Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published March 6th 2014
The 50s is so 21st Century
The Exhibit, 12 Balham Station Road
The Exhibit is a place where you can get a meal and a half, plus a good laugh, at a price that will make you wonder how it hires its staff. It has a deal on every day of the week, it is a venue that is truly unique. There is a bar, diner, and cinema too. You can also book a party room with a balcony view.
I booked tickets for The Exhibit's Wednesday deal: dinner and a movie for £15.90. The film I wanted to see was Philomena, which was originally released in November 2013. Instead of showing what every other cinema is showing, The Exhibit screens films that every other cinema already has shown. These are films that have been on within the last six months that you might have wanted to see, but for whatever reason missed. Next week they will be screening The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and the week after that, Saving Mr. Banks. Although most of their films nights are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they sometimes hold special events. For example, Funky Moves is a kids' film club held during the afternoons, while I Only Watch 18s are movie nights for adult films. For their monthly Big Kahuna, they will be celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Ghostbusters everyday from the 31st March. You can also hire the room to play video games on the big screen.
Screenings start at 8.45pm, but my Dad and I arrived nice and early so we could look around. This was our first visit to The Exhibit, but it was easy to find, only being abut a minute's walk from Balham Station. We walked into a low lit bar that was friendly on the eyes. It had glowing neon signs a cosy fireplace, and an aquarium with florescent lights, melodic fish, and hypnotising bubbles rising to the surface. The bar has a fortnightly beer pong tournament on Level Three, where you can win a £30 bar tab.
The room on Level Three has a balcony and can be booked for private hire. This can be for parties, corporate events, and classes. The night I went, there was a Buddhist group using the space for meditation. There is another private hire room on Level Two, called The Crush. This has its own bar, and a 50" plasma screen television for watching Live sports.
Level Two also holds The Exhibit's newest refurbishment. When the venue launched in 2000, their restaurant had a European theme, but seeing the rising trend in burger bars, they decided to follow the trend, by turning it into an all new American Diner. Bringing the fifties into the twenty-first century, Pop Art lines the walls and counter, and here is also a juke box at the front of the room, filled not with LPs, but CDs. You can choose from hundred of tunes by the likes of Elvis, Dolly Parton, and more. This piece of retro technology is great fun when the venue is empty, but once it starts to fill up, it becomes too loud to hear the music. The waiters also have the best uniforms you could ask for. Here it would be frowned upon if you didn't wear jeans and a flannel shirt.
Dad and I were seated by the window, which has a view of Sainsbury's car park. Granted, it is not the most exciting scene to look out on to, but the panes are tall enough to look up at the night sky.
The diner has an extensive menu that includes pancakes, eggy brunches, hotdogs, and salads. Every day they have a different deal. Monday is two-for-one on burgers, Tuesday is 'Beat the Clock' night. Whatever time it is, that is the price you pay for your meal (e.g. 6.30pm means your meal is £6.30). On Wings Wednesday, you get all you can eat chicken wings and fries for £9.90, on Thursdays you get two-for one on ribs, and Fridays and Saturdays is a burger & beer for £8.
I'll be honest, I'm not much of a burger person, but that is what I ordered because it was part of the movie night deal: burger, fries, and dessert, plus a movie for £15.90. Even though I'm not a burger person, I was spoilt for choice. The Exhibit offers all varieties, such as chilli, falafel, chicken & tarragon, and the guest burger. There also over a dozen extra toppings you can add, including chilli con carne, sauteed mushrooms, and a hash brown. I chose the beef & sun dried tomato burger with a sour cream topping. Dad asked me to guess what he was having. It took no time at all to figure out he wanted wild boar & chorizo, which he topped up with crispy bacon and stilton cheese.
I want to take this moment to applaud the waitresses who served us. They were very helpful, good natured, and patient while we were uhming and ahhing over the menu. They allowed us to swap one of our fries for a portion of onion rings, and although drinks were not part of the meal deal, we were given them on the house too.
Since the menu was full of American beers, Dad did not recognise them, but when he said that he liked bitter, our waitress came back with a recommendation, and said if he didn't like it, she would get it changed. That was not necessary, she got it spot on.
Other drink options include wine, cocktails, and hard (alcoholic) & soft milkshakes. I had a raspberry ripple milkshake with Chambord and Mozart Gold. It arrived with a hefty swirl of whipped cream on top, and made with lots of ice cream that froze the back of my throat as it went down. The flavours were subtle to begin with - probably because it was so cold, but the deeper down I drank, the tastier and tastier it became.
Wild Boar & Chorizo Burger with Bacon & Stilton
Many burgers that I have seen served in restaurants get stacked so high that they are impossible to tackle because they make them small in width and thick in density. The Exhibit is much more sensible, and serve properly proportioned burgers that you can hold in your hand, fit in your mouth, and still be filled to the brim halfway through. Dad made all the right combination choice for his chorizo burger, which he thought was exquisite. As well as the fillings he asked for, each burger also comes with good old fashioned pickled gherkins, red onion, and lettuce.
Sun-dried Tomato Beef Burger with Sour Cream
I was a bit disappointed by my burger. I was expecting lots of sun dried tomatoes, but when I lifted the top layer, there weren't any. All I had was what looked like tomato sauce spread across the top bun.
Fries, Onion Rings, and Barbecue Sauce
Our onion rings came on a fun looking ring toss, and our fries in a pot that was just a little too small. They had an almost spicy flavour to them, enhanced by a helping of barbecue sauce.
Then on to dessert, which continue with the all American theme of banana split, doughnuts, a Knickerbocker Glory, or The Exhibit Sundae. Dad had the Knickerbocker, which indeed was a glorious sight. Topped with a raspberry and whipped cream, chocolate sauce covered a large helping of vanilla and strawberry ice cream.
5 Inch Doughnuts with Chocolate Sauce
The doughnuts come in three sizes (5 inch, 10 inch, 15 inch); since I was already full, I went for the smaller option. I'm glad too, because although the warm dark chocolate dipping sauce was lovely, I found the mini doughnuts stodgy rather than light, fluffy, and crisp.
With our meal over, we still had an hour to spare, which allowed us to digest, and have a second round of drinks. Dad had another beer, and I, a Strawberry Shortcake milkshake. The strawberry flavour was much more prominent in this case, and sweetened by a delicious almond syrup.
Snuggle up for a movie on the couch.
The movie room is a real treat. It has all the spectacle of the cinema, but with all the comforts of your living room. A large HD screen and blu-ray player means a top quality picture, and there is no half hour of sitting through adverts. Not that you would necessarily mind in this case. Forget about the airline chairs that result in numb bum syndrome, at The Exhibit you get nothing less than fine leather sofas and sumptuous red cushions. When the lights go out, it is the perfect time to get comfy and snuggle up with your partner without an annoying arm rest in the way. There are also side tables to put your drinks and snacks on.
1950s America was a decade of booming pop culture, and I think The Exhibit brings that to Balham in the best possible way.