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It’s all Greek to me…

No sooner had Manchester waved goodbye to Simple in the City than Bacchanalia had stepped into its place – we went down to see what it was all about…

Published on July 10th 2006.

It’s all Greek to me…

The only trouble with Bacchanalia is that it can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. The name and certain aspects of the interior suggest a Greek taverna, while the accessible and slightly unadventurous menu suggests a pleasant enough bistro with minimal Mediterranean influence. But then there’s the food. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the free toy in the box of Shreddies. Basically, a pretty good book shrouded in a rather average cover.

The quality of the food shouldn’t come as a surprise really when you learn that the wizard of Bacchanalia’s kitchen is Johnny Beattie, former sous-chef of The Living Room. In fact, the whole team behind this newly opened venture seem to have derived from The Living Room, from boss man Neil Smith to the highly skilled cocktail bar staff.

Bacchanalia comprises of a ground floor bar and informal dining area, and an upstairs formal restaurant. Being told that the restaurant upstairs was empty however, we opted to eat at one of the high wooden tables in the ground floor bar. Not the comfiest of options, I must say, but a great vantage point to survey the goings on in the bar area, which was pretty quiet on this Tuesday night.

For drinks, Bacchanalia has a reasonable choice of wine and an extensive cocktail list. As we were both driving, we opted for a glass of wine each rather than a bottle, choosing a light South African Sauvignon Blanc, £4.45 a glass.

Looking at the food menu, myself and my friend were slightly confused. ‘I thought it was supposed to be Greek’ commented my friend, who had hoped that the meal would bring back memories of her recent trip to Rhodes. The only Greek dishes on the mains menu were the rather obvious choice of Moussaka and the obligatory Greek Salad, which seemed like token gestures to the restaurant’s Greek identity. Other dishes did have a slight Mediterranean twist – the odd smattering of roasted vegetables here and tomato and herb sauce there, but in general the menu feels more like your average English bistro.

There is plenty of choice though with 15 main courses, and even the fussiest of eaters should find something to suit. To start, my friend worked off the old premise that you can always judge a place by its soup (in this case Broccolli and Stilton), while I opted for the white fish and prawn spring rolls with chilli and coriander, served with tomato fondue (£5.95).

The fish rolls were perfectly meaty and delicately flavoured, although the white fish did seem to overshadow the prawns, which consequently didn’t really get a look in on the palate. The dipping sauce complemented the fragile flavour of the fish, which would have all too easily been swamped by the ubiquitous sweet chilli stuff that you normally find.

The soup (£3.95) was full flavoured, and well balanced in taste, with the broccoli putting up a good fight against the stilton which can all too easily overpower the taste of the soup.

We hadn’t expected such a commendable quality of food from this place. Perhaps partly down to its associations in my mind with the building’s former resident, Simple in the City. Simple was a fab little place but which could never really boast great quality food as its main achievement. Or perhaps the food came as a surprise partly because of Bacchanalia’s low key interior décor, which doesn’t exactly scream ‘sophisticated cuisine’. Saying that though, we were sat in the bar area not the upstairs restaurant, which from the quick glimpse that I took of it on my colossal trek to the toilet looked quite nice.

Pleasantly surprised by the good quality of the appetisers, we were curious to see what the next course would bring.

Seared and baked Salmon (£12.95) arrived perfectly pink and tender, falling apart at the mere thought of being touched by a fork, and balancing on a bed of roasted Mediterranean vegetables with a tomato and Worcester sauce salsa. To accompany my meal I went for the mash of the day which was a yummy, creamy sunblushed tomato mash.

For my friend, the uninspiring sounding Pork Loin (£14.95) was a delicious surprise, resting on a bed of mash with an apple and cider jus and half a baked, glazed apple propped up against the substantial loin. She chose glazed carrots and beetroot to accompany, which were scrumptiously sweet and perfectly cooked.

Both being absolutely stuffed on the deceptively large portions, we almost declined dessert, but then bravely decided to go for it in the name of research. The dessert menu is possibly the most tempting menu of the three courses, with several intriguing sounding dishes

I braved the chocolate and chilli ice cream (£3.55) – white chocolate ice cream infused with chilli, which worked surprisingly well together. My friend went for the Baklava (£4.75), a favourite Greek dessert of hers which looks a little like a mini lasagne and comprises of layers of filo pastry, chopped nuts, nutmeg and cinnamon served with a drizzling of Greek honey. The spices were a little overpowering in this dish and the filling extremely rich, so it’s a good idea to request a scoop of vanilla ice cream with it to tone down the taste a bit.

Bacchanalia has opened very quietly, perhaps a good idea in such an unforgiving, competitive restaurant scene which doesn’t really allow for mistakes. Once the place has settled in a bit they will be trumpeting their arrival from the rooftops and celebrating with a bit of an opening bash.

The food here is spot on and the staff are friendly and attentive. Perhaps it may have been an idea though to alter the interior a little more radically to differentiate itself from associations with Simple’s more casual approach to dining. And from Bacchanalia’s name, I expect that many people may presume that it is a Greek restaurant, which in all honesty, it isn’t.

Despite the confusions though, Bacchanalia’s food makes a good new addition to Manchester’s culinary scene – time will tell if the place will make it through its first few months unscathed and become a popular destination for the city’s diners.

Jayne Robinson
Email me

15-17 Chapel Walks
M2 1HN

0161 8191994

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Latest Rants

Raj Patel

Shhh. This is right next to my office. A gem of a place for a tasty (& healthy) lunch. Don't tell…

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I think that was meant as a suggestion rather than referring to this location.

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Calum McG

It's nowhere near Kro or the gardens... Check the address...

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Pita Pit and KRO next door, plus a view of the scrotes on the gardens? That's the perfect combo.

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