Sunny South Africa shines in this restaurant tucked away at London Bridge.
Not many restaurants serve Beef biltong and Beef droëwors as pre-dinner snacks, but they certainly make a change from olives and nuts.
Vivat Bacchus make their own biltong and droëwors, the first is cured silverside, sea salt and spices, while droëwors is cured ground silverside, sea salt and spices.
Originally created to be the kind of dry-ish snack you could carry around for days when out and about, both are now much-loved delicacies in SA and come in all kinds of textures and flavours.
I rather expected something austere and hard, something I’d still be masticating days later, but both are in fact a perfect mix of soft and chewy and are totally addictive. We almost order another round.
Other SA foods don’t feature on the menu, no karoo-lamb, ostrich or game, but South African wines do appear, although not to the exclusion of other new or old world wines.
Of course with a name like Vivat Bacchus it’s unsurprising the place focusses on wine, indeed inside they’ve used old wood from vineyard barrels to line the walls. This gives it a bit of a winery-style atmosphere, or that of an old City wine bar, quite masculine.
We are identifying as two blokes, so we felt at home with our bare wood table and at least one of us has his manly eye on the steaks on offer.
First though I sail through Hot smoked Scottish salmon, with red chicory, trio of beetroot, horseradish cream and dill oil. Something of a classic on menus from a few years back, it still works well. Fine, firm salmon with the bitter chicory and sweet beetroots pairing excellently. The horseradish cream and dill oil really help it all along.
Seared scallops with cauliflower purée, pine nuts and crispy pancetta, is again unapologetically old school, but why fix what ain’t broke? S thought that maybe his scallops were a fraction underdone, but we both agree this is always better than over, and he eats the lot.
Wines by the glass, white for S and red for me, were recommends from the waiter and we were happy with both. Small tasters were offered before we committed, which you don’t get everywhere. The house blend red was particularly good for the money.
Pan-fried sea bass with sautéed broccoli, wild mushrooms, cauliflower purée, crispy artichokes is good. The skin is properly crispy. All the bits around support the fish, while not taking too much focus off the main attraction.
I have chips, naughty of me but nice, although I don’t really need the ‘red sauce’ on the side. I dip my chips in it anyway, as I am a terrible person.
S is old school with a steak, triple cooked chips and mixed baby leaves. The meat is 21-day aged British beef from the Surrey Hills and he reports a very good steak properly cooked medium rare. Sauces are available, including Monkey Gland sauce which, ‘does not contain any monkey’, our waiter reassures us, ‘it’s just very hot.’
Cheesecake to end for me, and a few glasses of a remarkable dessert wine called Kaapzicht for S who was full of steak. Nice cheesecake well put together.
Vivat Bacchus London Bridge suffers a bit from being hidden behind Pret, and inside it could do with a refresh for the 2020s to bring a bit of whizz back to the proceedings, but the cooking is sound and sensible and the set lunch is good value. For locals it’s a good choice and tourists sick of rip offs should turn to it gratefully.