Bacchus was the god of wine and ecstasy in Ancient Rome. In modern Beijing, it’s a stucco cube planted incongruously on the northeast rim of the Third Ring Road.
Inside the cube, a mammoth wine list pays impressive tribute to the eatery’s namesake. Atop the stylish wooden bar sits a severed pig leg – a bone-in Iberico ham imported from Spain, which is carved to order (RMB118 for a small serving, RMB188 for a large).
The place has something of a fancy hotel lobby about it, clean and neat with striking geometric flourishes. A checkerboard carved stone feature wall rises behind the impressive bar, and concentric wooden squares and beams adorn the ceiling.
The menu is fascinating. It’s an adventurous kind of Mediterranean-Japanese fusion, bursting with fresh seafood and lovingly hand-written with silver glitter pen on pieces of black card. These sit in plastic binders that recall a hole-in-the-wall yakitori joint. Cute diagrams explain the dishes, which have English names like “WA!! Beef Hamburger” (RMB218) and “It’s a… Scampi!!” (RMB137).
An excellent negroni and Manhattan (both RMB90) come as the 1997 Spice Girls’ chart-topper ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ plays, and we snack on moreish wasabi crackers. We start the meal with a pickle salad (RMB57) – a medley of pickled cucumbers, carrots and cocktail onions, fresh lime, fine shredded red cabbage, raw carrot tops and peppercorns that crunch without tasting bitter.
Then comes a flawless karaage chicken ordered off the specials board (RMB67). The chicken is equally crisp and tender with a healthy portion of spice. The four-cheese pizza (RMB77) is less pizza than a soft, slender slab of cheese-covered dough, and it's not much to look at, but tastes great even though the dough is a little undercooked.
Next, we try the ambitious cold creamy salami pasta. Angel hair pasta is served naengmyeon-style with a sauce of pureed green soybean, olive oil and cream. The soybean gives it a slightly chalky but not offputting texture. Slivers of cooked salami add punch. The dish works. As we tuck in, a family spanning three generations is replaced by a loved-up young couple making doe eyes over a wagyu hamburger steak.
By chance we meet co-owner Soto, who designed the menu. He says some guests complain the pickle salad is too tart, which confuses him, because it’s a pickle salad. He uses apple vinegar to make the pickles, and adding carrot tops was his idea. “They’re good for helping you lose weight,” he claims as he pats his belly. “You can eat as many as you want.” It’s not the most Bacchanalian sentiment, but this place is many things. Don’t go here looking for large portions or hearty fare, but for the unique flavor combinations to pair with wine or whiskey.
[Images via Flynn Murphy/That’s]