So did you hear the one about the girl who called up a couple of central London restaurants one Friday afternoon, asking: "Hello, do you have a table for eleven people available for dinner tomorrow evening? Yes, that's this Saturday evening I'm talking about, and I'd like the table at 19h30."
OK, so those of you who live in London can pick yourself up from where you've been rolling on the floor laughing, wipe the tears of mirth from your eyes, and let me finish the story.
London is notorious for the fact that any restaurant where you'd actually want to eat will a)already by fully booked weeks in advance; b) be unlikely to have a table at prime dining time 19h30 and will helpfully offer you a table at 6 or 10 p.m.; and c) get jittery when you book for more than 6 people and start talking set menus. So my request was an act of blind faith over grim experience – and when a restaurant I actually like said they could accommodate us, I nearly fell off my chair in surprise. Could we have a big table? Let me just check… yes, you can! And you know the menu you normally serve in the bar – could we have that in the restaurant? I'll speak to the chef and call you back…. yes, that won't be a problem. Now why can't all London restaurants be more like this??
I have writtten before about Vivat Bacchus in Farringdon, the South African-owned restaurant and deli bar with the fantastic wine selection – and the good news is that they now have a second branch on the doorstep of London Bridge station. Upstairs is the more casual bar deli area where sharing platters and tapas (including a spectacular pata negra platter) are the order of the day; while the formal restaurant is downstairs. Both floors have their own dedicated cheese room where you can go and select cheeses for your platter - veritable Alladdin's cave for cheese lovers!
The reason for our visit was the post-Food Blogger Connect dinner, and because I knew we would probably not be hungry after an afternoon of feasting, I asked whether we could order their wonderful deli platters in the downstairs restaurant. This turned out to be the perfect solution: we all ordered different platters and got to pick at each other's! All the platters are attractively served on wooden boards, and the portions are really generous – one platter is plenty for a meal for me.
I made sure at least a few in our group had the South African platter (springbok frickadels or meatballs; biltong; spicy dried sausage or droewors; tomato & cumin chutney; and root vegetable crisps). A couple had the vegetarian platter (pita bread, humous, aubergine dip, marinated artichokes, sunblush tomatoes, and piquillo peppers) or the Greek platter (humous, soutsouki sausage, aubergine dip, feta cheese, Kalamata olives and pita bread). And I opted for the French platter (comte cheese, saucisson sec, celeriac remoulade, cornichons, bleu de Sassenage cheese, and pork rillettes). Everyone got to try some new things, and judging by the enthusiastic swapping of food and the empty boards, everyone found something to like.
As with the Farringdon branch, the wine list is full of South African wines – and I mean good South African wine, not Kumala – and an excellent selection of wine by the glass. The spectacular Springfield Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly good value at £33 per bottle, and you can even try the famous Vin de Constance dessert wine by the glass. The staff, from the people taking the bookings on the phone to everyone that served our table, were all friendly and knew their stuff. Yes it sounds so simple but no, loads of restaurants just can't get this right.
Platters range in price from £10.95-£13.95 and wines start from about £5 for a 175ml glass or £18 for a bottle, making this an affordable treat. And as I've said before, the cheese room makes for a wonderful value-added feature not usually seen outside stratospherically expensive fine dining restaurants. Vivat Bacchus also hosts regular, well-priced wine tastings and wine dinners with leading winemakers.
And let's face it – if you can make eleven food bloggers happy, you are probably doing something right! More pictures available on my Flickr page.
4 Hays Lane
Tel: +44 20 7234 0891
Fax: +44 20 7357 7021