If you like your Italian culture authentic and your dinners subdued Bunga Bunga in Battersea is probably not for you. Indeed, Bunga Bunga’s logo proudly proclaims that it’s ‘an English man’s Italian’ and on entering the dining room you’ll find all manner of kitsch Italian memorabilia hanging from the walls and ceiling while loud, up-beat Italian pop songs provide the soundtrack. Considering this is a restaurant paying homage to a gaffe-prone ex-Italian Prime Minister with a penchant for wild parties, it seems fitting that the restaurant should be flamboyantly tongue-in-cheek.
Dressed in novelty aprons (depicting Michaelangelo’s David wearing speedos and a medallion), the front of house staff were as lively as the room as they gave guests warm welcomes and energetic menu recommendations. The dining room had a good mix of people: there was a large party celebrating a 25th birthday, a middle-aged couple having a fun night out, and a hen dinner or 2. There was even a fabulously dressed (he wore golden shoes!), slight-of-hand magician who visited each table with his crystal ball, leaving a trail of gasps and appreciative howls.
For our aperitivos we went for a classic Old Fashioned and a more unusual choice: a ceramic cartoon Berlusconi head filled with the eponymous Bunga Bunga cocktail. Both were well made by the energetic bar staff who, midway through making our drinks, jumped on the bar to perform the ‘Bunga Bunga dance’ (I told you this place was lively).
To start we had 3 bruschettas and each of them was griddled, which gave them a smoky flavour and added crunch. The first had the classic combination of creamy goats’ cheese and sweet caramelised red onion, with an extra element of toasted pine nuts. The next had thin slices of salty bresaola (air-dried beef) complemented by some peppery rocket and a tarte balsamic glaze. The third bruschetta was topped with warm scamorza (which is sort of like a firmer mozzarella) and tangy confit tomato.
If burrata is ever on a menu it’s a hard one to pass on and this one didn’t disappoint. A decently sized portion, this cool, creamy cheese went incredibly well with the punchy salad of marinated, semi-dried tomatoes, olive oil and rocket. It was also served with slices of crostini that were perfect for perforating the outer cheesy layer to get to the creamy ooze inside.
While we ordered different pizzas, at Bunga Bunga they combine the orders to make a giant sharing pizza for up to 4 pizza orders in one go. So, our half ‘Micaela Margherita’ and half ‘Ruby Loves’ pizza came bubbling to the table and was placed on top of empty passata tins, so we could more easily tear and share. The sourdough base was thin and crispy, but sturdy enough to handle the generous toppings.
We tried the margherita first because it’s so simple but can be so easy to get wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mozzarella and swiftly devoured it. The ‘Ruby Loves’ side was topped with spicy and addictive ‘nduja sausage, slices of salty Calabrese salami and sweet cherry tomatoes. Needless to say only crumbs were left after a matter of minutes.
By the time our tiramisu arrived the singer was on stage, belting out crowd-pleasing power ballads and we were draining another two sazeracs. This cooling coffee-flavoured dessert is exactly what we needed.
We also enjoyed the monte bianco; a bowl of slightly stewed berries (cherries, blackcurrants and redcurrants) sprinkled with chopped mint and served with a large ramekin of melted white chocolate sauce. Simple and delicious, we used our fingers to scrape the last of the chocolate from the terracotta dish.
If you’re looking for a tasteful evening filled with elegant, authentic Italian cuisine, I’d recommend that you follow the Thames to Hammersmith and enjoy the chic polish of The River Café. Loud and brash, Bunga Bunga is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s like no place I’ve ever been; with its staff dancing on tables, huge gondola-shaped trays of cocktails and sparklers, table-side magic and effervescent atmosphere, it exudes fun.
Bunga Bunga – Battersea
37 Battersea Bridge Road, London, SW11 3BA