Describing somewhere as a ‘hidden gem’ is one of those cliches that’s a no-no for every good writer – and thus I have no hesitation in bestowing the accolade on Vivat Bacchus, the restaurant and wine bar bringing London a taste of South Africa.
No, come on, Max, you’re better than that. Vivat Bacchus is a very, very good restaurant that somehow manages to be slap bang in the middle of London Bridge and totally secluded. Snuggled – another no-no but screw it – down Hay’s Lane, you can sit in its courtyard without ever knowing that Britain’s third-busiest train station is but a stone’s throw away.
(I mean, you’ll know because you likely arrived at Vivat Bacchus via London Bridge but you might easily find yourself forgetting, especially after the second glass of wine.)
Vivat Bacchus celebrates its 20th birthday next year and the enduring appeal of the place is obvious: great food and drink served in a relaxed yet stylish setting. Easy business, this hospitality lark? Vivat Bacchus certainly makes it appear so.
Worth noting that there’s also a Farringdon outlet if you don’t fancy heading south of the river: while we haven’t visited (yet), it’s a safe bet the experience is no less delightful.
What to order?
Choose from a range of big-hearted dishes on a menu that will bring a smile to your face before you’ve even eaten from it. South Africa is renowned for its meat so naturally we ordered fish – not in an attempt to play hardball but simply because the fish sounded bloody fantastic.
Sea bass with sautéed broccoli, wild mushroom, cauliflower purée and crispy artichoke? Sea trout with new potatoes, samphire, and a saffron broth of mussels and shrimp? Both fish pan fried to perfection? Yeah, I regret nothing. The dishes were superb, full of flavour yet light enough for you to convince yourself: ‘This delicious food might actually be good for me!'
For the starters, I went for wagyu beef carpaccio with quail’s egg, pickled walnuts and truffle mayonnaise. Carpaccio can sometimes be a trifle tasteless: very delicate but lacking a certain oomph. This is not the case with the wagyu beef carpaccio, which has oomph to burn. Likewise the seared scallops with cauliflower purée and crispy pancetta, as plump and happy as you would be if you ate here every evening.
Then there’s the wine. Vivat Bacchus doesn’t mess around when it comes to wine. Both branches have their own walk-in wine cellars and offer the opportunity for patrons to take a tour and pick their preferred poison. Alternatively, put yourself in the hands of the staff – we enjoyed a superb 2018 Domaine Allimant Laugner, with a glass of Kaapzicht Chenin Blanc 2021 for dessert. Happy days.
What’s the damage?
Depends what you order from the wine cellar! There are bottles that cost more than the average house – and even the average house’s energy bill. If you really blow the budget, you can always hide in the cellar and hope nobody notices.
Food is punchy but not unreasonable, with most starters hovering around the £10 mark and most mains touching twenty. Three hundred grams of sirloin will set you back £30, while the Côte de Boeuf is priced £10.50 per 100g.
Anything else to note?
As well as the wine cellar, Vivat Bacchus also boasts a walk-in cheese room, where you can taste up to three cheeses and curate your dream cheeseboard. With restaurants offering more 40 cheeses to choose from, you won't be short on options!
Oh, and if a certain wine really takes your fancy, order it at the Humble Grape online shop.
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4 Hays Lane, London Bridge, SE1 2HB; 47 Farringdon Street, Holborn, EC4A 4LL; Vivat Bacchus