This was in all likelihood going to be the review that got away. I've spent time in the original Balthazar and had some lovely lunches but, especially in a white hot, can't get a table for love nor money, opening period, I'd resigned myself to forgetting about the London branch. And anyway, who really wants to go to the London branch of a slavish New York recreation of a traditional French bistro? I could be on the Eurostar before they'd answered the reservations line.
As it goes, it's reasonably quiet, even on a Thursday lunch, and therefore the perfect spot to slide into a banquette opposite the International Man of Mystery. He's never sure which city he's in at any given point in time, so this level of high class generic internationalism is perfect for him.
It's not cheap, their range of French classics, but if you've come here deliberately you know that and are comfortable paying £24 for a plate of Steak Frites and £17 for a burger. If you're a wall-eyed tourist who has just stumbled across its prime Covent Garden location then congratulations. You're going to be fleeced, but in a much more pleasant way than if you'd wound up in the Angus Steak House.
Get a back wall booth if you can, they're perfect for people watching amidst the monied buzz and much, much more room than on the cramped blood red banquettes filling the centre of the room.
After being spoilt by their homemade bread, the ceviche starter was utterly underwhelming, a few sorry rings of squid or octopus dredged in an acrid vinegar coleslaw of fridge cold mandolined bell peppers and onion. From a distance it looked perfectly pleasant, but ended up being pushed around the plate, like a refugee from a different, inferior restaurant.
Confit duck on the other hand was perfect. Rich and unctuous, it fell off the bone like a dark silk dressing gown might slide from a Parisian courtesan's shoulders. Lifted with green leaf and waxy, puckered little spuds to provide substance, this was definitely a contender for comfort dish of the year, though at the price it bloody well should be.
It's a lovely cavernous space, with decent food slightly over-assiduous staff (that'll be the New York influences rather than the French) but for the money, the ambience and the attitude, I'd much rather be in Zedel, sucking down champagne with the money I've saved on my steak. If it's a power lunch that I need, then I'll be back at the Wolesley first.