So here’s the thing about most of us bloggers: we probs feel like we’ve known each other for yonks even if we’ve never met. Through social media accounts (are we friends on Insty yet, btw), we basically know things about each other – from trivialities like last thing we ate or last tequila shots, to big news like “OMG she’s expecting!” or moving house.
It’s cute, this friendship we have as bloggers (and isn’t it adorbs how we sometimes still call each other by our blog handles?) I’ve met some good mates within the London blogging community, with a few who’ve been rather instrumental in my life. But whilst I’ve made great online buddies, there are some whom I’ve not really met yet.
The thing with bloggers is that once you both decide to properly meet for the first time, you know you’re kinda halfway there. You’re comfy enough to know what food they like (#foodporn), what they call their partners (#loveofmylife), where they last went on hols (#travelbug), what issues they have (#theartofnotgivingafuck), or even what they look like without clothes (#beachbodyready). I guess the nerves come when you think “Oh gosh, I hope we gel well IRL” and pray there won’t be awkward silences – or ten thousand small convos about the weather.
Shikha (of Why Waste Annual Leave) is one of the very few bloggers whose writing I admire so much. I love reading her symphonic blog posts because they’re clever and witty, personable and relatable. We’ve exchanged likes and comments previously, but it was when she fell in love with the Philippines that I knew it was time for that first date. Happily agreeing on a time and place, we decided to catch up about our trips in Bala Baya.
I’d like to think my first date with Shikha went so well that as I write, I have a wide smile on my face. Firstly, she’s even more beautiful in person. She really radiates when she talks, like an animated light bulb full of bright ideas. She’s genuinely one of the bloggers I adore and look forward to reading, because she puts her heart into her content which is seriously interesting. I can’t wait to read more of her stories – or better yet, hear more of it over more dates!
As for the food, I’d like to say that great company usually makes a decent meal but the food was pretty fantastic, too! And I think we did well for two petite ladies.
We started off with some complimentary bread served with a yogurt and harissa dip. It had a good kick, and I had to stop myself from digging in knowing we’ve got quite a feast to finish.
Bala Baya’s squidilicious dish may have a funky sounding name, but dont let the label fool you. This is a divine, lush plate of tender seafood. It’s lightly seasoned to let the flavour shine and boldly garnished to compliment its natural sweetness.
The aubergine mess was one of my highlights. Granted, it did look like a mess but it delivered a delicious smoky flavour from the eggplant with hints of tanginess from the sauce and dollops of tahini. There’s also some lychee, giving it a wee bit of sweetness I liked.
The sweet potato and lamb dish was quite a nice thing I’d love to have for lunch. Sweet potato hummus, is topped with tender braised lamb shoulder and pine nuts. The texture was good, and the neither ingredients overpowered the other.
If there was one thing I could’ve gone without, it would be the stuffed potatoes. Topped with taleggio, black truffle and garnished with spring onion and tomato relish, it was quite filling and I thought the flavour wasn’t as strong as I had hoped it would be. Delish, but not quite there.
Star of the night? Gotta be the fish and fennel. A whole filleted sea bass cooked on the grill with toms on the vine, burnt sage and lemon and served with fresh fennel and butter and anise sauce.
Like shit man, this is how I like my fish cooked. Soft, meaty yet flaky and with a good amount of bounce. I’m almost always reluctant when I see fennel and anise as ingredients, but the sauce was subtle and the fresh fennel worked well with the fish itself.
As for our sweet ending, we went traditional with burnt babka. The pastry’s a bit more dense but I enjoyed the hazelnut and chocolate spread inside. And the whisked anglaise they served it with was rather awesome, too.
Verdict for Bala Baya
I really enjoyed the food at Bala Baya and the atmosphere was pretty good on a Monday. It seemed like a nice place to go for first dates, where you can actually hear your companion and make conversation. Service was pretty tight, and the food was definitely good.
However, I have to say Shikha made the whole experience very enjoyable. She’s definitely a star and a force to be reckoned with. Go give Bala Baya a visit, then go read Shikha’s blog!
Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union St, London SE1
Ave spend pp: £40