Liberace On Shrooms: Why Bacchanalia Is OTT & Totally Worth It

I’ll level with you. Usually, when I write up a restaurant, the words fair fly off my proverbial pen. Between the starter and main course (or in drinking language, betwixt the bottles of Burgundy and Bordeaux) the angle I intend to take sort of materialises in my head, and the piece starts to write itself over the Armagnac. Obviously I never share this secret with my editor, upon whom I impress the sheer effort it takes to sculpt each sentence, the blood, sweat and tears I leave behind on each page, although I suspect he’s across the fact that an absence of things to say has never been one of my problems. But this week’s review, of Bacchanalia, has given me some pause for thought, a Three-Pipe Problem if you will.

It would have been easy to hitch my cart to the caravan of confected outrage peddled by both reviewers and punters in the weeks following the opening of this place just over a year ago. I could literally have dashed off in five minutes a sneering rant which pointed out the £165 pasta dish (lobster and black truffle mind), the £11 bread or the fact that this place has an actual velvet rope across the entrance. I could have wittily observed that the only people who would enjoy this place are too rich to give a fig about food, and lamented the ludicrousness of this behemoth, taking up a vast corner space near Berkeley Square, in what was previously, and entirely appropriately, a Porsche showroom.

Bacchanalia review: Mural

The problem is, I really, really liked it. And, wait for it…I think it provides excellent value for money. Before you choke on your toast, here me out; this is why I think Bacchanalia is properly worth it.

This is why I think Bacchanalia is properly worth it…

I entered via aforementioned velvet barrier. It was expertly unhooked with utter charm by Bacchanalia’s smiling doorman, wafting me into a positively spartan lobby. This anteroom gives little away as to what’s to come. It’s a positively ascetic, clean white space with even the coat cupboard concealed from view. Having checked in, we found ourselves ushered through a nondescript door into the dining room… And the contrast could not have been more dramatic. If you shut Liberace in a palazzo with a bag of shrooms and told him to design something totally OTT, he wouldn’t get close to this rampant, gilded, and entirely fabulous dining room. 

There are monumental Damien Hirst, alabaster white statues suspended across the entire 100-foot-high ceiling. Pegasus, Medusa and bare breasted women tower over you. Meanwhile at the back of the room, an enormous mural stretches right across the wall, showing Romans having it large.

Neither words nor pictures do any kind of justice to the way this place blows your senses. And that’s before I realised that the entire restaurant is decorated with genuine, 2,000-year-old Greco Roman art; it’s not behind protective glass nor garlanded with warnings not to touch, it’s bloody everywhere. I’ve always been a little bored by museums, just standing looking at stuff from the past is never enough fun. So, I’ve found the solution, if, like me, you’re slightly ADHD when it comes to culture. Eat at Bacchanalia, where you can literally stroke priceless works of art whilst you eat. Which reminds me, I need to tell you about the food…

This place blows your senses…

We kicked off in the marble, gold and red bar, which runs half the length of the restaurant and provides a decent, well mixed if not spectacular Martini (not sure about the unasked-for twist of lime but hey ho). This gives me time to survey the dining space and figure out where ‘Siberia’ lies. All restaurants of this type (the original Ivy, J Sheekey, The Wolseley and Le Caprice when it was around), have a place to be seated and somewhere else for the tourists/Instagrammars to sit and fiddle.

Here, you don’t want to be near the entrance. The nearer the tables get to the mural at the back, the more the vibe ratchets up. Plus the other diners get more glanceworthy. We were lucky, being led, post-cocktail to a fab table for two right in the heart of the action. There we met Anna, our utterly efficient Ukrainian waitress, bedecked in a black toga and a golden wreath. Of course all the staff wear togas too. They come in varying hues, the significance of which we failed to decode during our meal. Anna marshalled us through the menu and made sure our wine glasses never stayed empty for more than a moment.

Bacchanalia review: Random hand
Bacchanalia review: Statues

Now, the menu is quite something. There’s a section devoted only to caviar and truffles. You really can order pasta for £165, but most of the other mains hover around the £40-50 mark. The restaurant is the brainchild of Richard Caring. Clearly he reckons his other gaffes, which include J Sheekey, Sexy Fish and Scott’s, are simply not de trop enough.

There’s a section devoted only to caviar and truffles…

The wine list kicks off at £60 ish and quickly departs into its comfort zone of three (or four) figures. This though, is a wine list with more 1st growths and 100-point supertuscans than I’ve ever seen. It’s as though Caring has carted off the Borghese’s cellar and transplanted it in deepest Mayfair. Not having pockets quite deep enough for the 1985 Sassicaia (yours for £9,000), I opted for a Morgon. It’s one of the richer styles of Beaujolais, comes in around £100 and tastes like a baby red Burgundy. Its fragrant, subtle, low tannin is excellent with both meat and fish. One tip when you go to a spendy restaurant… If you want to find value, avoid the usual suspects wine-wise, so no Chablis or Claret. Instead go for wines slightly off the beaten track and you’ll find the markups slightly less vertiginous.

From the starters we went for Nduja beef tartare, octopus, and a tuna tartare. Anna decided we also needed to try the hummus and tarama, on the basis that she reckoned it to be the best she’s ever had. And she lived in Greece for years before heading to the UK to dress up in a toga for work. Anna was, of course, right. Instead of the usual flamingo pink, overly fishy paste, this tarama was pale, beautifully flavoured with fish roe. It was a fantastic foil for the unannounced perky bowl of iced crudités that accompany it.

Similar skill was shown with the oregano spiked octopus and tuna; fresh as f**k fish, delicate seasoning and, in the case of the octopus, well-judged cooking leaving it fork tender rather than a rubbery nightmare too often the reality in a genuine Greek taverna.

Fresh as f**k fish…

My only gripe was with the beef tartare. It arrived in its separate constituent parts and was then assembled, table side, in a bowl which looked like it had been hewn from a volcano. Now, I like a bit of table service; especially when it involves a waiter setting something on fire whilst you watch, however, putting together a plate of raw steak, eggs and stuff just isn’t very theatrical. The other problem was that the Nduja, which is a seriously piquant, soft, Calabrian sausage paste made the whole dish a bit squelchy, when the best bit of a tartare for me is the bite you get from each perfectly hand-cut cube of beef.

We realised half way through the starters that we were in real trouble. You see, our choices of starters, together with Anna’s extras, meant we had munched our way through almost half a dozen dishes and we weren’t even at half time. And I had, with rather foolhardy abandon, asked the kitchen to surprise us with the mains, so had no idea how much more food was on the way. Not to worry, I thought, we are in a rich man’s play palace, there is every likelihood that the dishes to come would be prettily petite, dinky little numbers. More canapé than trencherman’s plate.

The bar
Bacchanalia London: The bogs

And then some food arrived, then some more, then, when there was no space left on the table, even more. Including a whole sea bream, thick as my hand. It was perfectly cooked, dotted with fat capers in a lemon butter sauce with fabulous, steamed potatoes in more butter and lemon and some tomato for much needed acidity. Then a massive strip loin tagliata, with some piquant pickled onions and utterly moreish crispy potatoes.

Bacchanalia had one more trick up its sleeve; the loos…

Each of these dishes could have fed three of us. They cost £40. This is actual, genuine, stick your hands in the air GREAT VALUE. And you get the art, the vibe, the fun (including, on some nights, serious DJs playing from a clamshell shaped balcony above the diners) for free. And if you want even better bang for your buck, Bacchanalia has recently introduced a set lunch menu which gives you three courses for £44. That’s not much more than an average gastropub in this neck of the woods. 

Bacchanalia had one more trick up its sleeve; the loos. Down the stairs, near the entrance, I followed the sounds of Roman soldiers in battle… It plays through invisible speakers, leading to an Onyx black, fully statued, bathroom. There is no more opulent bog in London than this. It is crazily overdone, yet thanks to its adornment with genuine works of art, beautiful marble, impeccable lighting and a mosaiced floor, keeps just the right side of kitsch. The loo was reflective of this whole place; silly, crazy, guilty fun. More Nigella falling out of a satin catsuit than Gwyneth slaloming around a dentist. Go, enjoy, then feel guilty and a little sordid afterwards. Because, to tell the truth, we all need a bit of Bacchus in our lives.

Find it: 1 Mount Street, Mayfair, W1K 3NA
Click it:
‘Gram it: @bacchanalialdn

If you enjoyed Ari’s Bacchanalia review then you’re in luck because there’s more of his stuff here. Or else just click here for general reviews…

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