big portions, too.
If you've got the fam in tow, Bertie and Boo is the ultimate young Balham-ite playground. It's not just a family-friendly cafe, it's a cafe designed especially for families with young children. On hand is a warm welcome, soft play, child-friendly eats and no raised eyebrows when your little one starts to clamber on the cafe's vintage car.
Because Balham is still relatively ‘village-like’, set on its own below the hubbub of central London, its dining scene is more neighbourhood charm than edgy experimentation. If it's intense flavour you're after, Nepalese restaurant Gurka's Diner has it in spades. Get a plate of their steaming momos (a type of filled dumpling) and wonder where they've been hiding your whole life.
Arlo's brings the taste sensation back home, putting British steaks, burgers and booze front and centre. There's a great low-key atmosphere and a special kids' menu so all the family can join. Put Meze Mazis on your hit list for top notch meze to share and a welcome that makes you feel like family. On Fernlea Road, Tagine offers up a Moroccan feast in authentic surroundings, and a big bonus is that it's BYO, so what you save on booze you can splurge on dessert instead.
Italian restaurants are a recurrent theme. On Balham High Road you'll find Ciullosteria, an intimate, southern Italian outfit that hits the perfect balance between style and homeliness. Great quality pastas and fresh fish dishes carry much authenticity and tend to attract a slightly older crowd. Bucci is another Italian favourite, a place you might mistake for being old-fashioned from the outside, but is actually just all the right sorts of traditional. Enjoy the classics here for a good price. Gazette has a chain feel through and through, but the French-inspired menu does offer some treats: the fish specials are reliably good.
Chicken Shop is a familiar feature in plenty of London areas, specialising in chicken alone — albeit rotisserie chicken that has been marinated overnight. The £10 weekday meal deal (available noon-6pm) is especially tasty, combining a burger, side and dessert. Juicy Dirty Burger patties can also be bought here — make sure to pick up some napkins first though.
Lamberts on Station Road couldn’t be more of a contrast, with a seasonally changing menu and firm family feel. Expect dishes created with local ingredients from the sea, field and farm, such as smoked mackerel with gooseberries or cured duck breast with pickled Kentish walnuts. Foxlow, the work of Hawksmoor, has set up camp in Balham too. The neighbourhood counterpart to the steakhouse has brought with it anchovy and goats' butter crisps, sweet potato dumplings and Sunday roasts with all the trimmings.
The much loved Italian chain Franco Manca, on Bedford Hill, is teeming every night thanks to its superior sourdough pizzas and great service; a hit with Balham residents.
New age pubs
Balham’s not short on ‘trendy’ drinking holes, but two stand out. Hagen and Hyde on the High Road is the place to go for halloumi chips. You might also find yourself indulging in a couple of ham and cheddar croquettes, a fish finger bun or sausages and mash. Behind the bar there are a few cocktails for later in the evening (it closes at 2am at the weekend) and the usual craft beers.
Around the corner, the Regent is a similar sort of set-up. There are low-hanging light bulbs and vintage looking tables. But it’s not just for show; the pub is steeped in history, and has been trading on this spot for years. To bring it up to date, The Regent does plenty of cocktails with a focus on gins, plus plenty of wines and tasty pub grub.
Let's squeeze a few bars in here too. The Owl is a speakeasy for those in the know, located below Foxlow with a short but sweet cocktail menu. Lost and Found also carries a vintage vibe, plus enough skilled bartenders and well-crafted drinks to make sure it's not a case of style over substance — there's a private karaoke room to hire too. Firefly teams reasonably priced drinks with Thai bites like sweetcorn fritters, slow cooked beef red curry and chicken satay. The drinks are more traditional: cask ales, cocktails and the like. Finally, The Exhibit describes itself as a 'youth club for adults', which sounds horrendous, but is actually pretty neat, combining booze, burgers and a boutique cinema.
The Balham Bowls Club (affectionally referred to as the 'BBC' by patrons) is one of those massive, roomy south London venues that wouldn’t fit north of the river. Children are allowed in until 9pm, dogs get a warm welcome (except in the restaurant) and there's a decent programme of events ranging from live music and pub quizzes to yoga and mindfulness sessions.
The Devonshire is a must for a Sunday roast, but it’s also cooking up lavish burgers thanks to the burger shack in the pub's lovely garden. A little further out, The Nightingale between Wandsworth Common and Clapham South stations feels like a proper village pub. Extremely welcoming, great beer garden and the fact it's consistently full of happy locals says it all.
Article by Josh Barrie and Ruth Hargreaves.