‘Would you like to visit the cheese room?’
I was first told about Vivat Bacchus a few years ago by a friend of mine as a suggestion for somewhere to go on a date. I never took my date there. Instead I’ve been three times, all with my best girls and let’s face it, cheese and wine is the very best fuel for a life catch-up and gossip sesh.
Anyone who knows me well will know that my vice is cheese. Birthday parties in my twenties were defined by cheese puns, melted camembert and yellow party dresses. Who doesn’t dress like their favourite food on their birthday?
Just me it would seem.
It wasn’t my birthday when I went last month and I wasn’t wearing a yellow dress. It was an overdue catch up with an old friend and I was wearing a giant coat because it was pouring down with rain and -100 degrees. I arrived early and was seated in a corner downstairs, where another woman was waiting alone too. I ordered a glass of the restaurant’s own red wine, VB Red Blend, which was smooth as silk and warming like a log fire in a country cottage at Christmas.
The first time I ate at Vivat Bacchus we were so excited by the cheese that we gorged on a massive board first and then were too stuffed to eat our main courses. This time we ordered our mains and had a cheese board for ‘dessert’. I ordered the confit leg of Barbary duck, braised red cabbage, sautéed new potatoes and a cinnamon orange jus. My friend had the ‘potato-less’ salmon fishcake special.
I didn’t take a pic of the fish cake as it felt a bit mean shoving my phone over my friend’s food. My duck leg was rich and delicious, potatoes crispy, cabbage succulent, and complemented perfectly by the sticky sweet orange jus. The whole thing, with the red wine, was exactly what I needed on a chilly, damp February evening. I always eat too fast but this meal slowed me right down. You know when you’re eating something really good and you slow right down to savour the flavours? For once I actually took my time over my food because every mouthful and sip of wine was a treat.
We nodded enthusiastically as the waiter asked us if we wanted to visit the cheese room and 10 minutes later we followed the green-fleeced cheese expert into the cheese room. It stinks, and it’s amazing. I mean, if you don’t like cheese or if you only like cheese a bit then you’ll probably find it a bit offensive on the nostrils. The cheeses were arranged by country and we worked our way around the world trying a couple from each place. We settled on an English brie and goats’ cheese, Spanish Manchego and the ultimate, my absolute favourite, French comté.
I would swim the channel tomorrow for Comté. I came to Comté quite late in my cheese journey; I was working an event about seven years ago and I was making small-talk with a visitor who turned out to be a cheesemonger. I grilled her about her favourite cheeses and she said hers was Comté. I’d never really eaten it before and was obsessed by Brie and Camembert (basically anything I could melt and dip things in). I tried Comté and fell in love with its deep nutty taste.
Our cheese board arrived 5 minutes later, laden with crusty bread, apple slices, quince jam and crackers.
This photo doesn’t quite show how big the board actually was and we joked about a recently published article that said the recommended portion of cheese per serving is ‘the size of your thumb’. Suffice to say the amount of cheese on the board was about 20 thumbs worth. If you’re going to do something, do it properly, and a cheese board is not worth skimping on in my humble opinion.
We were two very happy people after I took this photo, although kind of sad that it was over.
We’d had 4 glasses of wine, 2 mains, a portion of chips and a large cheese board, and the bill came to just under £100 including a tip. It was expensive but absolutely worth it. And I can’t put a price on the way cheese makes me feel.