Balkans Soho Society automatically corrects to Balkans as I write this review on my phone, bumping about on the DLR back to Canary Wharf. I change it back (twice, Apple is quite insistent) but then realise it makes little difference.
The sanitised boulevards of Westfield Stratford City are about as far from the dirty little backstreets of seamy Soho as they are from Croatia, Albania and Serbia.
Although these days the seedy junkyard of tawdry squalor proper is fading like the spectre of Yugoslavia itself, now a mere letter in an abbreviation (FYR Macedonia, FYI).
Soho’s now all spruced up venues with clean surfaces hoping to leech a little cool from the filth-drenched masonry surrounding them.
How long before it goes the same way as that Balkan amalgam and this chain I’ve come to review becomes the BS Society?
Well, perhaps it should. Its website makes much of its outsider credentials – “all hail the rogue, the rascal and the reprobate” – just so long as they don’t spoil the carefully displayed books, which are not for reading (I checked with management).
“Let us banish the jobsworth, the wet blanket, the killjoy,” goes the BS mission statement. “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.”
I toy with the idea of taking the books down and burning them but worry, without my fascist get-up that the BS staff might confuse me with some lacklustre mountebank, fail to embrace my outsider cool and eject me.
The juxtaposition of its anarchic outlander posturing with the reality of Balans is risible to the point of defying satire.
Its decor (which admittedly has a strong and pleasing angle-poise game), might have been ordered from the pages of an interiors brochure dubbed Superquirk. A fencing mask, in a frame; surely not. A puppet in a box; who’s pulling his strings?
It doesn’t feel arthouse, quirky or organic. It is the antithesis of spontaneous cool. It’s studied and was probably installed by men with tool belts. That it’s in a shopping centre speaks volumes.
But wait, reader – here’s the pay-off. Frustratingly the food and drink are very good.
Strangely, there’s not an ounce of pretense in the menu, just decent, sharply priced gut fillers.
A £6 quesadilla proves plentiful and softly comforting in the mouth, while a following red curry (£13.50) is hot and probably more pleasingly shocking than anything that’s ever happened in a Balans branch.
The cocktails, especially the Society Teddy Bear (£9) who comes in a little ursine bottle are also suitably sweet.
They just need to tone down the rhetoric. As its menu says: “Enough of this lunacy.”
Balans Soho Society, 1034, Westfield Stratford City, Ariel Way, London, W12 7GA, 020 8600 3320
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