37 Battersea Bridge Road, SW11 3BA
020 7095 0360, bungabunga-london.com
Cost per person without wine: £25
There’s often a point in the Apprentice TV show when a contestant’s confidence surpasses sense. Someone has an idea, and you spend the next 50 minutes watching the team run round and execute it in some terrifying way, pretending to be experts in something they’re not.
There was a sense of Apprentice déjà vu in last week’s visit to Bunga Bunga in Battersea. Except the chaos was not on screen. Instead, we were living in Team Bunga chaos – the overexcitement for a great idea far outstripping the execution.
To be fair, the evening did start promisingly. Though the front of house were chatting away for a while before I could ask them about my booking, there were no airs and graces. Nor was there the stiff service you might have expected from a place that had royalty and the cast list from Made in Chelsea in their opening party pictures. The website promised tongue-in-cheek banter, and there were nice little touches – all guests were given a fun newspaper with updates within Bunga world, and there were phrases at the bottom of the menu to help you order in Italian should you want to have a go.
Cocktails were okay (although I’ve never had a Bellini before with a foamy top layer), and the food on the menu sounded like simple rustic fare, named things like “artichoke heart stealer”, and “Italy’s fun guy”. Guffaw.
But then the entertainment started. My goodness. It was as though someone within Team Bunga had said “wouldn’t it be great if a contortionist in flesh-coloured leotard stretched their groin next to the diners”. Because that’s what he did. The next act simply stopped halfway through (we hadn’t even noticed it had until the manager made a point of coming up to tell us). The staff themselves seemed unimpressed with the acts, dodging a contortionist’s limb or an opera singer’s gesticulation with resentment as they delivered pizza to table. And then there was the re-enactment of the murder of George Bizet’s Carmen and the awkward scene where fake blood was smeared all over Carmen’s décolletage while the room tucked into their plates of Prosciutto di Parma. At that moment, it seemed that most in the room couldn’t help but share a withering Merkozy-esque smirk with fellow diners. The bizarreness was unfathomable.
And then the food. Let’s start with the good things. The pizza wasn’t too bad (although my companion was less forgiving as a prime supporter of the “best-ever pizza in London” from Brixton’s Franco Manca). The sourdough base was lovely and crisp, with a smatter of spicy sausage and juicy squirt-as-you-bite cherry tomatoes. And even though it looked like a tarted-up Jackson Pollock, the salad of avocado, tomato and mozzarella tasted fine and fresh.
The rest of the food was a bit of a disaster. Fried sage leaves with anchovy fillets were bitter and terrible. Courgettes were limpid batons of blandness and were served with a basil non-garlic “aioli” that had the extraordinary talent of increasing their blandness. A bruschetta with undercooked wild mushrooms was forgettable. The cured meats on garlic bread were tasty, but then it’s hard to mess that up. And, worst of all, Team Bunga couldn’t quite get the hang of the meaning of service, which consisted of constant badgering, and almost 30 instances of conversation-stopping interruption.
What would have been charming became try-hard kitch, and as the DJ spun Kings of Leon’s “sex on fire”, we felt as though we were coming to the end of the night at a batty uncle’s wedding. Bunga Bunga will thrive because there are enough real-life Made in Chelsea types to populate the bar. I would rather spend my time watching the drama unfold on my television. And as far as Team Bunga is concerned, I’m afraid, “you’re fired”.