Let's Eat

Tasting Tel Aviv at Bala Baya

I was (fashionably) late to the party but it was worth the wait


Eran Tibi and I go back a few years. I first met him when he was cooking at Made in Camden, and again, when he and Josh Katz — who I taught with at a cookery school back in the day — headed up Zest at JW3. 

He's a larger than life, colourful character and so is his food. 

His current restaurant, Bala Baya, is the first time at which he has been at the helm of his own ship from the outset. He did head up the kitchen at Zest after Katz left, but this baby is all his own. He invited me to visit. 

The restaurant (a hop and a skip from the Tate Modern) is squirelled away down an alleyway in the shadow of the railway arches between two tiny theatres.

Inside tables downstairs sit around the open plan kitchen with more on the mezzanine. 

We sat outside. The waiter advised us the menu is designed for us share plates — where isn't these days? Bonus is you get to try more flavours. Downside — sharing any you particularly like.

My date, Emma, is one of the chosen people who cannot tolerate coriander. I've heard it's genetic — tastes soapy to them. My father was the same. Thankfully I dodged that gene pool bullet. We told the waiter, who managed to avoid any trace of the horrid herb on Emma's plate. 

I digress. We chose a range of dishes as we sipped Ella Valley Everred Rosé — a wine made in the Judean Hills. Tibi has installed his own pita oven, so he churns out proper pillowy pita, two of which arrived, piping hot with hummus and a chick pea salsa while we waited for the food. Israeli-style hummus was smooth and creamy — how it should be, in my book.  

The food was as pretty as it was delicous. First up — a plate of cured, spiced salmon, rhubarb, and (for me the genius part) preserved lemon and dill jellies. A blanket of dill pepped up the aniseed-y quotient and we demolished it in minutes. 

Aubergine Mess — blackened aubergines, herbs, lychee and tahini — was prettied up with rose petals. No crunch but plenty of flavours. Cauliflower — it had no more name than that — was the star of the show. In the pre-Ottolenghi days I might have been surprised to find this cruciferous character to be ruling the roost, but it's now as common to menus as the whole sharing plate schtick. This one was award-winning. With a bright orange crust, it was sweet, crunchy and mouth-melting. Tibi shared how to make it but swore me to secrecy. Go try it for yourself. 

We felt duty-bound to try more than one dessert and chose Burnt Babka and something unappetisingly called 'The Filthy'. Thankfully it wasn't. A plate of mascarpone, tahini, tonka cream, milk caramel, sesame crumble and banana compote tasted better than it presented, but was full of interesting flavours. The babka was overshadowed by the layer of perfect, purple plums it was adorned with.

We had a fabulous evening. Out of the ordinary flavours in a sexy location.  Find their website here.

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