26 November 2016

An Italian feast at BungaTINI

BungaTINI, the "teeny" version of Battersea big dog Bunga Bunga, opened quietly a few months ago. The - seemingly - more civilised branch of the Inception Group (behind the likes Mr Fogg's, Barts and Cahoots), it sits unassuming, underneath the bright lights of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

The preview was on a Tuesday night, which was incidentally also my plus one's birthday. We'd been sold the evening based on the promise of trying a selection of the dishes BungaTINI offers diners in the evening, as well as a fair amount of tipples... perfect for a birthday, no?

The event was held on the first floor mezzanine, which bared a startling resemblance to an alfresco Italian garden.

A combination of decorative greenery and real herbs (lavender, I checked) are draped along the walls, warming up the interiors. The pared back wood and wicker contrasted with the truly stunning painted plates and the green glass of the San Pellegrino bottles.

We began the evening with an aperitif in the form of a Muscato fizz. It was described as a sweet wine fizz, but to be it kind of tasted like an elderflower beer. Which sounds like it wouldn't be very tasty (I don't even like beer), but it was - very light and drinkable.

Prosecco on ice. Perfect-o.

After knocking a chair over on my way to the table (highly embarrassing, by this point the mezzanine was occupied by quite a crowd) and being laughed at by my plus one, he then did exactly the same thing and of course declared the chair 'unsturdy'.

Dignity dented, we thought it best to settle down and choose our seats.

Although I couldn't help but ogle at and drool over this giant pillow-sized loaf of bread (homemade, naturally). Oh my gaaaaad.

And then the fun began. Glasses of perfectly chilled, fizzy Malibran Prosecco and about a kajillion delicious tasting plates.

So, let's get started.

First, thick slices of tomato bread and fresh, warm focaccia. Dunked in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Yum. I thought I'd prefer the tomato bread but the focaccia - which I usually find too salty - won me over.

Next up, this beautifully presented seabass carpaccio, seasoned with bergamot,  herbs and a smattering of pomegranate seeds.

I won't beat around the bush, and I have mentioned this before - I'm not fond of raw food. But with the toppings, it was delicately flavoured and delicious. Without the accompaniments, it tasted slightly bland. Then again, maybe my palette is too unrefined to appreciate the subtle flavour. And maybe it was because I'd had salted, flavoursome bread only moments before?

Next up, arancini. Which I didn't photograph (bad Sofie), but let's face it, arancini isn't the most beautiful looking food... I sampled the mushroom and truffle version (there was sausage one too, but I didn't want to fill myself up) and was thoroughly impressed. Truffle can sometimes be a bit *too* rich, especially as a starter, but I think the balance was just right. Deep fried rice balls done well.

On another brightly patterned plate, we were served gnocco fritto (fried bread) with a slice of culatello (similar to parma ham, but a bit smokier) and frigitelli pepper (not my thing, too bitter, but it went down well with my plus one).

By this point I realised we were nowhere near done with the tasting plates, so I limited myself to half of the dish. I wouldn't say it was particularly remarkable - it is, essentially, fancy ham on fancy bread, but the flavours and textures were divine. It's a simple plate, good to share if you're feeling generous, but a fair size to keep to yourself if you're hangry.

Did someone say "more"?

Enter, burrata pugliese...

The creamiest, richest cheese I have e-e-ever come across. I'd say it was a mozzarella texture on the outside, and the consistency of a thick cream on the inside. If it was the only starter I'd had, I would have eaten most of it, but by this point I was struggling. The tomato salsa (pappa al pomodoro) was perfection, with just a hint of vinaigrette to balance the cream of the burrata. Yum.

Then things got serious. Out came the red wine (by Terre Forte, it was fantastic). Out came the pasta.

Tagliolini in a buttery, cheesy sauce, topped with grated truffle. Seduction on a plate.

It was a truly stunning dish. I would have liked the sauce to be a little thicker (I'm a messy eater, and I have a tendency to splash sauce everywhere), but other than that I cannot fault it. SO delicious.

Oddly, considering BungaTINI brands itself as a Pizzeria, the pasta was followed by dessert... not that I'd have been able to eat much of it, but PIZZA. I was kind of expecting pizza.

We filled the pizza void with the presence an extensive, impressive cocktail menu.

With the task of choosing for him, I went for the Ugo Tognazzi - Woodford Reserve whiskey, Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino vermouth, Amaro Lucano Anniversario, Angostura bitters & honey. I had no idea what half of the ingredients were, but it was so strong, just smelling it made you feel tipsy. And unlike most cocktails which are majority alcohol and zero mixer, it tasted good. Try it.

But then the lights went down... and the birthday boy got a celebratory treat in the form of tiramisu (an Italian favourite, and my favourite dessert, excellent) topped with a musical plastic flower candle. No, I didn't realise they existed, either...

And, if weren't already full enough, this was followed by a dark chocolate mousse with red wine reduction and biscotto.

Needless to say, it was delicious.

We had a whale of a time at BungaTINI. It's the ideal place for a celebration, but it's also more low key than Bunga Bunga (the second brand of which is being constructed underneath the restaurant and opening in the new year, FYI) and the food is beautifully presented and plentiful. It's easy to get carried away with the drinks and cocktails - probably not the place to go on a budget - but it's unpretentious and seriously fun.

Find BungaTINI at 167 Drury Lane www.bungatini.com

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