Bonny Porter is breaking the mould of London’s restaurant scene. Make no mistake – her Balls & Company menu may appear to echo other specialist concepts, but where else boasts a core offering of meatballs? Step back IKEA, this Aussie MasterChef competitor is shedding new light on this hearty food.
CDM: Did competing on MasterChef change your approach to being a professional chef in the industry?
BP: Not at all – I was working and learning amongst Australia’s best chefs at Rockpool Bar & Grill at the time, who inspired me every day to be the best I could be. I always knew I wanted to keep learning within the kitchen, but it was Marco Pierre White who told me to move to London and experience something new.
CDM: What brought you over to England and how did you make the transition from working in a commercial kitchen in Australia to the UK – is the restaurant industry any different over here?
BP: In Australia, you are not a chef unless you have completed your apprenticeship. This lasts three years, whereby you spend one day a week in college learning the fundamentals of cookery and the remaining four days of work with your employer. Over the course of three years you will spend multiple days focusing on one thing – for example, how to break down a lamb. Here in the UK, it seems like training is less structured and chefs learn by working their way up the kitchen hierarchy and gaining skills wherever they can. There also seems to be a shortage of female chefs in the UK, whereas the divide has drastically decreased in Australia in recent years.
CDM: Where did the idea for Balls & Company come from?
BP: I felt there was a gap in the market for food that was of the best quality and that didn’t break the bank. I also thought that everywhere was a copy of somewhere else – the menu, the design – it was all very chain heavy, industrial and heavily branded. I wanted to bring something to London that was a breath of fresh air – something new and different.
CDM: What is special and different about your meatballs that makes them strong enough to be the core of the menu, and is there a particular ‘stand out’ dish that you think best represents your menu?
BP: Our producers are each carefully selected for their passion to their craft, which I feel shows in the product that arrives in our kitchen. Every single ball is prepped in-house and cooked to order, as opposed to being precooked and heated on site.
The Wagyu Balls are a particular stand out. Our producers, Martine & Moshin at Highland Wagyu, have created such an amazing product that it literally only needs salt and bit of TLC from the chefs. It’s a product that the producers’ commitment to provenance and traceability really shines through – it speaks for itself. At £9 for four balls, it’s a steal.
CDM: The restaurant is dual level, so how does the offering differentiate between the two and why did you decide to do this?
BP: The only difference between our dining area and our basement bar is the design and atmosphere – the menu is constant. I have had many experiences where I’m been popped in a basement at a restaurant and felt forgotten. We wanted those that were in the basement to have a fun time and its dark green interior lends itself to a bit of romance and canoodling – perfect for dates. Upstairs takes advantage of the wonderful natural light and so has a bit more of a relaxed vibe.
CDM: How do you encourage diners to use the different spaces during their visit? Is there any way you can tempt them to experience both levels of the restaurant and increase their stay?
BP: Absolutely. We are fortunate enough to have a queue of customers wanting to dine with us most evenings. The bar becomes a waiting area for a table upstairs and a space where people can mingle and try some of the cocktails we have on offer. We often get requests to rent out the basement to large groups, which makes for a very fun night out.
CDM: There are lots of specialist concepts in London that focus on one or two menu items – how are you keeping your offering diverse and engaging for guests, while standing out from other operators?
BP: We have a revolving specials menu, which showcases some of the best produce in season – from roast aubergine with pomegranate and sumac to peas with ricotta and mint. Balls & Company has a philosophy of a ‘Circle of Respect’ – we respect the producers who really are the unsung heroes of our industry, our chefs do this by utilising and cooking the produce to the best of their abilities. We then go further by respecting those who walk through our door. Our staff know that it is our privilege that the diners have chosen to dine with us, not the other way around, and that is why every table gets a little something to begin with – to thank them for choosing us.
CDM: Who designed the interiors of Balls & Company and where did the inspiration come from?
BP: My mum is a quite artistic and loves creating little bits and pieces around the house. One such design was a small 3D triangle pattern in wood that created optical illusions with light. I knew the restaurant needed to be something new that London hadn’t done yet and thought the triangles on the ceiling would be really unique. It was also apparent from my research that most restaurants are quite masculine in design. We had amazing designers in M&H Designs who took this and ran with it to create the space you see today – elegant, chic and with a hint of copper as an homage to our Mauviel copper pans which our balls are served in.
CDM: Is there scope to expand Balls & Company in the future, or do you have any other plans you’d like to share with our readers?
BP: There will only ever be one Balls & Company. As for further plans, watch this space…
You can find Balls & Company at 58 Greek Street, London, W1D 3DY.