HDL REVIEWS: Bacaro, Southampton

Something I’ve probably mentioned before is my big love of tapas-style eating. They say there’s no joy like watching the waiter arrive with your food in a restaurant. Well surely, then, that pleasure is multiplied tenfold by the arrival of small plate after small plate, usually stacked with something delicious for grabbing hands to pick at.

It’s a very sociable way of eating, too. Each dish split, then examined and appraised in turn. The post match analysis over a plate of arancini makes for excellent dinnertime discussion.

Bacaro is one of my favourite restaurants in Southampton. I wouldn’t call the food uncomplicated or simple, but it is an easy place to dine at. The kind of place where you can order pretty much anything on the menu without fear of unconventional additions to the plate – the kind of place where the only surprises tend to be pleasant ones.

I may lose some foodie cred here (as though I have any), but generally Italian food ranks as middling in my top lists of cuisine. For me it’s always been an example of that old adage often bandied about in the boardroom on The Apprentice: no fireworks, no disasters. Italian food is a crowd pleaser, a middle-ground with something for everyone, the Coldplay of cooking, perhaps. I guess, fundamentally, it can just be a bit bland.

But something about Bacaro hits a little different. Alongside the things you’d expect (arancini, bruschetta, pizza) the menu offers elegant dishes with considered accompaniments. There’s a balance to each plate that calls up each of your senses for their turn at evaluation. The whole table can be full of food, but no two sauces will be the same.

In our latest visit, we chose to kick things off with beef croquettes and arancini – near identical to look at in their crispy golden forms, but both packing distinct punches of flavour with their horseradish cream and tarragon mayo respectively.

Following this, we divided a goat’s cheese tartlet that was topped with figs and drizzled with balsamic. Perfectly buttery in the crust, creamy in the goat’s cheese and sharp in the balsamic, displaying the most crucial of all skills when it comes to great food: balance.

The only dud in the meal, if I can really call it that, was the duck. Seduced by the specials menu, we ordered duck breast with barley, asparagus (which apparently was subbed off for peas) and a port jus. Duck breast is a true favourite of mine, when done well, but this dish just didn’t quite live up to expectations. The barley and peas had a sort of microwaved supermarket sachet feel to them, while the duck didn’t exhibit the tender juiciness I had in mind when I ordered it.

My top dishes were simple enough – pan seared scallops with chorizo, and bruschetta – but absolutely divine. It’s so easy to fuck up a scallop, so easy for the simplicity of bruschetta to make for a bland and boring bite, but every single element of these dishes were just so well done and mouthwateringly delicious.

A plate that seemed a little out of place was the halloumi and couscous with pomegranate and mint yoghurt. Tasty enough, sure, but when you’re coming up against rich and robust flavour combinations, a bit of halloumi and couscous can seem a little underwhelming. But it was a hit with Fahad, so what do I know?

Dessert provided us with another set of treats (that we definitely didn’t need) in the form of treacle tart and one of my ride or die dessert options, affogato with an amaretti biscuit. Bitter espresso and sweet vanilla ice cream is a simply unmatched combination and I won’t hear anything else about it.

Another thing to mention, if I haven’t yet sold it thoroughly enough, is that the service here is always superb. Friendly, funny and helpful waiting staff always do their best to make sure you have an enjoyable time, without being overbearing or cringeworthy. Truthfully, the best talent a waiter can have is to know when to leave me alone with my food, and they seem to have mastered this.

Overall, it was always going to be a solid recommendation from me. I just wanted to show off my pictures.

Canute Rd,
SO14 3TN

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