Goodbye pizza and burgers: meatballs are London’s next big food trend. Homemade caught up with Bonny Porter, the chef behind the city’s first meatball-only restaurant Balls & Company, to explain why
In 2013, Bonny Porter was a 23-year-old fresh out of a cooking apprenticeship who’d landed a place as one of the youngest and most standout contestants on MasterChef Australia: The Professionals.
Two years later she’s opened her first restaurant to great success, making waves in a city she’s never lived in and an industry saturated with men 10 years her senior: she recalls, "The restaurant's construction team were like ‘Who are you?’ when I met them for the first time. They were definitely surprised to learn that I was the owner!”
But if you haven’t heard of Bonny Porter yet that’s probably because she doesn't want you to. Her time in front of the MasterChef camera didn't spark an interest in hogging the spotlight.
“I didn’t like it when the show actually came out," she told Homemade over coffee at Company Below, the basement bar beneath her new meatball restaurant Balls & Company on Greek Street in Soho, London. “I’m not used to being on TV at all."
"With [Balls & Company], I’ve really tried to take a back seat and let the company be the thing in the foreground.”
The Aussie’s plan to remain anonymous in the public eye is almost a shame because, in an intensely competitive industry, she stands out as one to watch as she rapidly gains respect from her peers. It was Marco Pierre White who initially encouraged Bonny to open her restaurant in London after they met on the MasterChef set.
But it's something else that makes her exceptional. As well as being female, under 30 and a foreigner in the city where she does business, Bonny’s also completely deaf (although you’d never know in conversation with her as the chef is an expert lip reader with perfect speech), making her ability to run a hectic kitchen even more impressive.
So why, with so many assumed challenges facing her, would she open a restaurant specialising in a trend yet to hit the UK: meatballs?
“America and Australia are doing the dish really well and I saw a gap in the market in the UK.
"Meatballs are a real dude food in America and in Australia they’re serving meatballs with a sort of humour. I wanted to do something different. Meatballs with no puns.”
And it’s paid off. Walk past Balls & Company on a Friday night and you’ll see a long queue outside the door. The main courses are split into three parts on the menu: the balls, the sauce and the sides.
“I think in London there are loads of great family friendly, affordable restaurants and then you’ve got the fine dining restaurants, but there’s nothing in between.
"We have what we call a culture of respect at the restaurant, which means you can trace the products we use from the plate they’re served on straight back to the producer. We know our producers personally and we always minimise our waste; it would be disrespectful for us to throw away something they spend their lives working for.”
Customers can choose from meatballs including medium-rare wagyu, salmon with dill and seeds and chicken with thyme, lemon and Dijon, before selecting a sauce (béchamel, tomato, romesco or pesto).
Bonny thinks this trend of customers tailoring their dish to their own personal tastes is prevalent in the foodie world right now. "It’s what people want," she says. "Think of burritos – you choose your sauces, your extras.”
There’s even a vegetarian meatball on the menu and comfort food sides include mashed potato and spaghetti. The perfect mix of specialist, select ingredients you’d usually find in a fine dining restaurant and the snug venue with cool, fuss-free decor are what make Balls & Company such an exciting addition to London’s foodie scene.
Plus, eating there comes at a very reasonable price with a main, a side, dessert and glass of prosecco coming in at £22 per head. Well worth standing in a queue for.
You may not be ready to say goodbye to sourdough pizza or brioche burger buns just yet, but if trends in the US and Australia are anything to go by, meatballs are in London to stay. And so, we hope, is Bonny. No more greasy fingers, it's time to eat with a knife and fork again.
Inspired? If you can’t get over to Balls & Company anytime soon, take inspiration from these meatball recipes with a difference instead.
Baked chicken teriyaki meatballs are sweet, sticky and take less than half an hour to make.
Barbecue and onion will make your smoky meatballs taste like they've been cooked on the grill.
Chia meatballs are perfect if you're feeling more adventurous – try them with courgetti and a tomato sauce.
White bean and mushroom meatballs will please any vegetarian you've got round for dinner.
Balls & Company, 58 Greek St, London, W1D 3DY
Liked this? Want more? Try these:
- Life after MasterChef: Tim Anderson
- MasterChef winners: where are they now?
- 12 things that always happen on MasterChef, every time
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