Introducing wine bloggers to Bacchus

by Jeanne on June 9, 2008

in Meeting bloggers, Restaurants - London

Yes I know – sounds as redundant as teaching Gordon Ramsay how to swear, doesn't it?

But don't worry, it's not as daft as it sounds.  The Bacchus I'm referring to is the wine bar and deli section of Vivat Bacchus (I previously reviewed my dinner in the posher downstairs restaurant here).  As I've mentioned before, I have a soft spot for the place because of the strong South African connections.  The restaurant is co-owned by South Africans Gerrie Knoetze (who owned the well-regarded Browns of Rivonia in Johannesburg) and sommellier Neleen Strauss.  The head chef Robert Staegemann is also South African, which explains the presence of things like crorodile spring rolls and biltong on the menu.

The place is billed as a fine dining restaurant and the downstairs dining room certainly is all that.  But there is a much larger area upstairs, housing the wine bar, deli and a cheese room, which is perfect for stylish and informal lunches or dinners, and this is where I recently headed to meet up with two wine bloggers.  Given that there are 5 cellars stocked with (largely) South African wines of impecable pedigree on the premises, and the very knowledgeable Gerrie and Neleen to guide you through them, it seemed like the obvious place to take wine bloggers ;-)

Even before I stepped through the door, there was a little touch that impressed me:  when I was booking I gave my surname, and after the briefest of pauses to check her database the young lady taking the booking confirmed my telephone number.  Clearly, customers are kept on a database, making return visits easier.  No need for spelling your name over and over or giving your number again.  It's a small touch, but it pleased me. 

There to greet me when I arrived was my usual partner in crime, Andrew of Spittoon, and soon after we were joined by the charming Robert of The Wine Conversation – a wine blog for people who want more than tasting notes from their wine blogs.  Introductions  were swiftly dealt with and then it was on to the wines,  There is an excellent selection available by the glass, so we thought we'd take full advantage and try all sorts of things.  (I was having too much fun to make notes, so excuse the sketchy details!).  I started off with a glass of Doolhof Cape Boar (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot) while Andrew went for a glass of Brampton MG (an unusual Mourvedre/Grenache blend) and later a glass of Bilton Shiraz.

But we weren't only there for the wine!  The menu offers both a number of "daily dishes" for between £4 and £11 (as well as a set lunch for £11.95/£14.95 for 2/3 courses), and a selection of deli platters including French, Italian, vegetarian, Spanish, Greek – and South African.  Both my companions went for the South African platter which featured droë wors (dried spicy beef and pork sausage), biltong (air-dried beef), ostrich frikadels (meatballs), Simba crisps, dried apricots, sweet peppers and fresh mango.  I was particularly imprressed with the biltong which was sliced wafer-thin and elicited favourable comparisons with Italian bresaola, and nobody seemed to struggle to finish their platter!  I decided to be contrary and had the French platter, featuring two kinds of saucisson sec (one spicy and chorizo-like), cured ham, celeriac remoulade, Roquefort, Camembert and some French bread.  All the platters were attractively served on recycled panels of wooden wine crates and were priced between about £11 and £12.50.  I was also pleased to note that on the website today, all the platters have slightly different contents to when we visited, so even if you visit often you won't be bored.

VivatBacchusFrenchDeliPlatterE

VivatBacchusCheesePlatter1E

But the best was saved for last – a trip to the cheese room!  No sad pre-plated trio of cheeses when you order the cheese platter here.  Oh no, you step into the cheese-lover's Aladdin's cave a.k.a. the cheese room where you are talked through the cheeses available, trying a few before you make your selection.  Your cheeses are then cut and the selection is then brought to the table beautifully presented with fresh and dried fruit, and a selection of crackers.  If memory serves correctly, we shared a Comte, a Brie (or something very like Brie), a deliciously gooey log of goat’s cheese and a fourth which now escapes me.  To accompany this, I had a glass of the Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling which was all honeyed sweetness but with the lovely balancing flavours of dried apricots and marmalade.  Sublime.  Robert then decided that there was a wine we had to try and asked the waitress for a complete wine list for all five cellars.  The waitress said they didn't have one – the owner keeps them all in his head (!) – but she'd send him over.  Presumably it was Gerrie who then came over to chat to us – either way, his affable personality and knowledge of wine would be reason enough to return.  Robert asked about the De Trafford Straw Wine (the first of its kind in South Africa, where grapes are first dried on straw mats to concentrate the flavour, then pressed).  Despite its not being offered on the menu by the glass, we were promptly brought three glasses.  That's what I call service.  The wine was sweeter than the Paul Cluver, more pineapple upside-down pudding, but delicious nonetheless.

All in all, it was an evening well-spent – catching up with old and new friends (on that note, see the wonderful pics that Robert took and read Robert and Andrew's reviews), tasting some delicious South African wines and feeling well looked-after by the staff.  If you find yourself at a loose end near Farringdon and feel like something a little different to your usual cookie-cutter wine bar, I can't recommend this place enough.  There's also a wine club with weekly tasting events – and, even better, a new branch opening up in London Bridge in the foreseeable future.

Viva, Bacchus, viva!

Vivat Bacchus
47 Farringdon St,
Holborn,
London
Tel. 020 7353 2648

IMG_1255 - edited

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Douglas June 9, 2008 at 2:15 pm

An Italian friend reports that he resorted to giving away his profession when faced with innacurate advice at Bacchus. The dialogue went like this:
M: ‘I know that’s not true, I am a Sommelier’
Barman: ‘Ah, you’re from Somalia!’

Reply

Andrew June 9, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Well I had a blast! Looking forward to going back one day soon.

Reply

Jeanne June 9, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Hi Douglas
Good thing, then, that I was at Vivat Bacchus and not Bacchus ;-)
Do like the Somalia story though. Reminds me of story of a customer in a restaurant also being served by a foreign waitress. Looking at specials menu he asked “And what is the duck?” to which the waitress replied “she is like a chicken, only bigger, and she swims”.
Hi Andrew
Just name the date and I’ll be there!

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nina June 10, 2008 at 8:16 am

So many South Africans emigrate and are so unhappy, but I can see that you are having a blast. BTW. I had breakfast yesterday with Sophia Lindop – what a fantastic person!!!!!! I had a blast too!

Reply

Jeanne June 10, 2008 at 11:15 am

Hi Nina
Glad to hear you say that! I never want to be a miserable whinger… I think part of the reason is that I never really decided to leave SA – I just came over here for a look-see and the experience of living in a world-class city (much as I love PE, it does not qualify!!) and the longer I stayed, the more I loved the place and the more exciting opportunities opened up. I never felt I HAD TO leave SA, so for me, being here is a choice rather than a necessity and I think that’s the secret :) SO glad you met up with Sophia – isn’t she great?? I had a ball when I met her in Feb. Next time I come to Cape Town, I envisage a BIG gathering of bloggers!

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myfrenchkitchen June 10, 2008 at 10:30 pm

Thanks for this great review…it looks and sounds..like everybody said above…a blast! We’re in London soon and I think we might just pop in at Bacchus. Any chance I might meet up with you for a quick coffee/
ronell

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