Look, first off I’d just like to say that what follows has nothing to do with not being either hip or edgy.
Look, first off I’d just like to say that what follows has nothing to do with not being either hip or edgy. I am hip and edgy. Some days I’m so hip and edgy that’s all there is to me: hip and edge. ‘Wow, look at the hip and edge on that,’ people have even been known to gasp when I pass them in the street. I just wanted to get this absolutely straight so you wouldn’t think I just wasn’t hip or edgy enough for his week’s restaurant; that I failed it rather than the other way around. That would be preposterous. You can say what you like about me, but you can’t say I’m neither hip nor edgy. No way.
Now, the restaurant is Bacchus on Hoxton Street, which is either the back end of Islington or the top end of Shoreditch, depending which way you come at it. I can’t recall which way I came at it now, but you can be sure that I came at it in a very hip and edgy way. Anyway, according to the restaurant’s press release, this area ‘became famous for playing host to the Brit-Pack era of British artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst in the late 1990s’. So, its hip and edgy credentials are good. That’s a relief. True, I haven’t bought any art myself since my local Athena closed down, but what can I say? I’ve just been so, so busy!
Bacchus used to be a smelly old boozer — I was going to add ‘some of us still are’ until I remembered how hip and edgy I am — but it has lately been taken over and relaunched as a ‘molecular’ gastropub featuring ‘sous-vide’ cooking. This is the ‘under-vacuum’ cooking that involves doing weird things at weird temperatures and which can result in weird combinations, like sardine ice-cream and cassis-stuffed rabbit and ‘apple air’. I do hope that you too are as hip and edgy as I am, otherwise you might be thinking at this point: goodness, what new toss is this?
Now, the first thing I should tell you about Bacchus is this: it has a lot of doors that look like doors but aren’t actually doors at all. This means you have to keep circling the restaurant, pushing and pulling at the doors that aren’t doors at all until you finally come across the one that is. This is quite comedic for those who, miraculously, have found their way in. My partner, the first to arrive, laughs at me trying to get in, and then we both laugh at our friend Clare and her husband Dan trying to get in and then we laugh at our other friend Ed trying to get in and then we laugh at his girlfriend Chloe trying to get in and hey, you must be thinking, how many people does it take to review a restaurant? Not many, in most instances, but when you’re as hip and edgy as I am, you do get a lot of hangers-on. It simply goes with the territory, I’m afraid.
Inside — should you ever make it inside — it is perfectly nice: part Victorian, owing to the original building, but souped up with lots of blond wood Scandinavian-style. Our waitress introduces herself. ‘Hello,’ she says, ‘I am your waitress for this evening.’ ‘Wow,’ I say, ‘isn’t that an extraordinary coincidence as we’re your customers for this evening. What are the chances of that?’ She is enthusiastic and friendly and does a long spiel about something or other before saying that if we need anything — ‘anything at all!’ — we should just catch her eye. She then totally disappears until a considerable time later when she returns to take our order, which is also nice, but we’ve yet to be provided with any menus. ‘Oops,’ she says. Hip and edgy as I am, I think I’m already beginning to suspect that there’s a lot of style but very little substance going on here: doors that don’t go anywhere; menus that never arrive and, later, wine we can’t re-order because they’ve run out and cutlery that isn’t right and is whipped away while we are eating. Ed is even robbed of a fork mid-air. ‘That’s my fork!’ he protests as he tries to wrestle it back. ‘But it’s the wrong fork,’ he is told, scoldingly. He gives up the fight. He’s a big chap, Ed, but alas, not a fighter. I’d like to have seen him take it outside although whether he’d have found sufficient pavement space, what with all those potential diners ricocheting off doors that aren’t doors, is anyone’s guess.
I suppose, at this stage, a few further words on ‘sous-vide’ might be in order. Let me, again, quote the restaurant bumf because otherwise I might have to paraphrase it and, to be honest, I’ve got better, hipper and edgier things to do. So here goes: ‘Sous-vide is a method of cooking that is used to maintain the integrity of the ingredients by heating them for an extended period of time at relatively low temperatures. Georges Pralus developed the method in the mid-1970s for the Troisgros Restaurant in Roanne, France. He discovered that food that was cooked sous-vide kept its original appearance, did not lose its nutrients and maintained its natural texture. The method, which is still unknown in the domestic kitchens in the UK, is used by only a small number of top-end restaurants around the world.’
Now, on to the menu. There’s an à la carte, at £24 for two courses and £28 for three, should you fancy the cod with ‘ginger ale spray’ or the halibut with ‘seafood bread pudding’ and then there is the five-course tasting menu at £36, although ‘course’ is taking the piss a bit, as you’ll see. We all opt for the tasting menu, starting with the ‘scallops, apple air, cauliflower and pine nuts’ which arrives as a doll-house size portion (tiny — one teaspoonful!) on a very big white plate. We all laugh a little, which is awfully naughty, but it just looks so silly. The cauliflower is a puréed smear. The ‘apple air’, which crowns it all, is white and foamy and dribbly and looks like spit. For anyone who did ask, ‘Goodness, what new toss is this?’ I think I can now safely say, ‘Major toss, that’s what it is.’ It pains me to say this, being hip and edgy and all that, but it’s probably true all the same.
This is ‘spit and smear’ cuisine. Everything appears to have been smeared and then spat on. There’s the lamb loin with a ‘black pepper caramel’ which is visually arresting, no question, but that’s only because it looks as if the chef has wiped his bottom on the plate. There’s salmon (with black olives, rhubarb and onions) that singularly fails to taste of anything, possibly because the fish has been cooked for 50 hours or thereabouts. And here’s a thing. Because all the cooking is done at low temperatures, nothing is hot. Nothing is even vaguely hot. ‘Call me old-fashioned,’ says my partner, ‘but I do like my food to be hot.’ As it happens, he is easy to call old-fashioned because he is old-fashioned. He isn’t nearly as hip and edgy as me.
Bacchus bills itself as the first ever restaurant to offer this kind of cooking at reasonable prices, although, in truth, I think it’s actually hideously overpriced, as well as pretentious, amateurish and absurd. I’m pretty sure it failed, and not me, although I will admit this: when Athena closed not only did I stop buying art altogether, but a little something in me died. Toodle-pip!
Bacchus, 177 Hoxton Street, N1. Tel: 020 7613 0477.