While it isn't exactly hard to find somewhere to eat in London, if you've not done your research ahead of time it's very easy to find yourself eating a really mundane meal. Being the food fan and obsessive pre-planner that I am I always scout around online and ask my friends in the city where the current best places to grab a bite are and I especially like when a blogger I know can recommend somewhere to try. Balans Soho Society is one such restaurant so when I was in town for a day full of press events and needed a nice dinner and some cocktails to chill out after a hectic eight hours it seemed the perfect spot.

I headed to the Kensington location (they have 8 across the city offering different dining experiences) with my sister and we were welcomed into a cosy front of house and bar that opened out into another dining area with a big skylight allowing light to flood in and highlight all the curiosities and art pieces that fill the place, including a big old spindly tree in the centre of the room decorated with old keys hanging like baubles. It's well known that I'm more maximalist than minimalist and love antiques and old books and curios so I felt very at home in the eccentric interior. We sat in the main dining room with the skylight and it had a nice buzzy atmosphere that felt cosy and brasserie-esque without being cramped and feeling like your table is nearly on top of another.

Like the decor the menu has a great mix of influences so there's going to be a dish for everyone. Naturally we started with a drink and I plumped for the Tiki Daiquiri that blended spiced rum with lime, vanilla, grapefruit and pineapple. It had a good boozy kick and wasn't all juice like you find at some places, with the vanilla rounding off the tartness of the fruits and the gentle cinnamony spice of the rum adding that all important back note - balanced and refreshing and very very drinkable. 

My sister went what I call a 'temperance drink' aka a mocktail, deciding on the really very delicious Grape & Kiwi Kooler. This mixed red grape juice with a little pineapple, lemon and kiwi and a few syrupy drops of agave - definitely one for lovers of American style purple grape drinks like us but a concoction I would have over and over again. Especially with the addition of gin!

While we perused the menu we nibbled on some very good house marinated olives that were room temperature (as they should be, boo to cold olives) and studded every now and again with a heavenly pickled garlic clove. Thankfully there were two so me and my sis didn't have to fight to the death over who got one. We decided to share a selection of small plates mainly so we could try lots of things and eventually chose four with the help of our amazingly wonderful server David who is quite possibly my favourite restaurant employee of all time. We love you David.

First up we tried the Hot Smoked Salmon that was flaked over salad leaves strewn with beetroot kimchi and dressed with black sesame seeds and a creamy miso dressing. The vegetables were lovely with the carrot and what I believe was daikon radish clearly freshly grated to order, their crunch contrasting beautifully with the soft moist fish. The chilli kick to the kimchi was a delight against the rich fattiness of the fish with the gentle earthiness of the beetroot and miso elements bringing everything into balance. A lovely sprightly dish that was as tasty as it was beautiful.

I couldn't resist ordering the Heritage Carrots mainly as they were served with one of my all time favourites baba ghanoush as well as yoghurt and feta cheese. Again the balance of flavours and textures here was a delight, the soft aubergine and yoghurt yielding against perfectly cooked but not a all mushy roasted carrots. The crumbles of feta added the required salty zing against the deliciously bland eggplant and humble flavour of the multi coloured carrots with the garnish of peppery watercress paying an equally important role in the dish.

Next up were two Smoked Trout Tacos, the hero ingredient being the substantial handmade tortillas that had been griddled to perfection and had that unmistakable and utterly lovely flavour of toasted corn. The trout was flaked over the top along with dill, fresh peas and watercress with a generous splodge of horseradish cream. I enjoyed the unabashed heat of the horseradish but it was a bit much for my sister - this of course is entirely down to personal taste but I appreciated its unsubtlety. The menu mentioned pickled spring vegetables which I wasn't able to detect unless perhaps the peas had been given a quick pickle, but the dish didn't suffer for this and the bright green freshness of the peas was lovely against the smoked fish and densely delicious corn tortilla.

Our final small plate was the Asian Pork Cheek which was indeed a delight to the tastebuds, but the texture of the meat was a little surprising as it was like a biltong or jerky with a dry chewiness as opposed to the supreme tenderness I was expecting from cheek meat. Honestly I'm not sure if this was just my expectation being completely wrong or if something wasn't quite right because it wasn't unpleasant, just unexpected. Crisp onion, freshly cut corn and a salad of Asian vegetables offered nice contrast with a kick of chilli, sweet salty sticky soy based sauce and dots of plum ketchup bringing everything together. Like I said not a bad tasting dish by any means but I'd be interested to hear other's reactions to this plate too so I can know if anyone else felt the same way about the meat cooking style.

Despite feeling pretty replete at this point one look at the dessert menu convinced us we had room for sweet treats so we placed our order. Laura picked the Warm Doughnuts, a generous portion of which were served up in hot sugar dusted glory alongside pots of dark chocolate fudge sauce & vanilla chantilly cream. There was a nice denseness to the doughnuts that made them taste comforting and old fashioned, not like the super aerated versions you see most of the time these days (although they do have their own place in my heart ahem stomach) and when dipped in the warm chocolate and topped with a blob of chantilly they were a delight. 

I'm a sucker for a panna cotta and so couldn't resist their version served with mulled winter fruits and an almond crumb. This felt oh so appropriate as it had been chucking it down with rain all day and comfort food was required, making the gently spiced red winey fruit oh so welcome. Personally rather than a crumb I would have served a buttery almondy biscuit as the crumbles got soggy in the wine so quickly, but it was by no means unpleasant especially with the cool creamy panna cotta. I think creme fraiche had been added alongside the normal cream here as there was a lovely tangy finish similar to sour cream and the texture was perfect - soft and yielding without the dreaded over set wobble that can occur if not done correctly. I'm definitely going to experiment with my panna cotta recipe next time to try and get a similar fresh zing to it.

All in all this was a really pleasant meal in nice relaxed surroundings. I'd be more than happy to while away a good few hours of drinks and nibbles with friends at Balans Soho Society and I'll definitely be looking out for their other locations next time I'm in the big city.

Thank you to Balans for gifting us this meal in exchange for my review and all the gratitude to our charming, attentive and funny server David who made our meal even more of a delight, dance and all!

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*This meal was complimentary in exchange for my review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.