Balans Café – London, UK

Balans Café
Unit 1034, Southern Terrace
Westfield Shopping Centre, Ariel Way
London, UK
+44 020 8600 3320

Open every day for lunch and dinner
Monday – Friday & Sunday: 9:00am – 11:00pm
Saturday: 8:00am – 11:00pm

The London Underground, also affectionately known as “the Tube”, is a convenient way to navigate the city when you are car-less in London.  Ironically, not all of the rail network is even below ground.  With its distinct logo, the stations are easy to pick out from the street, making for effective navigation by tourists and locals alike.

In the West London district is an area called Shepherd’s Bush.  Walking around the green park common area, I found it had an interesting character – with a balanced mixture of small businesses and eateries, outlets of larger corporations, entertainment complexes and residences.  As I made my way up and down the streets, just exploring on my won, I saw an assortment of people, some young, some old, some working class and some dressed up like they have a white collar office job.  With the large hub of transportation (including a large bus terminal), the area seemed to my novice eyes as a transit-heavy spot, with intersecting modes and lines of transport shutting people into and out of the core of London city.

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Fleur de Sel Brasserie – Calgary, AB

Fleur de Sel Brasserie
2-2015 4 Street SW
Calgary, AB T2S 1W6
(403) 228-9764

When I think of French food, my thoughts generally fall into one of three categories. High end, refined cuisine, delectable and precise pastries, and peasant food. While i can appreciate the skill and refinement of haute cuisine, as well as the skill of a Herme in creating perfect pastries, I really prefer peasant food. Coq au vin, beef bourguignon, rilettes, pates, stews, poulet de bresse, cassoulet – simple meals big on flavour, with generally safe and easy cooking methods. This is not sous vide – this is braised, hearty soul food. And the best place to get this is typically at a brasserie or a bistro. While there is a general shortage of good honest French food in Calgary, Fleur de Sel Brasserie bucks the fine dining trend by providing Brasserie-type fare.

On first look, the menu is an interesting mix of french classics, modern interpretations of french classics, and not so french classics like Jambalaya and smoked atlantic salmon with pickled ginger. A very extensive list – too extensive in my mind. I prefer most establishments to focus on fewer dishes, generally finding diminishing quality whenever a menu tries to be all things to all people.  I went at lunch, which has a different menu from dinner, by including some sandwiches and lighter fare.

When dining at any establishment, going at lunch has some advantages and disadvantages. The big advantage is typically price – lunch, though often serving the same thing at a slightly smaller portion size, is generally significant cheaper. However, there is often a limited menu, so you’re not able to order all your favorite dishes. At Fleur de Sel, you’re staring down a potentially pricey lunch menu – with entrees pushing $20-$30, it’s certainly not for someone looking for good cheap peasant fare. In order to get a wider variety of dishes to sample, i order their set lunch menu. A 3-course meal for $25.

First off came the bread with an olive oil and vinegar dip. While the bread was ok, i was a bit disappointed  in the quality. It was definitely lacking in a crispy exterior. Sacrificed for the healthier whole wheat/whole-grain combo.

Next up was the salad, which was lightly dressed in a simple oil and vinegar dressing. A nice collection of greens, simply dressed, it was decent. Nothing that made it stand out, but with a three course meal, I don’t feel it needs to be. Sometimes, a salad can and should be just a salad.

For an entree, I had a choice between a cassoulet, or egg fettuccine with fresh mussels. I wasn’t feeling supremely hungry, so i went with the mussels. The mussels themselves were plump, succulent, and well flavoured with the white wine they had been sauteed in. The egg fettuccine was simply dressed with butter and parsley, and swam in the white wine sauce from the mussels. Once again, decent, satisfying, but nothing that stands out as a must-have.

Lastly, dessert was chocolate mousse. With a slightly chalky flavour, i found it a bit off. It was definitely light and fluffy, but the light chocolate flavour combined with the chalky taste led me to believe it was made with cocoa powder, and not melted chocolate. The highlight of the dish was sadly the fruit on top of the mousse.

What do i think? Well, It’s not that French. And there is nothing all that exceptional about it. They serve good solid food that satisfies you, and in that regard i was happy. However, at the price point they are charging, i generally expect more. A lot more. While Table D’hote may have been a poor choice on my part, i feel that they would be better served trimming their dishes down to a manageable number that would allow them to focus on quality and value. They use some good quality ingredients that i recognize from purveyors around Calgary – grass-fed, Galloway beef, magret duck breast, things like that, but don’t do much that most people couldnt replicate in their own kitchens. Overall, i’d be happy if things were 30-40% cheaper, but at this price point, regardless of the quality, I won’t be returning.

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