“This isn’t the Middle East, you’re in a restaurant, so take off the sunglasses.”
When one enters a restaurant, it’s like entering an alternate reality: the atmosphere envelops, an illusion unfolds, and the customer becomes one with the restaurant.
No? Maybe this just happens to me.
Whatever the stance, it’s an undeniable fact that restaurants are about the experience as well as the food. Otherwise, we’d just get a takeout and sit in the park or eat on a train facing forwards whilst staring blankly into the back of a chair.
People come to restaurants for many reasons: to relax, to meet friends, to do business, to be a family, to catch up, to eat.
Amongst all of this, there’s the goes-without-saying part that humans need food to survive and fuel their bodies, but a restaurant should not be about convenience or necessity.
I’m not in any way suggesting that Bakchich is about convenience food; quite the opposite. Their menu is an array of west Asian delights, hommos, home cooked sauces, spices and stews all served with steaming baskets of floury flatbread.
The issue I have is with the menu itself.
As in, the actual piece of card that it comes on (or PDF, if you’re looking online). The stylising of the blue and white mosaic lamination is overcompensating when it doesn’t need to, the food speaks for itself.
What I mean is that the choices of words on the page create a semantic field that suggests it is part of a chain. The layout is based on pricing deals and combos, ‘Bakchich Burgers’ and Wetherspoon-like imperatives such as ‘MAKE IT A PLATTER!’, branding it rather than drawing attention to its novel existence. Contrary to its design, Bakchich is actually an independent restaurant of only two unique homes: Liverpool and Manchester.
Instead of playing on its originality, it self-deprecatingly sweeps itself under the rug with Nando’s, Pizza Hut and Bella Italia. In fairness, its geographical location doesn’t help; as it is situated adjacent to the aforementioned chicken shop, and so apt to be lumped into that category.
This commercialisation of the food is understandable and perhaps appropriate to the clientele of this area, it just seems a shame to westernise something so beautiful in its authentic form.
Their Lebanese moussaka is the kind of home-cooked speciality you’d expect to find in a little Arabian kitchen, with scents of cumin wafting through the air and hungry children crowding their noses round the pot whilst an angry, but secretly jovial, Mother bats them off impatiently. It’s a shame that this dish’s title is not hoisted on a blackboard plaque somewhere above the bar, chalked in a homely scrawl and accompanied by inviting side dishes and recommendations. Perhaps it should be engraved in gold.
Instead, it is hidden amongst the coppers and nickels of wraps, pizzas and burgers. The menu is just too much. A treasure map too-well encrypted.
This is a rare case of substance over style, where if the menu was redesigned as an A4, three-section starter/main/dessert, it would somehow be more appetising.
The dishes themselves are orally stunning; the kind where you take a mouthful, look at your friend and go ‘MM!’ with raised eyebrows. Creamy chickpea puree with tahini and lemon, soft bulgur wheat with spices and large, oily chunks of hot grilled halloumi. Alongside are tantalising mixtures such as halva and pistachio, date and sesame, pomegranate and orange blossom frozen yoghurt smoothies.
To drink there’s hot and fragrant Arabic coffee, Jus Royale with avocado, almonds, dates and milk, or Lebanese Tea with rose water, zataar and cardamom, the flavour combinations are truly exceptional.
For dessert there is traditional Baklawa, Muhalabiya (Egyptian milk custard), coconut cheese cake and almond caprese torte. Ingredients are wide, varied, and centred on being fresh, wholesome and delicious.
I went to Bakchich on the premise to review, and I’m not denying that I got special treatment. So special, in fact, that we were asked about eight times whether everything was “okay?” by four consecutive members of staff. I can’t really comment on Bakchich from an objective viewpoint, as I clearly experienced a gold-card form of what was on offer. But I also can’t deny my joy in receiving the exclusive recommendation of the moussaka.
That moussaka changed my life. Who knew it could be vegetarian and so much better than the version I was used to?
The staff were a little play-acty and rehearsed, rather than being genuinely passionate and lovely – which they may well be and probably are – but the administration is very much there to remind you that this isn’t the Middle East, you’re not on holiday, you’re in a restaurant, so take off the sunglasses.*
I like the décor, I like the empty harissa cans holding cutlery, the colourful and playful pottery that’s ironically a rich man’s clay plate. Bakchich will no doubt succeed, but I can’t pretend it’s a surrogate Lebanon on Oxford Road.
The Quadrangle (turn left in front of Costa facing towards town),
1 Lower Ormond St,
*this didn’t happen and I wasn’t wearing sunglasses.