38 1/2, Ball Court Alley, Cornhill, Bank, London EC3V 9DR
Service: I am still deciding…
Price: 35 p.p. drinks included
For the first time since I started to write this blog, I doubt my capacity of describing an experience. I am not too sure I will be able to convey the body of colours, noises and expressions that we encountered in this place. Of course I will try my best.
This is a strange place. And trust me, the habitués of the tavern will think you are weird as well.
If you don’t wear a shirt, if you don’t wear a tie, if you don’t wear polished shoes…brace yourself.
If you are a tourist or generally classifiable as “foreign”…gear yourself up. With an armor.
Entrance into Ball Court Alley from Cornhill
Is it a restaurant? Not exactly. Is it a pub? No. Is it a private club? Neither. A “chophouse” apparently. Whatever that means in XXI century London, as “steakhouse” or “grill” was not good enough. Chophouse then.
Let’s try to approach this with structure. Let’s start with food. Food was very good. Very homey. Intrinsically British. Just try to avoid focusing on the fact that they do not seem to be able to serve any other bread that is not common white sliced bread. We had a good chicken liver pate and some sort of mushroom starter with what looked like chopped vegetables…? I was not too convinced at this point but the mains were a strong response to my skepticism. My dad had a wonderful mixed grill with Chump Chop, Sausage, Egg, Kidney, Bacon & Tomato although he was sadden by the sight of only one kidney in his plate. I had a juicy and tender lamb shank that could have easily fed two. Everything was accompanied by what looked like home made sauces, ready on the table – contained in jars where everyone double dipped their cutlery with no major concern over any possible hygienic threat. The horseradish sauce was absolutely sublime. They also serve a “mysterious cheese”, very much appreciated by the locals, and that it was actually pretty good. To be spread on a slice of white bread. (Feel free to have a debate with your table neighbours as to whether to have the cheese as a starter or as a dessert. I am Italian and therefore I have since long given up the attempt of explaining the rest of the world that cheese is not a dessert and risotto is not a starter). So, all in all very good food. And good drinking. I suggest a good honest craft lager from the tavern.
Now, the atmosphere was quite a thing…We were in a group of four, two men and two women. My dad wearing a fleece, my partner wearing a…hoodie. [photographic pause]. We entered the tavern where in the whole of the clientele there were five women, our group included, and all the rest of the City, business-looking gentlemen were wearing a shirt or a suit. Where possible a tie. But sitting at and sharing narrow wooden tables. [Second photographic pause]. All eyes are on us. Few tried to be discrete, some others couldn’t care less. We had obviously entered the English dragon’s den. At that point a very welcoming attendant led us to the table, asked us if it was okay to share it with someone else and nicely sat down next to us to take our orders…good, it meant we could relax at that point. If you are wondering whether we might have been the only foreigners to ever enter the place, my answer would be “possibly yes”.
We shared a table for six with two gentlemen who did debate about the starter-vs-dessert “mysterious cheese”, more with the waiter then with us. Now, I am not too sure when we won them over. Maybe when they saw the courageous quantity of food we ordered. Maybe when they saw that my parents can well keep up with the Brits when it comes to drinking. Maybe when the whole of the staff gathered around my dad (I so should have asked for a free beer given all the entertainment we offered!) because they had to show him how to reverse the “mysterious cheese” on the bread slice using only fork and knife. What was interesting about that process escapes me completely, but they obviously found it very funny and my dad does never shy away from a joke. I did think they were kind of pulling his leg at a certain point but he must have passed some sort of hidden test, for everything turned out into a big and friendly laugh. The result was that the two sweet gentlemen sitting next to us started engaging in a very nice conversation about whisky, food and lifestyle. From there we moved onto being invited to share a humongous piece of stilton up to an exquisite bottle of “Duke of Clarence” Madeira wine that they did not allow us to reciprocate in any way. What a lunch, what an experience and what a warming embrace at the end. What started as a pretty awkward introduction to the selective “City” ways, turned out to be a funny and memorable moment. (My dad – who understands but does not speak English – has never been so enthusiastic about an English restaurant and he is already planning his next visit to the place over the summer). I have always adored the funny ways of the British, and once again I was so happy they were able to show themselves for what they truly are: an amazingly welcoming people.