Vivat Bacchus has long been attracting discerning wine lovers since its opening in November 2005. Located on the ground floor and in the basement of a glass fronted office block on busy Farringdon Street, this wine bar and restaurant has gained a solid following in the City and Clerkenwell, and from those further afield.
The low ceilinged ground floor, with its long bar serving good value wine by the glass or bottle and an informal, tapas style menu, also boasts a dedicated tasting room for the popular Wine Club.
However, the real treasures of Vivat Bacchus are to be found in the basement where five cellars house over 18,000 bottles. The award-winning wine list – which only shows a small percentage of what is actually stored – is strong on South Africa, from where the owner originates. Choice bottles from the country’s best producers, including many rare vintages released directly from the estates, are to be found here.
Nevertheless, France, Italy, Spain, California, Australia and New Zealand are also well represented. Head Sommelier Laura Ward expertly guides visitors around the vaults so they can make a more informed choice. There is also a walk in, temperature controlled cheese room, from where diners choose from an extensive range of English and Continental varieties
The basement restaurant would not, on first impressions, seem a suitable venue for an ambitious chef to display his talent. This bare bricked chamber, with parts of the ceiling exposing water pipes and air conditioning shafts, has an uncarpeted floor with cramped tables and narrow, uncomfortable chairs. The decoration, understandably, emphasises the wine, whether in the framed enlarged labels of the great vintages or the wooden plaques of the wine houses that adorn the walls. Moreover, the adjacent glass fronted wine cellars and cheese room would seem to be cunningly designed to divert the diner’s attention away from the table.
All this might suggest that food is secondary, with the cooking of mediocre, unimaginative dishes, typical of so many wine bars. Happily, this is not the case, especially since the recent arrival of a new Head Chef, Jordi Vila.
Immensely driven and keen to make his mark, he is meticulous in the sourcing of supplies and determined to refine his skills, along with those of his small brigade in the kitchen.
At lunch, an excellent value set menu is on offer. In the evenings, the carte and a tasting menu show the full extent of his repertoire. Jordi’s style is modern European with a twist.
His experience in the kitchens of Michelin three starred chefs has been of immense value: Ferran Adria of El Bulli taught him the importance of textures: Joel Robouchon in London helped him to develop his understanding of flavour. Jordi has combined these, along with his own creative talent, to produce a distinctive eclectic style of cooking that was admirably demonstrated in an inspection tasting menu. The matching wines, expertly chosen by Head Sommelier Laura Ward, proved perfect partners for the food.
The meal began with an unusual aperitif of warm but not over powering Parmesan consommé, which was strikingly served in a cocktail glass.
An amuse bouche of seared scallop came with its coral and a perfectly smooth cauliflower puree. The herring caviar garnish not only provided a colourful garnish but also added a mild salinity to balance the caramelized sweetness of the scallop.
(Served with Jospeh Perrier Brut NV champagne)
A cold dish of smoked eel had a delectable gentle creaminess. Garnished with beetroot and salad leaves, the dish may have benefited from greater enhancing emphasis on the celeriac remoulade (to provide the robust mustard flavour and contrasting texture that promotes so effectively this type of fish.)
(Served with Chardonnay 2008, Glen Carlou (Paarl SA)
Pan fried foie gras had all the rich and melting qualities one would expect of this luxurious slice of offal. The accompanying ice cream revealed a perfect smoothness and contrasting temperature, whilst grilled mango and poppy seed tuile gave sweetness of flavour and crispness of texture.
(Served with Chenin Blanc 2008. The FMC (Stellenbosch, SA)
Cactus and lime sorbet provided a refreshing, slightly herby and citrus palate cleanser
The Springbok main course not only reflected an amalgam of different cuisines but also novel cooking techniques. The meat, which naturally lacks the depth of flavour of venison, was well timed to a medium rare. However, its coating of finely roasted then ground spring onion and leek added an unusual and not totally agreeable texture. Sweet pumpkin puree, cubes of sangria jelly and chocolate sauce provided sweetness, but the addition of lychee was one ingredient too far.
(Served with Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Springfield (Robertson 2008 SA )
A visit to the cheese room resulted in the serving of perfectly ripe portions of Langres, Mont d’Or, Comte and Fourme d’ Ambert. These were served on a colourful and beautifully presented wooden platter with home made plum chutney and biscuits
(Served with Cote du Rhone 2005, Domaine Charvin (Southern Rhone Valley, FR)
A dessert of Chocolate textures proved a veritable tour de force. A delicate chocolate dome encasing a caramel ice cream, and served with a sauce flavoured with thyme, excited the senses and proved a brilliant ending to a memorable meal.
(Served with Banyuls Rimage “Les Clos de Paulilles” 2007)
Whilst not successful in every respect, the sum was greater than the parts. Overall, this was, indeed, most accomplished cooking. The quality of ingredients, the exact timing, the clean tastes and elegant presentation was impressive and heralded the arrival of an exciting new talent.
Service at Vivat Bacchus was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. It is rare for a waiter to be able to describe a complicated cooking technique, but ours made a brave attempt with the Springbok coating.
Jordi Vila has succeeded in showing that a more informal, less grand setting is not incompatible with fine dining. Indeed, Vivat Bacchus has now achieved a serious level of food to match its sophisticated and extensive provision of wine, to a far greater degree than most establishments in this part of London. What might have once been a convenient place for a quick lunch, or a stop over before catching the train home, now has the potential to become a destination restaurant. Certainly, foodies should now monitor its progress with interest.
The popularity of the restaurant will also have been aided by inclusion on the toptable website, where the combination of interesting offers and favourable reviews can only have helped boost demand.