29 March 2013

B.Y.O.C and Balthazar

Firstly, I'd like to apologise in advance for the lower-than-usual quality of pictures in this post. We visited two very dimly lit venues (they love a bit of atmosphere!) and I seriously need to get me a new camera lens. Groan!

Caroline       Beth
B.Y.O.C. ('Bring Your Own Cocktail') is quite a secretive little place. You wouldn't know it was there unless you'd read about it somewhere really awesome....like on here. Who'd have realised what excitement went on inside Juice Bar on Bedfordbury, Covent Garden.

On arrival, having paid your £20 entrance fee, you are lead behind the counter and down some intimidatingly narrow winding stairs to a dinky and dimly lit basement. Lively 1920's jazz played. I was first to arrive and it felt a bit like I was taking part in some secret underground activity!

This place is not licensed to sell alcohol; you bring along your tipple of choice. Vodka, rum, whisky, brandy, whatever you fancy. Wine, beer and champagne or something more unusual, also fine. It needs to be in a sealed bottle though so don't bring rum in a half-filled plastic Evian bottle whatever you do. Obviously that's what I did because I didn't read the small print - luck for me I must have a trustworthy face and they let me off...

As well as the rum, between us we'd brought Malibu, Amaretto and a little bit of Jagermeister that I had leftover in the cupboard. Again, the bottles brought here should be in a sealed bottle (naughty Caz!).

The mixologist wheels over his little antique trolley of goodies: various juices, fruit, vegetables, bitters, syrups, herbs and spices. You show him what you've brought along, he asks you what you like and then he makes you up something lovely.

He said he liked to kick off the first round with a classic so he used the rum to make us a delicious lychee daiquiri. It was fruity and refreshing and a perfect start.

Beth and I chatted the evening away as the room got more and more busy (the tables were all taken by the time our two hour slot was over). We had four or five cocktails made for us in that time - a raspberry amaretto sour, a pina colada and an amazing creamy concoction made from the unusual choice of Jagermeister!

I really liked B.Y.O.C.  Despite it becoming much more known now and not quite the 'hidden gem' it was, you do still feel rather like you're involved in something quite hush hush! Some people probably don't like the fact that you have to pay the £20 charge to get in but it covers the cost of the ingredients that make up your cocktail plus the creation of your drink. They don't do much in the way of food yet - just a little £5 plate of nuts and mixed dried fruit - but I understand that's in the pipe-line. 

Cocktails done and now time to head off for a spot of dinner.

There was a lot of hype around the opening of Balthazar in London. I visited the original one in New York a couple of years ago where I'd had a rather splendid breakfast. I was keen to try and get in early at this new opening.

With all the fanfare came a constantly engaged reservations line. Annoying. It seemed everyone wanted to be the first through the doors. So I waited until I returned from my holiday and then I made my reservation - for three weeks ahead I could still only get 9.30pm or later! 

But we were here now. 

It is very New York. The room is sepia-tinted with gleaming red leather banquettes, enormous mirrors and a mosaic floor. The room is bustling and you can just tell that this is kind of 'the place to be'.

The French brasserie inspired menu is all very tempting.  Should I have the snails?  I do like a snail. Or the Grilled Sardine Tartine? No, I was definitely in a cheese mood: Warm Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart.

At this point I would usually show you a beautiful picture of fabulous tart. Unfortunately not on this occasion. Firstly, the picture came out so badly and red-tinted that I decided it shouldn't even grace these pages. Secondly, it really wasn't that impressive to look at. It tasted just okay - you can't go too wrong with goat's cheese and onion really - but it wasn't amazing. The pastry was a bit tough and a little too thin for my liking and the tart itself was too shallow.  

For my main course I had decided to do something I don't normally do in restaurants - I decided to ignore the Duck Shepherd's Pie and the Steak Au Poivre; I ordered a burger. The Balthazar Cheeseburger to be exact. I just quite fancied one and I thought it was bound to be something a bit special in here

It's not really is it?

I wasn't blown away. The patty was nice and thick and cooked medium-rare as requested but the juiciness that I was so hoping for just wasn't there. Plus there wasn't enough cheese and there were no fancy sauces in that bun either. The chips were nice but again, nothing inspiring. 

All in all the restaurant itself is very cool, service was okay and it's good value for money but I was just a little underwhelmed with the food. I wasn't surprised though; I had read a few average reviews of the place before my visit. 

Hey-ho, it wasn't the food-highlight of my March (I think Nobu and Disco Bistro share that honour) but it was a great night at two very cool little venues. I went home feeling very trendy indeed.

Bar Service
Waiter Service

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