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.
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!
47 Farringdon St,
Tel. 020 7353 2648