Visited Bacchus last night; here's my writeup. Hope it's not too long.
We started with cocktails for me and doop, and a Leffe for Bob. doop chose the Bacchus Bubblebath, which involves vodka, green apple, vanilla, Thai basil, and lemongrass, and comes with a foam on top (hence the name, I suppose). He said that if Lush were a cocktail, it would taste like this. He liked it a lot.
I had the Bacchus Bloody Marvellous, "our twist on classic Bloody Mary, served tableside". I'm not sure what the "served tableside" part is about, but the twist was that they used tomato water, put through a cheesecloth to remove the colour yet keep the flavour, instead of the normal very red tomato juice. It was extremely lovely, and the chilli oil floating on top made for an interesting garnish. Coincidentally, I've also been experimenting with tomato water Bloody Mary recently, but mine haven't been as good as this, and I think now that where I've been going wrong is letting the bits and pieces you normally put in — Worcester sauce, Tabasco etc — overwhelm the fresh tomato flavour. More experimentation will, of course, ensue.
Bacchus has an interesting menu structure where you choose to have either three (£30), six (£40), or nine (£60) courses of the nine-course tasting menu. There is no a la carte. Although they do choose which courses get missed out, rather than you getting to mix and match, they're flexible with substitutions if necessary; for example, Bob, who doesn't eat chocolate, got the wasabi-strawberry dessert instead of the chocolate-mangosteen one. We went for the six-course menu, given my recent failure to manage nine courses at Umu, and chose to have the paired wines (£30) along with it. Again, since Bob gets instant headaches from white wine, they were happy to substitute reds for him where necessary. The kitchen also sent out two amuse-bouches before the courses proper.
First amuse: A little parmesan choux pastry thing; I think it had a little bit of chilli in too? Warm from the oven, it was good. It went rather well with my Bloody Marvellous, which I was still finishing off.
Second amuse: Rabbit mousse wrapped into a small spring roll shape with thin slices of potato (? I think. Not sure how it was cooked). Topped with a little clump of very thinly julienned raw beetroot and served with a cooked cherry and a smear of cherry sauce. Bob pointed out that the shape of the cherry sauce smear resembled a stylised cherry, very nice touch if it was on purpose!
First course: Skate and avocado roll — caramel, curry crumble, passion fruit. The roll was made up of very thin slices of avocado rolled around some kind of creamy/mousse-like preparation involving skate, and topped with a thin caramel. It was a bit too rich and creamy for me (doop thought I was mad; he really liked it). The passion fruit worked well to cut through the richness, though. I liked the curry crumble a lot at the time, but the "crumbly powder" theme was repeated a bit too often in successive courses, so I'm not so keen on it now. The caramel was very good for caramel (I liked the slight saltiness, and doop said he thought he detected a fishy flavour too), but I don't like things that stick in my teeth, so I didn't finish it (not the restaurant's fault, of course).
Second course: Salad of vegetables — fruits of the season, tomato gelee, flowers. This one was really good (but then I do like vegetables a lot). I liked the tiny broad beans, but found the asparagus a bit tough (maybe "stringy" is a better word actually — too old? It's not really asparagus season any more, is it?). The tomato gelee, a thin layer of loosely gelled tomato concoction underlying the salad, was reminiscent of my Bloody Marvellous cocktail, and just as good. I also liked the tiny cubes of very firm balsamic vinegar jelly. The paired wine (2005 Yvon et Pascal Tabordet Sancerre Rose) went very well with this course; I'd thought it was uninteresting when I first sipped it, but it was the right choice for the food.
Third course: Paradise prawns — seared pineapple, green olive sofrito, iced coconut. The prawn was a large one, cooked very well, and nicely spiced. Bob thought the prawn was undercooked for his taste, but he doesn't really like prawns anyway, and doop and I thought it was perfect. There was a rich tomato and pine nut sort of stew thing involved in this course too, and I wasn't really sure it belonged there — I tried eating it with the iced coconut, and the tomato got lost; I tried eating it with the prawn, and the spices on the prawn got lost. Green olive sofrito — I think this was just finely-chopped and sauteed green olives. It worked well with everything else on the plate. The crunchy powder thing made its second appearance in this course; I think it was toasted breadcrumbs in this case. I think this might have been the course where I forgot to drink any wine until afterwards because there was so much stuff going on on the plate.
Fourth course: Monkfish filet (dedicado a W.D.) — fennel compote, saffron toasted oats, ajo blanco, piquillo. The ajo blanco was fantastic — a roasted hazelnut and garlic sauce, really lovely without being overpowering, that went well with the monkfish. Speaking of the monkfish, it was also very good; cooked sous vide for somewhere in the region of 10 minutes. The saffron toasted oats were the third appearance of crunchy powder, and I was getting a bit fed up with it at this point. The fennel compote was nice enough — doop did mention that he felt there was rather a tendency to include something sweet in every course; he has something of a point, but I don't think this aspect was overdone at all, and I don't even like sweet things. I think this was the course that had the Japanesey salad leaves — I seem to remember mizuna was mentioned — that I wanted there to be more of. (As for who W.D. is, my best guess is Wylie Dufresne.)
Fifth course: Veal breast — soy milk, carrots, ginger ale, Szechuan peppercorns. The soy milk jelly layer tasted like nothing so much as that not-very-nice long-life silken tofu that comes in little cuboids; I don't know what brand of soya milk they used, but I'd love to try this done with the freshly-made stuff. The veal (again, cooked sous vide, but this time for something more on the order of 60 hours) was wonderfully tender; I would have preferred it to have had the fat removed, since it wasn't necessary given the cooking technique. I did want a bit of umami in this, but I am a bit of a salt/umami fiend. Something involving soy sauce (they could even have smeared it!) would have been a pleasing thing to have included, given the soy milk already used. I did wonder if the choice of soya milk was as a nod to Jewish dietary laws, but I asked and apparently it was down to flavour, which is odd, given that the flavour of the finished item really wasn't anything special. The carrots were great, and I don't actually like carrots. The wine that came with this course was a very dry red, and I liked it a lot (2003 Castello Vicchiomaggio "La Prima" Chianti Classico Reserva).
Sixth course: Dark chocolate — mangosteen, rose water, powders. Basically a little chocolate pudding, molten in the middle, with a couple of lobes of mangosteen, some ground hazelnut, some cocoa powder, and something white in a shot glass (spot the person who Doesn't Do Dessert). doop liked this a lot. I don't really like desserts, so I'm not really qualified to comment on it. I did think it would have been better to have given us spoons that would actually fit in the shot glasses. There was apparently some white truffle tapioca in this, but I couldn't work out where; perhaps in the shot glass. I did like the wine though (2004 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes).
Petits fours: Again, it was dessert. doop liked it. I did like the little white chocolate thing with the wasabi and raisin inside, and I didn't mind the creme Catalan (I liked the ground cinnamon on top of the latter; though Bob thought there was too much of it, I didn't). There were truffles with this; doop ate his and Bob's and two thirds of mine. He ordered an espresso to go with the last one and declared this to be the right decision.
Overall: I liked the choice of courses; I thought they were nicely-balanced in terms of main ingredient, and I liked having one seafood, one fish, and one meat, rather than all meat all the time. I could have done without quite so much crunchy powder; a single appearance would have been unusual and interesting, but three was a bit too much. Overall impression was that it was all very light and just right for summer, but we certainly didn't come away hungry; in fact, I was surprised at how full I actually was, since it was a very light kind of full, if that makes sense. I would very much like to eat a vegetarian tasting menu cooked by this chef, and I have no doubt he could do it. (Whether the restaurant context would make that possible or not, I don't know, but I intend to find out.)
177 Hoxton St, Hackney, Greater London N1 6, GB
Thanks for the review, nicely written. I had been planning to check this place out late last year but then it fell of my radar. Sounds like it was a hit and miss experience which mirrors the experiences I have had at exponents of the same genre such as Fat Duck, Alinea (Chicago), WD-50 (NYC) and various places in Barcelona (where actually I have been most impressed with the genre). Would you be tempted to try other similar places based upon your experience?
When you list all the ingredients per dish, it's intriguing but at the same time unsurprising that some dishes are misses as there is just too much going on on some plates as you mention. Also seems to be a strong Japanese ingredient influence what with the Mizuna (great stuff, one of my favourite green leaves, not sure where it's available in London, let me know if you unearth a source), soy milk "jelly" (was this by any chance yuba, the surface skin that forms when soy milk is heated?) and I'm guessing that the ubiquitous "crunch" is panko or Japanese breadcrumbs which are commonly used to make certain rolls in NY sushi bars.
How did you like the mangosteen? I've recently discovered this fruit in Bangkok and am smitten, will look for them in Chinatown next time I'm in London.
One final question - did it feel in any way like a performance rather than a meal? That was one of my abiding memories of the degustation at Fat Duck.
Definitely want to try other similar places; in fact we'll be going back to Bacchus with our vegan friend at some point.
I didn't really see all that much of a Japanese influence. The jelly wasn't yuba; it was an actual jelly. I think agar agar was mentioned, though that might have been the balsamic vinegar jelly in an earlier course. Some of the crunchy stuff might have been panko; I'm not sure.
I'm not generally very interested in fruit; the mangosteen basically registered as "yep, that's fruit" :)
I'm not really sure how to answer the "performance vs. meal" question. I didn't feel there was too much emphasis on "look at us! The way we did this is so clever!". I do really like meals that are composed of lots of little bits though.
Just wanted to say that we went back to Bacchus last week and they did indeed follow through on their promise to feed our vegan friend. In fact two of us joined her out of curiosity. The fourth in our party was eating the normal menu and gave me tastes of the components that differed — though I do like meat and fish, and I like what Bacchus does with them, I didn't regret my decision at any point.
So yes, liked it again, and will go back again. I won't bore you all with another course-by-course exposition; it's enough to say that it was the same kind of thing described in my original post, without being repetitive. They're still doing the crunchy powder thing, but it seemed better integrated this time (or maybe it's just that I was expecting it).
Just a quick post to say I had another fantastic experience at Bacchus on Saturday night. I went a few months ago, and while I was impressed there were a few dishes I wasn't too sure about. This visit, every plate was amazing. They have a really good special on at the moment through Toptable - £30 for a 6 course tasting menu plus a free glass of champagne. Even without the offer its still very good value. The outstanding dishes for me was the amuse, which was an onion soup, but it came out as a small shiny rubber-looking ball. The instructions were to put the whole thing in your mouth at once - it bursting in to the most delicious flavours.
Next was the seabass tartare with pistachio cream. Really fresh flavours, each element complimenting the other perfectly. I also loved the Eringe a la Plancha with a pine nut risotto - just gorgeous. I really couldnt fault any of the food. Service was also great (although we had to get them to amend the bill as they denied any knowledge of the Toptable special, but very graciously and offered us a free glass of wine while we waited for our cab).
Its pretty much my local neighbourhood restaurant, and if they keep this up (and change the menu regularly) I will definitely be back again and again.