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Vivat Bacchus!

Louise Elgin would like to spend the weekend in the cheese room...

I have to be honest with you and say that I was rather put off visiting this latest addition to city dining by the rather damning reviews I had read in the press. However, I was far from disappointed by my visit there this week and felt that Dine Online readers would enjoy it too. Vivat Bacchus is the sister restaurant of Browns in Johannesburg. Obviously, they could not call it that over here, as the name Browns is already well and truly established. However, the new name truly reflects their passion for fruit of the vine and is a refreshing twist on the many wine bars and restaurants it hopes to rival for business.

Attractively set in a bare brick and glass basement, the dining room felt welcoming and inviting. I arrived at 7.15pm and already many of the tables were full with after work city diners, catching an early bite before they commuted home. The extensive wine list only showed us 5% of what was actually on offer, and we were invited to wander behind the glass walled cellars and marvel at the hundreds of bottles that were available. About 20% of the choice is made up of South African wines from boutique vineyards across the country and includes a Meinert Devon Crest (2001) (S'bosch) which Nelson Mandela drank at his last birthday, £9.90 a glass, £29.00 a bottle.

The tables were well spaced, with gleaming cutlery and napkins. In fact, everything was very pleasant…although my companion pointed out that the seats were, after a while, a little hard and uncomfortable. A minor complaint, so let us move on to the food. The menu consisted of six starters, priced between £5.00 & £10.00. I commenced with the crab rostis with lemon beurre blanc and rocket, (£7.00). This was very fresh, the succulent crab and peppery rocket blending fabulously with the lemony beurre blanc. The rosti had a good bite to it, over all an unusual and very good choice. Our other starter, a roast butternut risotto with Parmesan and chives, (£7.00), was cooked to perfection with a good flavour of pumpkin and a sumptuous, creamy bite.

We were drinking our wines by the glass. I had opted for a South African Paul Cluver Sauvigon Blanc 2002 (from Elgin (!) SA) … a possible relation, I wondered? At £4.95 a glass, £19.95 a bottle, this was an example of the greatly improved quality of wines coming out of South Africa these days. Sauvignon Blancs have made great strides in recent years and this was a very fresh and fruity glass with sumptuous gooseberry overtones. My guest was drinking a glass of Bourgogne Aligote 2001; Goisot (Burgundy), which was similar priced. In my experience, this is rather an acquired taste, which we happened not to be that keen on, but it was typical of its grape variety and perfectly acceptable if it's your thing.

Moving on to the choice of seven main courses, priced between £12.00 and £17.00, we noticed that  they were all well presented on large white plates. I had the grilled monkfish and king prawn brochette with gremolata and olive oil, (£17.00), It arrived well seared, succulent in texture, with crunchy peppers and fat pieces of seafood with a garlic and lemony kick - in alll, most enjoyable. My guest had the crispy duck leg confit with sweet potato and thyme terrine with vanilla jus, (£16.00). She said the duck was tender and succulent and falling off the bone, whilst the sweet potato was bursting with flavour. We both very much enjoyed our choices, although small gripes have to be aired. The staff were over-eager in asking us if we were enjoying our meal, probably because they were still recovering from earlier critical assaults. Also, they took our plates away too quickly. I put this down to enthusiasm, which is rather rare in this cynical world we live in today.

For pudding there were six choices, priced between £5 and £8.50. Between us we chose the banana tart tatin with vanilla ice cream, (£6.00), and the cheese from the cheese room, which was priced by weight. The chilled cheese room was the highlight of the meal and worth visiting just for the experience, albeit an expensive one at around £9.00 a plate. It houses up to a staggering eighty British and Continental cheeses.

We were invited into the room and given a guided tour of what was on offer. This is a cheese lover's paradise and I chose a selection which included a Camembert with Calvados, a blue cheese which had been matured in Sauterne for two months, a smoked cheese with nettles and a cold smoked Cheddar. They came served on a wooden platter with home made plum chutney and biscuits. A fabulous sensation of tastes hit my senses. The stereotypical restaurant cheeseboard should curl up and die in shame! Meanwhile, the banana tart tartin was well worth the 12-minute wait. It was described to me as light and fluffy with feathery pasty, and was eaten with many happy moans of appreciation! It was partnered by a glass of "sticky" wine. Normally I am not one to enjoy a dessert wine, however, the Paul Cluver Nobel Late Harvest (Elgin SA) at £4.50 a glass, was served very cold, and would indeed have made Bacchus one very happy god! A classic example of a botrytis wine. Our bill for two at £85.00 felt fairly priced for the quality of our meal. I wish the people behind Vivat Bacchus every success. It is worth trying for the amazing selection of wines and cheeses alone.

Louise Elgin. March 2004.

Vivat Bacchus 47 Farringdon Street London EC4 Tel 020 7353 2648

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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