Restaurant review

Restaurant review: Bala Baya inspired by Tel Aviv in Southwark

Israeli-born chef Eran Tibi brings Middle Eastern cuisine to life with a casual twist at Bala Baya in Southwark…

Photo: Bala Baya

There is winter food and there is summer food. There are winter sites and there are summer sites.

Bala Baya, in the Old Union Yard Arches in Southwark, is the latter. The Israeli-inspired all-day restaurant serves deceptively simple dishes that sing on a hot summer day.

I’m told the restaurant is based on the sights and sounds of Tel Aviv and you can see that.

Bala Baya Roasted Eggplant
-Bala Baya

Along with the menu that features fresh and creative takes on familiar Middle Eastern favorites and energetic music, Bala Baya’s interior is an elegant, high-ceilinged domed room with exposed brick walls and tiled floors. – a room designed for a few drinks during dinner on a balmy night.

The restaurant is on the border between casual and chic. It’s perfect for a lazy weekend brunch, a midweek family meal, or a no-frills dinner party with your team.

Owner and chef Eran Tibi previously worked for four years under Sami Tammi at Ottolenghi and in Nopi’s kitchen as well – and the parallels between the two chefs are clear.

Israeli-born Tibi’s menu features fresh produce at the heart and center of every dish, invigorated by unusual herb and spice blends and an array of rubs and drizzles that taste too complex to try. replicate them at home.

Bala Baya mashed potatoes, eggplant smoked with tea, beef and onion, peppers and yogurt

Bala Baya mashed potatoes, eggplant smoked with tea, beef and onion, peppers and yogurt
-Bala Baya

The menu is designed to be shared, and luckily the tables are big enough to comfortably accommodate a few plates and glasses, because a) it’s boring when they’re not, and b) the menu looks good.

We’ve decided to go fully vegetarian and non-meat eaters won’t miss a single trick here – the flavor pairings are a treat.

Sweet, macerated lychees run through charcoal-grilled eggplant and rose petal pepper, and deep-fried cauliflower steak rubbed with a mixture of paprika and Parmesan over pomegranate syrup and lime yogurt has a tart, tantalizing bite.

Also on the table we had dense tahini hummus and rich, creamy labneh with harissa, candied lemon and crispy shallots for the kick and crunch.

A sort of stuffed grape leaf flavored with cranberries and caramelized onion offered sweeter notes, as did the wine-glazed roasted cabbage with thin crispy slivers of basil and filo served over fresh cream.

We had a supply of fresh pita bread, which perhaps sums up the effort it takes to make a dish look so good, effortlessly.

Made on site, the bread-making process seemed long and laborious, but the fluffy discs of dough were delicious and the perfect, unpretentious accompaniment to the flavor-laden dishes.

For dessert, we shared a hazelnut and dark chocolate babka brulé with a sharp morello cherry compote, neither heavy nor too sweet.

To wash it all down, we started with a gazoz each – traditional Israeli sodas. The refreshing, layered infusions of grapefruit and thyme, and blackberry, lavender and mint quenched the thirst of a hot day.

For wine, we opted for the house white – a light, crisp and easy-drinking Israeli chardonnay. We also tried a French Viognier which was a dry drop and just as drinkable.

Coming full circle, we ended on something called a love kick – as herbaceous and zesty as the gazoz we started on, but with a boozy kick designed to send you into the night.

Address: Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches, 229d Union Street, Southwark, SE1 0LR