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Bacchus

177 Hoxton Street, Shoreditch, London, England, N1 6PJ, United Kingdom

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In August 2008 Bacchus underwent a "change of direction" in its cooking. Presumably this was in recognition of the economic difficulty of producing experimental cooking in this location. In due course it folded. For the cooking of Nuno Mendes see Viajante.

The notes below are from a meal in October 2007, which should now be treated as of historic interest. I rated it 15/20.

This is as an unlikely a location for a serious restaurant: this is a particularly unappealing street even by the standards of Hoxton, which despite some ultra-trendy bars mostly resembles something the sort of area than Sherman McCoy accidentally blunders into in “Bonfire of the Vanities”.  Once past the row of seedy shops and are safely inside the door, however, you can put your concerns to one side in the simple but elegant dining room. There is the ubiquitous wood floor, a bar area to one side with black leather sofas, the main dining area with quite generously spaced tables. There was some fairly quiet music playing, of the soothing variety on this visit (The Beautiful South) but the place was not too noisy. There were black tablecloths but little other adornment. 

The menu is very modern (Tracy McLeod wittily described Bacchus as “Hoxton Blumenthal”) and we went for the full-on, nine course tasting menu with matching wine pairings. The wine list was not vast but has some good growers,  and the pairing was mostly successful e.g. the 2006 Saracco Moscato d’Asti with the foie gras was an excellent, refreshing alternative to the traditional Sauternes.

An amuse-bouche was a tiny dish with a single small carrot, custard dashi, greek yoghurt and a slice of mackerel. The flavours worked reasonably well together and there was a lively peppery kick from the custard. The mackerel itself was nice quality but the carrot had little taste and rather let down the rest of the dish; there are lovely baby carrots to be had at this time of the year, so that was a pity (14/20). Three breads appeared: a white toast with a mushroom caramel dip, a pate de bric (an ultra thin, crispy pastry) which in itself was nice for me did not benefit from a topping of coffee powder, and an excellent warm brioche-like bread with a surprising pepper taste.

“Tuna toast” had a piece of tuna cooked just on one side, which allows a piece of toast to be attached to the tuna. This was served with little cherries, a small ginger sponge and an excellent salad made from marinated seaweed and fennel which had a pleasing fresh, crispness about it. The cherries sound an odd idea but this was actually OK; however I found the tuna itself rather disappointing, difficult to cut. It is admittedly hard to get the best tuna (blue fin) these days but even so the piece of fish let the dish down (13/20).

Next was yuzu crab (yuzu is a Chinese citrus fruit). The crab was wrapped in a seafood gelee, a little tobiko (flying fish roe), lemon grass gelee, “coral crumbs” and a few tiny shitake mushrooms. The crab itself was fresh and of good quality, the lemon grass gelee a quite clever idea which brought a welcome acidity to balance the richness of the fish roe. Textures were also nicely balanced, with the crumble (made with breadcrumbs just as with a conventional crumble) giving a crunchy balance to the softness of the roe and the gelee. Pretty little Japanese yellow kogiko salad (baby chrysanthemum flowers) that tasted a little of lemon were an enjoyable garnish (15/20). 

This was followed by squid ink porridge, offered with lime leaf oil and powder and a little stick of what I think was marinated lemon grass. The porridge, coloured black from squid ink, was pleasant, and the element of lime again added a nice touch of acidity to the dish. The squid itself was cooked well enough but was still a little on the chewy side, something that seems hard to avoid with squid in England (some baby squid in Greece recently I had was lovely, but that was caught just hours before eating it). I was rather less taken with this dish, mainly due to the texture of the squid (13/20).

The next dish had a pair of quail eggs that had been cooked sous vide for 25 minutes, along with thin slices of confit potatoes, nice ceps, yoghurt foam, black olive “migas” (essentially olive oil) and more coffee powder. Unlike many of the dishes in the meal, this was not a pretty thing (indeed my dining companion described it as being “a dish that looks like someone sneezed up”). The potatoes and eggs were OK in themselves though hardly anything remarkable, but I didn’t understand the coffee powder at all (12/20).

Much better was a nice slab of warm foie gras with a mango ravioli, macadamia nut puree, pickled green papaya gelee and “paper” made with Sichuan pepper, along with a red wine reduction. The foie gras was excellent and the other elements of the dish worked nicely, though perhaps the overall effect was a little sweeter than ideal; lemon grass foam was a nice way of introducing acidity but perhaps a little more in the way of balancing acidity would not have gone amiss (16/20).

The next two dishes illustrated, for me, the two side of sous vide technique. I found the wild sea bass in itself excellent with great flavour, but the gelatinous texture which you get from sous vide treatment was for me a lot less pleasant than if the bass had simple been cooked conventionally. This was served with smoked aubergine consommé, mange tout, a roasted sweet lemon, hazelnut oil and more of the lovely kogiku leaves. For me the aubergine is not a great pairing with sea bass, and I would so much rather have seen this lovely piece of fish cooked conventionally (13/20). By contrast pork seems to be something well suited to sous vide (in this case suckling pig cooked for 24 hours at 65C) and here had a soft texture but excellent flavour. This was served with a roasted fig in a raviolo, marscapone cheese cubes, Iberico ham and powders of basil and almond (16/20).

Roasted slices of nectarine were served with a fromage blanc sorbet and champagne jelly. Nectarines are not seasonal at this time of year, and I found the sorbet very milky in taste; I didn’t think this worked conceptually very well, and I did not enjoy the sorbet (12/20). Much better was pistachio custard, served with a rhubarb compote, spicy pear syrup, pistachio coffee and a milk skin “yuba”.  I was less keen on the milk skin, but the other flavours worked well together, again nicely balancing richness with acidity (16/20). 

What made the evening very enjoyable for me was the superb service from Canadian restaurant manager Derek Grandpre.  He was able to answer every question with aplomb, and was obviously extremely well acquainted with the cooking techniques being used in the elaborate dishes. Both he and chef Nuno Mendes (who is from Portugal originally but has had stints in several famous restaurants such as El Bulli) came across as genuine, passionate and really caring about customer reactions to the dishes. It was some of the best service I have encountered in the UK. While I did not enjoy every dish, that is perhaps the nature of such cooking, which seeks to challenge and provoke. What impressed me was that the ingredients were mostly of good quality e.g. the wild bass, and above all that in most cases the flavours did seem complementary and were not there just to shock.  

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  • Vic Yap

    Hi, with Nuno Mendes venturing out on his own, have you eaten or intend to at his The Loft Supper Club? http://www.nunomendes.co.uk/loft.html There's a downloadable sample menu - do you reckon it'll be, in a sense, El Bulli Lite?

  • Amol Parnaik

    Something I wrote last year. From your review, I was correct :-) The first thing you'll notice is that it is quite low key. Small wooden candle lit tables in a cosy room which nothing too stylish at all. So we sat down with a very warm welcome. Like going to your friends house for dinner who had not only cooked the food, but was about to present it to. The Menu was very well constructed. 4 starters, 5 mains, 4 desserts, clearly this guy had done his homework. There was a 5 tasting menu at £36 with pairing wines at £25. We went for this to taste the most. The wine list was very good also. A nice collection with a good range of prices Straight away, I noticed the service was first class. Their market was people who liked good food, but didn't want to go Michelin (I think). As a result, the service was very warm, gentle, friendly and really made the evening. They knew all about the food and the pairing wines, were enthusiastic about the food and really made the evening enjoyable and entertaining. The service more than made up for any imperfections in the food. Right, the food. Amuse bouche of langoustine. It was ok, but a bit over complex I think. Next course, Scallops, apple, cauliflower and pine nuts. This worked quiet well. I liked the cauliflower and pine nuts. Pork, leek and pear next. Pork was good and generally it was put together well. Very well presented, though nothing ground breaking. Really nice touch is they got a paint brush and painted soy sauce on the plate. Defiantly something I'll steal at my next dinner party. Next Salmon and Rhubarb. This was very good. The Salmon was cooked very slowly, so had a nice, soft taste. Interesting different to the sushi-esq.. fish you often get. I enjoyed this. Next Lamb, Vanilla Parsnips and fig. Again very good. Real good combination with sweet undertones. I like meat with sweet things and it combined well, my favourite of the night. Finally a Pear thingy with dolce latte ice-cream. I'm not sure about this. The pear was good, but I wasn't a fan of the ice-cream. Overall the evening was enjoyable. The food was ok, some nice ideas, but could use some work. What made the evening was the service so if food is not fundamental, this place is perfect. Though the food was good, based on how much it cost, Michael Moore was better I think but Michael's service or ambience doesn't compare. The ideas were great, so I hope that in a few months time, the menu will mature, the seasoning will be improved and the general finishes to each dish will be perfected. This place could really go a long way

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