Vivat Bacchus – London Bridge

Vivat Bacchus at London Bridge was heaving at 6.30pm last night. I’d reserved a table for 6.45pm and was kept waiting in a queue at the door. The man behind me – who was dining outside – was struggling to get a waiter’s attention to order drinks for his table. It wasn’t the best first impression. Would this turn out to be the experience I was hoping for?

Once greeted, we were shown to our table on the quieter cellar floor and were looked after superbly from start to finish. Any initial doubts quickly evaporated.

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Wafer thin biltong

One of the reasons H and I chose this restaurant was because of the the wine list: it includes some great South African wines such as Graham Beck (we visited a Graham Beck vineyard in Franschhoek together a couple of years ago and sampled some excellent wines there).

And so we ordered a bottle of Graham Beck brut NV from the sparkling wine list, reasonably priced at £29.90, “a dangerously good South African sparkler which was served at Obama’s inauguration” (reputedly causing controversy with Californian winemakers, but hey ho – only the best for the U.S. President…). And munched on some peppered, wafer-thin biltong @ £4.00 (is this the best looking biltong you’ve ever seen – it looks like dried carpaccio, hey?) while reading the a la carte menu.

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Medium rare flat iron steak + triple fried chips with pepper sauce

Homing in on the main course grills – and taking advice from our helpful waiter – we both opted for a current special (check website or Open Table for latest promotions): 6 oz (170g) flat iron steak (rump/buttock) with triple fried chips and a glass of wine @ £15.00. Seriously good value; a seriously good cut of beef perfectly cooked (medium rare), and faultless chunky, crisp-coated chips.

The au poivre sauce @ £2.75 (smooth blend pepper-corn gravy, not crunchy) was a perfect accompaniment for dunking fat chips.

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Cheeseboard (French/Italian) – top down: Comté, Reblochon, Gorgonzola, Fourme d’Ambert

Do you believe in cheeses?

Vivat Bacchus has its own cheese room (you can select your own cheeseboard with the help of a cheesepert) or you can pick a suggested (but adaptable) cheeseboard – British, French or Italian.

Substituting Coulommiers (soft and Brie-like) with Gorgonzola Dolce (from the Italian board) we – again helped by our waiter – chose a French cheeseboard @ £18.50, comprising
~ Comté (I lived in the Franche-Comté region for a short while a looo-ong time ago and this fast became my favourite cheese)
~ Reblochon de Savoie (brie-like)
~ Gorgonzola Dolce (gorgeously melting, Italian)
~ Fourme d’Ambert (blue cheese)

Comté is available in all the supermarkets these days but this chunk of hard cheese at Vivat Bacchus took me right back to its source. Fair to say it was pretty special.

The *freebie* glass of red wine with the steak was an Indaba Mosaic (South African blend of CabSauv, Merlot + Malbec) – nice enough that we ordered a bottle @ £19.50 with the cheeseboard.

The verdict: Fab service, great food, really good value. Can’t wait to return (see below).

More of the menu:

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VB salad starter – beetroot, fennel, broccoli, radish, avocado, gorgeous


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Carpaccio starter


Côte de Boeuf on the bone – a 28 day dry aged forerib chop (1050g for 3 people @ £69.00)


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Rib eye steak


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Kangaroo burger


French cheeseboard – a ‘monthly special’ – Comté, Coulommiers, Affidelice au Chablis, Pont Yeu, Bleu des Causses

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Coley fish with potato rosti, roast fennel + chorizo

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Steak + fries

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: South African, international
~ Address: 4 Hays Lane, London Bridge, London
~ Postcode: SE1 2HB
~ Tel: 020 7234 0891
~ Nearest station: London Bridge
~ Website + menus: Vivat Bacchus website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Vivat Bacchus
~ Location: Vivat Bacchus map

Vivat Bacchus on Urbanspoon

Cape Town Fish Market at Oxford Circus

When you first walk into Cape Town Fish Market at Oxford Circus, the feel of the place is really impressive. It’s a vast restaurant appealingly laid out with different sections (a large sushi bar, separate dining table areas and downstairs for the hibachi grills), interesting decor including a big water feature, and fresh fish (helpfully labelled) displayed on ice and – on my visit last night – a welcoming greeting on arrival.

With such an impressive start, my expectations were well and truly raised – especially with such a scrumptious looking menu offering all sorts of fish and seafood from oysters to sushi to sole and calamari. But while food was mostly satisfactory, it didn’t quite hit the high standard I’d hoped for.

For starters we had baby squid (the main flavour of which was burnt oil) and dressed crab (lovely but no denying that the ‘tangy mayo’ was Marie Rose sauce).

Grilled baby squid in a robata sauce – tasted of burnt oil – @ £7.75

Dressed crab with fresh lime and tangy mayo @ £8.95

220g of sea bass @ £14.95 with heaps of home-made coleslaw/ raw cabbage (somewhat bland and devoid of any interesting flavours)

Large interior – quite empty on a Thurs eve

While I don’t think this restaurant will help me in my quest to be converted to like oysters, it does – on the plus side – accept Tastecard (the discount is currently two-for-one, for a maximum party size of two).

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: International
~ Address: 6 Argyll Street, London
~ Postcode: W1F 7TE
~ Tel: 020 7437 1143
~ Nearest station: Oxford Circus
~ Website: Cape Town Fish Market website
~ Location: Cape Town Fish Market map

Cape Town Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Chakalaka – Would you like antelope with your ostrich?

Named after a spicy South African vegetable relish, the Chakalaka restaurants in Putney, Chiswick and Wimbledon serve traditional South African food – something unique in London, even today.

I visited the Putney branch last night and first impressions were good. It’s tastefully yet simply decorated with South African paintings and zebra photos. And, being a busy restaurant, there’s a warm, vibrant buzz with attentive service too.

The menu offers dishes such as boerewors (sausage), ostrich and kudu (antelope) and lamb bobotie (curried minced lamb). There were items on this menu I hadn’t tried before so it greatly appealed to me.

There were a couple of South Africans in our party who rightly recommended peri-peri chicken livers, kudu carpaccio and boerewors sausage for shared starters. For main course I had ostrich (good) but recommend the lamb bobotie.

I had an excellent evening in great company and a good atmosphere, and am pleased to have tried new dishes. And while the food is good enough, it is over-priced (same prices as Santa Maria del Sur and this is not on a par with Santa Maria del Sur quality). Definitely worth trying but I won’t rush back.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
~ Type: South African
~ Postcode: SW15 2SP
~ Website: Chakalaka website
~ Location: Chakalaka Putney map