An ovation to Mediterranean cuisine with complex cooking methods and sophisticated ingredients is what Liz O’Reilly discovered at Bagatelle Bahrain. She also enjoyed the party atmosphere offered at this unique eatery.
With its French-New York roots, Bagatelle aims to bring a feel of the Riviera to all its venues. The menu, designed by Chef Rocco Seminara, is made for sharing and is the same worldwide, with a guarantee of the same quality wherever you try the famous dishes.
Interiors are blue, white and gold – offering a refined but casual feel. Plush turquoise velvet seating, in sofas and chairs, is very comfortable – which is just as well since you’ll want to stay all night long.
The floors are wooden and ambient lighting does dual duty to provide an intimate dining atmosphere early in the evening and then changes shade and intensity as the restaurant transforms into the ultimate party spot at 11pm, with the staff marking the transition with a mini show that is totally unexpected but a whole lot of fun – think great music and dancing on the tables.
While dining, table service is hugely important in creating a show, from the pouring of dressings and sauces to the deboning of the whole sea bass or carving of the salt-crusted chicken right at the table. Each staff member has to be able to pull off these tricks of the trade, at speed.
There are two menus, one for lunch and another for dinner. We were served a tasting selection of signature dishes from each.
We began with Bagatelle salad – mixed leaves tossed at the table in a large wooden bowl which, to be honest, I would usually avoid. However, the simple dressing of vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, made it extremely palatable and I wolfed it down.
Next came Tomato and Burrata salad. Small, sweet tomatoes, creamy, oozy burrata with a savoury lemon basil dressing that pulled the flavours together and was the perfect foil to the sweetness of the glistening red fruits.
Barbajuan fried ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, parmesan, ricotta and hazelnuts was really surprising and tasty. The unexpected texture was satisfyingly crunchy and the quite strong flavours merged well.
For me, one of several stand-out dishes was Parmigiana D’Aubergines Crème de Parmesan – it’s like a hug in a bowl. Rolled slices of eggplant are stuffed with parmesan mixed with tomato sauce, mozzarella and herbs and served in parmesan cream. Cheesy, perfectly rendered and overall delicious. Moving on to raw fish, hand-diced tuna tartare came with the perfect accompaniment of lightly roasted guacamole and radish shavings. Aji Amarillo pepper and a dusting of citrus powder, including orange, gave a delightfully sweet piquancy to the tender tuna. Seafood ceviche with sea bream, lemon, lime, coconut milk and passion fruit made for another one of those delightful palate-pleasing surprises. If you’re going to try either of these dishes, make sure you are really paying attention, the flavour combinations are interesting, unexpected but remarkably successful.
A simple tomato and pasta dish, Linguine Aux Tomates Cerises, Stracciatella Au Basilic featured Italian-produced pasta baked in Puglian tomato sauce made with onions, olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs, topped with Stracciatella, basil and olive oil. The flavours of the sauce with the light, sweet cheesiness of the Stracciatella were absolutely perfect and I had to stop myself from going back for seconds.
Next up came Lobster Fettucine – pasta bound in the juice of the lobster with butter, Espelette chilli and lime zest. The flesh was super sweet and there was no battle to get it out of the shell – something which can be a bit off-putting. Plin au Castelmagno, Truffe de Saison. This is another absolute stand-out dish on which everyone at our table agreed. The semi-hard Castelmagno Italian cheese fills Plin pasta from the Piedmont region, which floats in a sauce made with melanosporum truffle served with grated seasonal truffle. Simple, yet totally indulgent, I honestly believe our party could all have gone home happy at this stage. But, of course, there was more to come.
A whole sea bass cooked in a jus of tomato, lemon, white grape, butter and lemon leaves was deboned in a show at the table. Served with caramelised red onion and chopped lemon, orange, grapefruit and jewel-bright pomegranate, the fish was buttery and smooth in texture with a lightly piquant flavour perfectly complemented by the accompanying aromatics and house-special mashed potato with its secret ingredient of brown butter. Next came a bit of a mouthful, Poulet Entier Fermier à L’estragon, En Croute de Sel aux Aromates – a whole chicken in a salt crust, the crust made all the more impressive with the addition of flour to fully encase the bird. This method of cooking, aside from adding visual interest, aims to ensure that the flesh remains moist and flavourful and it did not disappoint. Again, the crust is removed and the chicken carved at the tableside, which makes for a great show and demonstrates the training of the staff.
No visit to Bagatelle would be complete without trying the signature dish – Pizza La Truffe de Saison – seasonal truffle pizza with extra black truffle. The dough is really something else and unlike any I have tasted before. Made with organically-farmed mixed flour that includes sesame, rye, oats, barley and more, it is refrigerated for 48 to 72 hours, then brought back to room temperature and hand spread with durum wheat semolina before baking. The result is a really interesting flavour and texture combination that almost dares the taste buds to identify the different components. Then there’s the topping – I did honestly say “this is actually not a pizza” since, aside from its shape, it bears little resemblance to the pies we are used to. The cheese is fior di latte – made with the highest quality cow’s milk and cooked to a perfect chewy consistency. It’s topped with daubs of foam made from mascarpone truffle bechamel and grated truffle slices. This is probably the most luxurious pizza I have ever eaten – and I’ve eaten a lot – but it, once again, fits perfectly with Bagatelle’s sharing concept. It’s so rich that you wouldn’t want more than one slice, but that slice will forever be the one other pizzas must live up to.
Stuffed to the gills, we took a little time out to appreciate the surroundings and some great mocktails before tucking into the desserts. My idea of heaven was the Tropezienne Al La Vanille – a delicately light brioche pastry filled with sweetened cream. Soft, yielding and almost like eating sweet, fluffy air, I had to stop myself from devouring the whole thing so I would have room to at least try the international-award-winning chocolate pizza. The dough is the same as its savoury counterpart, but even thinner and with a crispiness to the base, and the topping is every sin you could imagine – a milk chocolate disc, hazelnut cream, dark chocolate cream, light vanilla cream, hazelnut praline, roasted hazelnuts and more. Oh my gosh! That is all.