Bacchanalia: Two years on, does Richard Caring’s restaurant still live up to the hype?

From the start, Bacchanalia has established itself as a social media influencer’s playground  (Johnny Stephens Photography)
From the start, Bacchanalia has established itself as a social media influencer’s playground (Johnny Stephens Photography)

The restaurant scene has changed in London – a lot. Social media has changed the way we find places to eat, and, in turn, how restaurants market themselves. We’re now far more likely to be influenced via an Instagram grid than consult a critic with years of experience and expertise.

This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing – you might discover somewhere small and independent that would otherwise have remained on the down low. But viral TikTok videos and blue-ticked reviews have resulted in queues the length of Edgeware Road, months-long reservation waits and a “hype” that will either seduce you or have you running in the opposite direction.

Not all of them manage to survive the frenzy that short-form video virality can induce. It’s also not always clear if this is a testament to their quality or if it’s just the nature of social media; giving things their undue 15 minutes. In some cases, an hour.

This year, it’s undeniably The Devonshire in Soho. A “proper” London pub that’s been restored to its former glory by publican Oisin Rogers and Fat Iron founder Charlie Carroll. The boozer ripped through social media and it’s likely everyone in the city and beyond has at least heard of it. It’s been all over TopJaw, Ed Sheeran is in there on a near-weekly basis and it’s managed to – despite being hyped (and hyped, and hyped) – to have got the likes of critics Giles Coren, David Ellis and Tim Hayward on side.

It’s hardly the first hot new spot to saturate our social media timelines.

In 2022, Bacchanalia – owned by the billionaire restaurateur Richard Caring (The Ivy, Sexy Fish) – was all the rage. You may have heard of the Damien Hurst sculptures protruding from the walls, the 125g beluga caviar for £995, the lobster truffle pasta for £140, the whimsical loos designed for selfies, or the refurb that reportedly cost in excess of £75m. Social media was completely awash with it in 2022 – no wonder, it’s quite literally influencer heaven.

The question is, two years on, does it still live up to the hype?

Self-described as “not merely a restaurant” but a “breathtaking feast for the senses”, I’d have to agree. In what used to be a Porsche showroom on a corner adjacent to Berkeley Square, the room is decadently decked out in reds and golds, there’s a live band, waiters are dressed in slightly demeaning toga-like uniforms. It’s certainly a feast – or a water boarding – for the senses and considering it’s a Wednesday, the place is utterly rammed.

All things considered, it’s not necessarily tacky, unless you consider exuberant flauntings of wealth and unicorns sticking out the wall tacky. It’s loud, sort-of fun and everyone is very, very friendly. Plus, it’s an Instragrammer’s wet dream, which could explain its popularity to an extent – but the place seems to be showing no signs of slowing down.

You might have heard about the £140 lobster truffle pasta (Johnny Stephens Photography)
You might have heard about the £140 lobster truffle pasta (Johnny Stephens Photography)

As the table is readied I order a cocktail at the bar. The list itself is long and unfamiliar but there are key words to help you decide: “smooth and dapper”, “tropical and hedonistic”, “velvety and surprising”. I order a Mediterranean cocktail, which means there’s cucumber, tequila, poblano pepper and apricot and it’s simultaneously “lucious and picante”, as promised.

The food gets going with beetroot carpaccio and grilled octopus. The former is tasty, but is essentially thinly sliced beetroot with yoghurt and chopped walnuts dolloped on top for £22. The latter is cooked exquisitely, demonstrating that there’s genuine skill going on in the kitchen. Smoky, just the right amount of charred, not chewy. The fava puree beneath is fine, neither adding or taking away from the dish.

Before mains I head to the loo, which by all accounts are meant to be very “fun”. They’re of course lavish and ornately decorated, with a grand Chamber of Secrets-style circular marble sink in the middle. My slight feeling of not being the restaurant’s target audience is compounded when I have to interrupt a photoshoot taking place across the bathroom exit by two actual models, who have to retake repeatedly as the photos are not quite “giving”.

The next course consists of lamb chops, which are cooked as perfectly as the octopus. Sizzled, scrumptious and just the right amount of pink. The cabbage salad it comes with is great but the paprika sauce is totally overpowering and completely masks the beautiful flavour of the lamb, so I avoid it. Devon crab linguine tastes wonderful but there’s a surprising amount of shell in the sauce for something priced at £35 – then again, it is topped with caviar.

The inconsistency carries on to dessert with a gloriously creamy and rich tiramisu and a vegan dark chocolate and lime pavlova, which is deconstructed beyond recognition and doesn’t quite come together; more a smattering of mismatched textures and flavours resulting in a whole lot of meh.

The thing is, Bacchinalia doesn’t care that some people may think it’s silly, or overpriced, or ridiculous. It’s clearly managing to get something right. The restaurant has survived the Instagram hype and is still fully booked, overflowing with wealthy punters willing to splash the cash on pretty good but somewhat hit-and-miss food.

So many restaurants blow up on Instagram and TikTok these days that it ends up being to their detriment, as they simply can’t keep up with the expectations and demand. Bacchinalia, on the other hand, seems to be doing just fine.

I still don’t quite have an answer for how they’ve managed to sustain the intrigue. A bit like the effect the advice from culinary director Athinagoras Kostakos has: “Everything here is created to be shared. The wine you drink, the music you hear, the food on the table – but also the vibe. Be curious, and share.” The sentiment leaves me feeling a little bemused.

But I am curious to see if its success will be maintained. What I can see is that my opinion doesn’t really matter when it comes to Bacchanalia – it’s not meant for me.

A meal for two (two cocktails, three courses and wine) costs in the realm of £300

Bacchanalia, 1 Mount Street, London, NW1K 3NA | 020 3161 9720 |