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Review

Café Viva

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238 Balham High Road, London SW12
020 8673 6705

Average price per person around £18

A cheap but good neighbourhood bistro is a find in any residential area of London, so the inhabitants of Balham can count themselves lucky that Café Viva arrived on the high street earlier this year.

The small restaurant is decorated in strong colours with cheap furniture and a chrome bar. Customers are greeted by salsa music and friendly staff, who encourage you to have a cocktail apéritif at the bar. The menu is short, but the blackboard is crammed full of daily specials – most of them the kind of standard bistro fare you expect in London these days: an uninspiring mix of modern British and Global food, with dishes such as deep-fried Brie and Thai noodles. But what the food lacks in originality it makes up for with carefully cooked, high quality ingredients.

We started with the afore-mentioned Brie, served with an orange and cranberry sauce, and falafel resting on a bed of lettuce and a tangy tahini dressing. The Brie was as good as they come, and the falafel was unusually moist and subtle in flavour.

After such a promising beginning, the main dishes were a little disappointing. Repeat visits to Café Viva have revealed that seafood is not the restaurant’s strength, and a very bland grilled salmon salad was no exception. Carnivores generally fare better (although vegetarians are also catered for), with an interesting selection of fruity meat dishes. My partner had confit of lamb with an apricot sauce, which turned out to be a reasonably successful marriage of flavours.

The portions at Café Viva are very generous indeed, but should you manage to find room for dessert, there is a moderately priced assortment of the usual sweet suspects to gorge yourself on. We shared an orange cheesecake, which with its orange and cranberry sauce was a sweet mirror of the Brie starter. It was good, but ultimately resistible.

Café Viva provides good food at very reasonable prices – starters are £3 - £5, and mains £6 - £9. Even better value is the Monday – Thursday special offer of two courses for £6.95 (not including daily specials), an excellent deal which has no doubt contributed to Café Viva’s popularity among the locals.