On the walk up by Berkeley Square to Bacchanalia, Richard Caring’s most recent extravagant venture, you go past two of his established franchises: the typically flashy Sexy Fish and Annabel’s, which has undergone a recent rainforest-themed transformation. You might think the two sites, unified by a shared resentment for nuance, would give a taster of what to expect when you get to the Greco-Italian restaurant, but Bacchanalia ups the ante of indulgence significantly.
Five giant Damien Hirst statues adorn the main dining room, featuring Lions, snake-haired Medusa and Bacchus himself, with ancient sculptures and Gary Myatt murals also scattered around the restaurant. It’s opulent, it’s over the top, is it self-aware? Probably not, but also it just doesn’t really care.
What sets it apart?
For better or worse, Bacchanalia is truly one of a kind. When it was first announced, images rolled out of the truly jaw-dropping interiors of which it was impossible to tell whether they had been CGI generated or not. It brought to mind that ever-prescient quote from Jurassic Park – so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Those interiors are undeniably real – I have now been and lived to tell the tale. It feels like the type of setting, should they ever do a London series, the guests of The White Lotus might enact all manner of psychological warfare upon each other in. The inspiration – and some of the art – might be from over 2,000 years ago, but it feels like deliberately modern escapism: A murder mystery dinner party, or an immersive theatre show where you dress as a flapper or bootlegger from the 1920s, leaving your typical self at the door and adopting some slightly alternative version for the evening.
As I enter through the door there’s a blockade of people, understandably, taking videos of the ceiling. There’s a sculpture of two demi-gods making out on a unicorn. I mean, come on. The wait staff – undoubtedly the most photographed in London – are clad in togas, but, you know, tastefully.
Considering it was Tuesday, the place was heaving. I even heard them politely remind several diners around me about the turnover time they’d been prescribed pre-meal to keep it ticking over. The level of opulence sometimes plays tricks on you, as you find yourself braced for novelty at every turn.
At one point, the lights dimmed significantly – I thought I was imminently about to be roped into the most extravagant happy birthday rendition of my life thus far. I checked the time which showed 8 on the dot – clearly the pre-prescribed time the restaurant goes dark-mode, hoping to ratchet up the boisterous hedonism of its diners.
At another, I looked up from my table to see what I momentarily thought was an emerging evacuation. A waiter was struggling to put a fire out – a charred sea bream experiment gone wildly out of control – before casually dropping a cloth over the flame: It was intentional, obviously.
What We Ordered
The interiors might almost push it to the back of your mind, but this restaurant also does food – and it’s pretty good. We were sampling the newly introduced feasting menu, because apparently the original a la carte isn’t indulgent enough for some. Created for groups of seven, the general idea is not quite an all you can eat, but seeing as you will receive more than you can eat, it might as well be. There were not seven of us, but the amount of food could have fed that many.
There was a worry, pre-opening, that Bacchanalia might have fallen into the ‘Nusr-Et’ zone of style over substance, but thankfully when constructing the menu they resisted the urge to mess with the classics. To start there’s an array of small sharing plates – tuna tartare, greek salad, hummus and tarama. They are light, fresh, with an understated flavour that proves that restraint, it turns out, is not out of reach.
The main course – butterflied sea bream, linguine alle cozze with white wine, mussels and chili – is similarly delightful. The price is on the more expensive side – think of it as a meal and museum entry combo – but you could get away with a starter and a main for under £50. On the other hand, you could order 125g of beluga caviar for £995.
In mythology, Bacchus supposedly used to subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful through his hedonistic feasts (sorry for the gratuitous Greek history reference, but if there was ever a time). If there is anything subversive about Bacchanalia, it’s how little creed it pays to obvious points of criticism, making them almost redundant. There really is no point in going if you’re going to be cynical, and you’ll be rewarded for embracing the ridiculousness of it – firstly with the interiors, and secondly by how surprisingly satisfied you are with the food, which only really beds in on the walk home. They definitely could, and I say they should.