There’s a unit in Hale Barns that depending on the year or even month, may have a different name adorning its windows.
Whilst a couple of restaurants have been and gone, since March that name has been Balchão.
Serving Asian fusion cuisine, the restaurant team is run by the award-winning Nitya Pathak, who many locals will be familiar with, having been part of many high-end restaurants such as the excellent Rasassi, still going strong on The Downs. The competitively priced menu, designed by Pathak, offers an eclectic range of starters, ‘sizzlers’, signature dishes and ‘chef’s selected curries’, promising contemporary dishes which combine Asian fare with other flavours from around the world.
For me, often as important as the food on the plate is the ambience within which that food is served. I think restaurants’ ‘dine at home’ offers best demonstrated this over lockdown. Good food is still good food, but it’s not quite the same on your own plates, sat at your own table, with your own heroic attempt at mood lighting (big light off) and Alexa in the corner mostly, yet reluctantly, obeying your commands. You want to feel like it’s an ‘event’ and your surroundings play a special part in that.
It was sometime between the poppadoms arriving and our orders being taken that I’d already decided that Balchão was a nice place to be.
From the moment you’re welcomed in (and it really is a welcome rather than a perfunctory act of reservation administration) and shown to your table, you feel taken care of. The dining area is a nice balance of open and intimate (oxymoronic though it may seem), some tables discreetly sectioned off with screens, but all within view of the open kitchen where the sounds and aromas of the food being cooked almost serve as an amuse-bouche.
So to the starters, and I chose Jambiri Thokku, ‘mouthwatering prawns cooked in Tamilian flavours’.
The first time I encountered prawns in their shells, I was 14 and it was in the Algarve and I was scared. Whilst I’ve taken steps to mature as a human being since then, it was still a joy to find that these shells were butterflied and the prawn meat abundant and juicy and I didn’t make an unholy mess trying to get to it.
My plus one chose the Kurnool Kissed Fish – ‘Guntur chilli marinated fish, tempered with semi cracked mustard and herbs’. What a lovely name and the poster boy (or girl) for Asian fusion, as while named after a city in India, it was giving us Chinese vibes akin to dishes such as sticky salt and pepper chicken. But fish. It was our favourite and I pilfered more than my fair share.
After a pescatarian style approach to our starters, we embraced our inner carnivores from the signature dish menu (vegetarian and vegan dishes also available). I chose Chicken Talma – ‘succulent chicken breast coated in homemade aromatic masala spices and stuffed with minced chicken and cheddar cheese. My plus one, Lamb Premier, overnight marinated lamb chunks cooked with spices, fresh coconut and onions.
As the plates arrived, we were soon losing the fight for table space as the meat only told half the story. Each dish arrived with two types of rice (garlic and plain), crushed potatoes and peas, and a ‘special sauce’. The garlic rice was tasty and I had no qualms in attacking the triple carb situation going on. Both dishes were wonderfully flavoured, the meat succulent and just enough heat to make one happy without one reaching for one’s water.
After a chat with management, it was clear that the attention to detail reaches beyond what is unquestionably great food and that high on the priority stakes is to be part of the community, listening to what locals want in their neighbourhood restaurant.
Before our plates were cleared, we’d already decided that Balchão is where we’re taking our most food-loving friends when they’re next in town, and you can’t say fairer than that.
Balchão, Unit 1, The Square, Hale Road, Hale Barns WA15 8ZN. To book, call 0161 980 6391 or visit balchao.co.uk