The foyer is where the show begins.
The women dressed in dark red togas and with gilded arm sleeves greet guests. They look like they have just come off the set of Ben-Hur, the 1959 Hollywood epic about Rome's empire and chariot race. They will take your coat and pass it to a colleague, who is dressed as an extra from the movie.
That's it. Although it's a dining area, it is so theatrically extravagant and stuffed with rich fabrics and color that it almost seems like it belongs on a stage.
Bacchanalia is a brand new restaurant located in one of London's most prestigious neighborhoods. It is as outlandish as a clown car at wake. Either you can sigh in horror at the debauchery, or you can join this immersive show and take some selfies with everyone else.
This option is slightly more expensive. A large serving of tiramisu costs $42 and the top tile of chocolate is hand-cracked by a waiter using a spoon.
The place is a dare. The celebration of high-end gluttony is a dare for rubberneckers. Customers are allowed to focus on their food. This is difficult in a noisy room with waiters slapping down to their sandals and overstuffed with art.
Five huge, fantastical white sculptures, all by Damien Hirst are featured. One of them is a flying unicorn that transports two lovers. Another floor-to-ceiling piece reimagines Thomas Couture’s 1847 painting, "The Romans in their Decadence". The original is very similar to this version, except that some of the classically dressed revelers and louches are using mobile phones and laptops. Couture intended the original to be a reproach to Romans who seem bored and exhausted by their orgy, and whose empire seems doomed.
The updated image captures the theme of the restaurant: Let's be inspired by the civilization that invented excess. Post it to Instagram.
Bacchanalia is more than just a meal. It's a dare for everyone who doesn't eat at Bacchanalia.
England, Wales and Scotland are experiencing financial woes. There have been tax increases, cuts to public spending and double-digit inflation. Fuel costs have risen and there has been a "short and shallow recession" which could escalate to something worse. Ambulance drivers, border staff and transport workers have all been on strike. Brexit has exacerbated the supply chain problems that have plagued countries around the globe.
The Tory government believes that austerity is the best medicine for the U.K., given the fact that deficits have risen over the years due to Covid-related payments.
"There was a time when austerity was what happened to other people. But now everyone can see their tax and gas bills going up every month and that's scary," Oliver Bullough, author of Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tax Dodgers. Kleptocrats, Kleptocrats, and Tycoons. "It's quite bizarre that restaurants like these are still being opened despite the fact people all over the country are trying to decide whether they want to heat or eat.
It was coincidental that the opening of Bacchanalia, Nov. 17, was also when Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor for the Exchequer announced to Parliament that he would be increasing taxes by nearly $30 billion and cutting spending by $35 billion.
He said, "Anyone who claims there are easy solutions is lying to the British people."
A few hours later, the party at Bacchanalia seemed like it had taken place in another universe. Cocktail-dressed guests mixed with those in tuxedos and slacks, as well as Harris Reed, the fashion designer, and Naomi Campbell, the model. Nymph performers walked along the doors in their nymph costumes, moving with the slowness of living sculptures. Meanwhile, toga-clad waiters in laurels replenished flutes and served canapes. The mezzanine was occupied by a performer who dressed up as a sparkling Cupid, and he slowly pointed his bow at the crowd.
Richard Caring is the Nero of this ersatz Rome. He is the perpetually tanned and improbably taut Brit, who often grinnes and is often called a billionaire. Caring started his career by importing cheap clothing from Hong Kong. He moved into the hospitality industry in 2005 and now owns a number of high-end restaurants, some of which are more well-known for their buzz and fancy decor than their quality food.
Some, such as Bacchanalia, border Berkeley Square. It is a lush patch of Mayfair that is bordered by luxury car dealerships (Ferrari and Bentley), social clubs, and the London outpost Blackstone, the large private equity firm. It's the playground for oligarchs as well as petrogarchs. Sexy Fish is a Caring creation, where they can eat at a restaurant called 'like being punched by Dubai'. Cross the square is Mr. Caring's most prized bauble, an exclusive members' club called Annabel's that has six restaurants and an enormous grizzly made of twigs. It stands in the forest-themed men's area, a pun on the old joke about how bears relieve their self.
This article was not written by Mr. Caring. Neither would Caprice Holdings' publicity department explain why. It's not surprising, given his usual chatty nature and willingness to indulge in the unbridled hedonism of Bacchanalia months ago. The restaurant advertised that it needed 'London's first grape feeder' in its run-up to opening. This was in a full page ad in London Times. (Job requirements include 'gorgeous hands' and a basic grasp of Greek or Latin. The job was advertised to hundreds of people, but none were selected. This was just a publicity stunt.
The Evening Standard asked Bacchanalia, an independent daily, in November if it was "a toga too far during troubled economic times." Marcella Martinelli, a stylist who was invited to one of Bacchanalia’s launch dinners, said no.
She stated that 'Obviously, the cost of living crisis was important.' It's a great experience if you have the money. It doesn't matter how good they make the pasta.
Alec Gunn was the chief executive of a warehouse company and was an early Bacchanalia diner. He said that he believed that theme parks that indulge in overindulgence were essential for London's scene and that they were aspirational. He said, "I've worked hard all of my life." "People should have fun."
In the same remarks Mr. Caring made on opening night, before, and after he mingled among attendees while being accompanied by a man wearing an earpiece. He was acutely aware of the disparity between the joy he had orchestrated and the misery elsewhere.
"The last guy who gave a speech in such a setting was 'friends', Romans and countrymen," he said, quoting Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s 'Julius Caesar. Caesar was stabbed to death at this point.
He was looking for a safe haven from conspicuous consumption. So he found it.
"Is it too much toga?" He asked the crowd.
The crowd yelled back.
Bacchanalia was jam-packed with workers at a time when restaurants are struggling to find waitstaff. One of the employees explained that higher pay is the key to success. They are a helpful and efficient group that is easily identifiable by their elaborate hierarchy of brooches and outfits. It seems like they echo ancient Rome's stratification.
The runners, the men and women who carry the food, are at the bottom. They don workaday togas and their status rises from there. From there, they transition to western chic for those at the top. For example, the assistant bar manager wears a burgundy velvet sports jacket; the bar manager wears a double-breasted version, which is incrementally more expensive.
Diners, whether you like it or not are automatically part this caste system. They are updated versions of the sybarites shown on many murals. The role has a risky side, given the history of the Roman Empire. Although Mr. Bullough, author, had an idea that could make customers more nervous,
He said that he expected someone to open a replica Titanic's first class deck in Mayfair next year, and with comparable prices. Then, we'll all know we're doomed.
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