Bunga Bunga in Battersea
Consider this: comic depictions of Silvio Berlusconi surround you, his beaming smile and creased face staring at you with intent. Your eyes crawl to the ceiling, catching vintage Italian posters en route, where you notice the Vespa helmets, now masquerading as lamp shades. The room’s indelible charm is momentarily altered as the lights dim and the shrill of Paolo Nutini prompts the staff – one of whom is wearing a horse’s head – to manically pound the floorboards, convincing you they’re having a thoroughly good time. How could they not? After all, they’re at work wearing Michelangelo’s David’s member on their aprons. At the bar, staff turn one part of the restaurant into a Venetian canal as they create gruppas – six-shot, heavy planks of pure inebriation – while dressed as gondoliers. Sound like a nightmare? Think again.
Situated on Battersea Bridge Road, Bunga Bunga is home to the most tasteful attempt at kitsch this side of 1970. The room is redolent with Italian cultural icons. Our first taste of the restaurant arrives in the form of the Berlusconi Bellini, pairing fresh watermelon with Terra Serena prosecco, and a Bunga Mojito packed with mint and garnished with half a passion fruit (a little superfluous, perhaps, but this is a restaurant that thinks nothing of adorning its stage with a backdrop of the Coliseum). Later in the evening we taste the eponymous Bunga Bunga cocktail, unapologetically served inside a bespoke winking Berlusconi mug. Momentarily distracting, the sharp grapefruit soon brings you back to the here and now.
Dining on a Wednesday evening, we have the dedicated pasta menu. Not your average restaurant, Bunga Bunga only prepare pasta one day a week, served in bowls that embellish the food: huge, sparklingly white and worthy of the ceremonial arrival at the table. The food is serviceable and at times good – for instance, Spinach, Ricotta and Pine Nut Ravioli, though let down slightly by chewy pasta just on the wrong side of al dente, has redeeming features, including a nicely seasoned, creamy spinach filling. The standout bowl is the Crab, Chilli and Tomato Linguini that gently tickles the back of your throat in the same way that the sight of Berlusconi’s head on a shark quietly titillates. A Spaghetti Carbonara feels like the wrong pasta to end with, its traditionally thick and velvety sauce by this point difficult to digest. Not to worry, though, as the Tiramisu is indicative of the restaurant’s fond relationship with alcohol: Grand Marnier-soaked amoretti biscuits and lashings of cream and coffee are topped off with chocolate and served inside a perfectly sized ceramic pot.
For a Wednesday evening, the restaurant is vibrantly busy and it’s easy to see why. If the idea of a kitsch place that serves up decent but not hugely inspiring food doesn’t instantly appeal, let yourself be won over by the countless features of Bunga Bunga that are impeccably pitched – cheerful staff , terrible but hilarious karaoke and toilets that teach you Italian while you’re washing your hands. The food may not be indelibly memorable, but everything else about Bunga Bunga certainly is.
Photos: Indrek Galetin
Bunga Bunga: 50/60
To book a table at Bunga Bunga, 37 Battersea Bridge Rd, London SW11 3BA, call 020 7095 0360 or visit here.