A high-energy tribute to Tel Aviv, Bala Baya combines a party soundtrack with a tempting menu of Middle Eastern sharing plates, beneath a rumbling railway arch.
The menu features a variety of crowd-pleasing, ingredient-forward plates and includes a tasting menu, which is a great way to sample a bit of everything. Israeli chef Eran Tibi created a buzz with Zest (his pop-up collab with Berber & Q’s Josh Katz) and Bala Baya is his first solo project, which is impressive considering how beautiful both the restaurant and menu are.
Each dish pays homage to Tibi's roots, taking inspiration from the traditional dishes of his home country, resulting in a refreshingly authentic experience that still feels modern. The food is served family-style, which plays well with Middle Eastern cooking, and makes the whole experience homely and comforting.
Not everything we tried worked well on our visit. We enjoyed a compelling combo of crispy fried chicken, bitter orange and the puckery tang of kimchi, yet timid hummus and a stodgy pairing of lamb neck with dumplings fell flat. Nevertheless, a sumptuous dessert of chocolate-and-hazelnut babka cake with stewed plums produced a show-stealing finale.
There’s no faulting the surroundings though. The all-white ground floor features an open kitchen overlooked by a curvaceous dining counter, while the mezzanine is ideal for groups and longer visits. The buzzing atmosphere of the restaurant has been brought to life by award-winning interior designer, Afroditi Krassa. The space feels both chic and charming, with vibrant pops of colour complemented by a minimalist approach to decor which underlines Bala Baya’s cool take on contemporary dining.
The location is great, too, within Southwark’s foodie hub of the Union Street railway arches, with easy access to Southwark and London Bridge tubes and Borough Market and the Menier Chocolate Factory nearby. With its abundant energy and on-trend details, Bala Baya bubbles with potential.