Even for multicultural London finding a tasting menu that caters to either vegetarians or vegans can be a tricky affair. Thankfully, we have innovative cuisine from Tel Aviv courtesy of Bala Baya in Southwark. It isn’t necessarily the easiest of restaurants to find, tucked underneath Old Union Yard Arches, but this hidden gem is most definitely worth your time and effort to discover.
Israeli born Chef Eran Tibi has fused the essence of traditional Israeli cuisine with modern London sensibilities to create something uniquely Bala Baya. We sampled the vegetarian tasting menu for 2 people, but don’t be confused this isn’t a stuffy, formal dress wearing experience, but more of a family-sharing concept. We shared 6 dishes and then had a choice of 3 on the desserts.
What was particularly impressive was the kitchen team’s focus on textural variety and combining unusual ingredients that somehow magically work together. A case in point was their cauliflower steak crumble. I’ve tried many a cauliflower steak before and it can taste very repetitive and monotonous as a dish. Here the cauliflower has an inviting crunch as they were deep-fried, the smoked Parmesan crumble added an appetising red hue to the dish, the acidic nature of the pomegranate molasses helped to cut through any fattiness from the dish.
Their version of the aubergine mess was as exotic as you can imagine. They used blackened aubergine paired with soft herbs, tahini, and lychee, and miraculously it does combine well. I think using fruits in their main dishes really helps to make them feel less heavy and customers don’t leave the restaurant with a heavy bloated feeling.
Of course, it’s also about the sourcing of your ingredients and they came out on top with their tomato dish which had the sweetest heritage tomatoes imaginable and if that wasn’t enough, it was served with nectarine and honey too to make sure you can still taste summer even though those days are fast disappearing.
They also made sure there were more substantial dishes on the menu to make sure you don’t go home ready to cook up your emergency packet of instant noodles; the flat iron potatoes did this job admirably. They were steamed gently and topped with sour cream, dill, and garlic chips.
Next time, you want to treat your special vegetarian or vegan guest to an enticing tasting menu, look no further than Bala Baya. This is the definitive place to visit.
Arch 25, Old union yard arches, 229 Union St, London SE1 0LR