Bacchus at Brisbane’s South Bank is glamorous – it has an inviting high-roller vibe with embellishments of gold and brass with Mother of Pearl lampshades and the intimacy of candlelight. The décor screams special occasion but the amazing kitchen and front of house staff do this every day.
In the most recent Good Food Guide Awards, Bacchus was bestowed Queensland’s Best Wine List.
Sommelier Andrew Giblin has curated a wine list that is at once innovative, challenging, comforting, satisfying and ultimately rewarding.
We spoke with the thoughtful Mr Giblin – a man with a broad yet extremely detailed wine knowledge that stems from his childhood in McLaren Vale. As a young boy he had assumed it was not at all unusual to grow up with a vineyard at the end of the street.
He experiments with tastes and labels from the rest of the ‘new world’, especially South America, while professing a personal love for Spanish varieties. But the demands of a restaurant’s wine list are greater than ‘what does the sommelier like?’ He constantly revises his choices for the many degustation menus, in an effort to keep himself and the restaurant’s patrons excited.
Each course (and more about the menu, in a moment) is perfectly matched with Mr Giblin’s recommendation. And while you can dine at this fine restaurant and simply select wines you know, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Trust the master, he will not disappoint. Our interview with Mr Giblin can be seen here: http://thismagnificentlife.com/magnificent-videos/
His pride in the Bacchus team is evident as he speaks of working with Head Chef Mark Penna and Restaurant Manager Jean Baptiste Elicot.
Now, lets turn to M. Jean Baptiste… There is an apocryphal yarn of Barry Humphries that is relevant to our story…
It appears that as a child, Barry Humphries shook hands with Percy Grainger who had worked with Grieg, who had shaken hands with Lizst, who had shaken hands with Beethoven, who had shaken hands with Haydn, who had shaken hands with Mozart. So if you were to shake hands with Barry Humphries today it could be argued that you also made a connection with some of the great composers of the last two centuries.
M. Jean Baptiste, who is so wonderfully French, that on meeting him you suddenly crave escargot, has such a connection to greatness.
You can feel it in his reverence of magnificent food and the commitment he has to satisfying his diners. It comes as no surprise then, to learn that he worked for Michel Roux Jr at La Gavroche, and when he was but a small child, a family friend was the lesser god Paul Bocuse. Hard work, observation and attention to the all-important details have helped M.Baptiste attain the level of skill he demonstrates today. (And to allay any charges of immodesty on his behalf, this information had to be massaged out of M. Baptiste over the course of the evening.)
Is any of this relevant to the story of Bacchus?
Yes. The restaurant exudes such pleasure in satisfying its guests that it can only come from worldly experience.
Mark Penna has created menus that feature the classics without too much fussiness. “Our menu pays tribute to classical flavours whilst showcasing the very best, local Queensland produce. We offer a very local dining experience with all the flair and attention to detail of some of the world’s best restaurants,” he said.
The Petit Degustation is not petit by any stretch of the imagination: 4 courses and 3 Amuse-Bouche as well as a pre-dessert and petit fours and coffee or tea.
To start – fragrant and ephemeral paper thin air-dried beef with sesame and dusted with lime. Squeals of delight can be heard from diners as the theatre of apple wood smoked salmon in a smoking Dom Perignon black lacquered box is opened at the table with a flourish by Jean Baptiste. The third amuse-gueule? Tomato consommé – a clear, perfumed and rose hued broth is topped with micro chopped herbs and all accompanied by Andrew’s recommended champagne – a Ruinart NV Blanc de Blancs.
The first course of fennel pannacotta with goat’s cheese and baby beet and carrot with quinoa, candied pecans and wattle seed biscotti is anointed with Pernod vinaigrette. It has a sexy kind of earthiness with big flavours in a petite package – goat cheese gives the requisite creaminess and is tart enough to balance out the flavours of the forest. A Henschke Eleanor’s Cottage Sauvignon Semillon from Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley is unbeatable.
The Moreton Bay Bug tail with a tiny beer battered white anchovy is a briny, salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the bug tail. It’s served with a delightful and fragrant but not overly sweet Gewürztraminer that is reminiscent of Turkish Delight and roses.
Service is fun whilst informative and the utmost care is taken to ensure each diner’s experience is long remembered. Jean Baptiste’s joy is infectious – he wants every Bacchus diner to have a ‘Big Night’.
Orange and Rosemary granita is everything a palate cleanser needs to be – orange bringing a citrusy sweetness while the rosemary is just a little astringent.
Mark’s mouth-watering signature main of Milly Hill Lamb done two ways is next: just the right shade of pink lamb loin and unctuous slow cooked shredded lamb shoulder, turnip and pearl barley. The crisped barley is a stroke of genius. The barley offsets the lamb beautifully as its texture contrasts with the tender lamb. A little crunch is never a bad thing.
A Credaro Family Estate Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon punches above its weight and is an ideal accompaniment to the lamb.
Pre dessert is listed as Salted Caramel Rocks and is in fact delicious malty, creamy ice cream with twigs of chocolate – assembled with the care and attention of a highly skilled kitchen. Dessert of sticky lemon polenta cake is simply presented with orbs of delicious almond scorched buttermilk ice cream on a hand cast plate.
But, wait there’s more. A rectangular plate groaning with what can only be described as little miracles or Petit Fours are next. Triple layered pistachio cake, delicate macarons, nougat, chocolate and the mini choc coated, hand-crafted ice creams are heaven on a stick. All three sweet courses are accompanied with the finest iced Riesling from Frogmore Creek, full of Tassie apple deliciousness.
For those who are dining a la carte or could possibly contemplate another course – the cheese trolley is a must with 2 blues, 2 cheddars, 2 goat and a Tamembert (that’s Tasmanian Camembert to you). The accompanying dessert wines offer a selection of the world’s best old school fortifieds, stickies, ports and digestifs.
The beauty of a restaurant like Bacchus is its versatility with a la carte and degustation menus for carnivores, vegetarians and vegans. It may have missed out on the accolades that the hipper restaurants around town acquire, but this is a restaurant that is not about trends. Bacchus like its namesake is devoted entirely to the pleasures of fine food, wine and good times. These times are made even better with sincere and unforgettable service.