Monday, 4 August 2008

The End Of An Era... But "Rodney Trotter's El Bulli" Will Rise Again

Bacchus is dead. Long live Bacchus! Many thanks to Anthony for the heads up.

In October 2006, I first discovered the existence of a certain local restaurant in Hackney. To be strictly correct, Food & Drink In London's Howard Vaan pointed it out to me and other food bloggers. My interest was immediately aroused. I'd just completed a period of management training at college and I was about to start a five-week training stage at Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Café. My mind was firmly set on gaining as much work experience as possible before making a move to Portugal or Spain (I wasn't sure which at the time) and I was searching for an exciting, creative and eclectic restaurant in which to work.

"Although I've been brought up no more than a mile away from Hoxton Street, I've yet to visit Bacchus. I will now, though. Cheers, Trig.", I wrote to Howard, and I posted a piece of my own. Reading the reviews I noted that several leading restaurant critics were none too favourably disposed. Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard didn't even set foot in the place before slagging it off - according to her, simply reading the menu to dinner friends made them feel unwell. Guy Dimond, writing in Time Out, described one dish as "looking like a make-up bag tipped on a plate" and, most damning of all, writer and broadcaster Tom Dyckhoff commented: "...the worst meal of my entire life. Yep, lovely staff, nice looking place, but inept combinations of flavours, ineptly cooked, vastly expensive. Like El Bulli done by Rodney Trotter." I was determined to meet this Rodney Trotter. But somehow it didn't happen.
"So where were you, when you could have been working here?"
Work experience came and went, I became absorbed in my Australian gastronomy project... and the visit still never happened. Probably for the best, because with hindsight I can see that I wasn't ready for the experience. The following February I had my first proper exposure to fine dining and for the first time began to really understand what this food is all about. In the weeks that followed I read Harold McGee and Hervé This and my culinary universe began to expand rapidly. As my final year exams approached, Bacchus was long forgotten. Summer came and went and I prepared for my departure to Barcelona. I'd already experienced working in a Catalan fine dining restaurant and was confident that I now knew enough to survive in the tough world of modern European cooking. It was just 72 hours before I boarded my flight to Spain... and this happened.

The rest, as they say, is history. I ate the most exciting, challenging and satisfying meal of my life and made a friend for life in Nuno Mendes. Later we discovered that we had a Portuguese friend in common in Professor Paulina Mata - food scientist, molecular gastronomist and broadcaster. I read the great feature on Nuno in Observer Food Monthly and saw the really good reviews - there are many of them. And I ate at Bacchus several more times. Most importantly of all, I came to understand three things. Having eaten in two of Spain's best restaurants within days of a meal at Bacchus, I now know just how talented Nuno Mendes is. If I ever harboured any lingering doubts, I don't now. Secondly, I now understand why not all of Nuno's dishes were perfect. Reading the 10-point manifesto of technoemotional gastronomy, it simply screams "Nuno Mendes" at me. Bacchus was a restaurant in which the customer was encouraged to be an active participant, where the kitchen took risks, constantly evolved new ideas and introduced new techniques and challenged both the senses and the intellect of the diner. And thirdly, eating at Bacchus reinforced for me the crucial importance of front of house. The service there made me feel very special - with near-flawless delivery of food and wines that I've rarely if ever found elsewhere.

Rodney Trotter and TrigAlthough I'm not conversant with the detail of Nuno's plans for his future in the industry, I have an outline idea of what he has in mind and if it comes off it will be really exciting. When I left London to work in Spain, it never occurred to me that I might find myself back in the UK within the next few years, if ever. But if there's one chef who could induce me back to work in London it's Nuno Mendes. You just never know! After all, my nickname is a tribute to Rodney Trotter's drinking mate in Only Fools And Horses.

In the meantime, let me join Anthony Silverbrow and all those bloggers and foodies who have posted messages wishing Phil Mossop, Nuno Mendes & the staff of Bacchus the very best of luck for the future. I can't make it myself, being 1,138 miles away, but my dad and several of my London food blogging friends will attend a farewell drink at Bacchus next Wednesday night. I'll drink a toast after work, though.


Lizzie said...

I went to Bacchus only once last August, and I loved it, it was like no other meal I've ever had. I agree it was in the arse end of nowhere, so I look forward to it relocating! Presumably the drinks are this Wednesday 6th?

Trig said...

Yes - this Wednesday, Lizzie. A chance to meet some other bloggers.

alexthepink said...

Aw! This has been on my to do list for ages. Dagnamit, I am just too slow... I will just have to make sure I visit in its next incarnation.

skooldays said...

Del wants Fools comeback according to the main fans

tv legend David Jason wants to return as Del Boy, he revealed yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aidan,

Thank you very much for your kind words, it is nice to know that our work had a positive impact on people. Let's hope that the future bring us projects even more exciting than Bacchus where we can really have a solid platform to express our vision of food and dining.

I will be going to Barcelona next week and i would really like to come and visit you at C24

Let me know if this is possible. Also i will probably be there for the weekend so maybe we can meet up on sunday or monday.

Hope you're well

Nuno Mendes

ros said...

After visiting Bacchus on Wednesday, I am speechless.

Obviously, I went without expecting any food, as Mike had arranged, but since others were dining we seemed to get the majority of a tasting menu as an unexpected suprise.

Your Dad did constantly remind me that I shouldn't judge Bacchus on that evening because the timings weren't right and it would be hard for the chefs to do their best with the end so near etc but...

...the dishes we had were sublime. The flavour combinations were totally genius. I loved everything- especially the porcini truffles and I loved the use of mangosteen with the slow cooked pigeon. I can only just imagine what it must be like to see this place in full swing and have a complete meal there.

Nuno seemed like a really lovely, down to earth guy too, and was astonishingly humble when I tried to thank him for the dishes he'd prepared for us on the house!

I can't believe it is shutting a week before I am in the clear financially! Boo!

Trig said...

Timing is everything, Ros, and it's a shame you never managed to eat at Bacchus earlier. But I'm really glad to hear that you enjoyed your meal the other night. They are still doing private catering, so you can always save up and have Nuno cook for your birthday bash.

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