Where did Bacchus go?

Two years ago, the South Brisbane restaurant was flying high under chef de cuisine Massimo Speroni. In a restaurant scene that was slowly reorienting itself towards the middle of the market, Bacchus stayed true to its fine-dining DNA. There was caviar. There were fancy cheese trolleys. There was an enormous wine list. It was a hotel restaurant worth going to – a rare thing, back in 2012 at least, when it first opened.

But Bacchus’s home within Rydges South Bank became a liability during the pandemic. Rydges became part of the government’s quarantine program for returning international travellers, and the restaurant was forced to close to the public. If you walked along Grey Street these past 24 months, you’d find its access lift and staircase shut, the lights off.

Not that it was quiet inside.

“It was 400 breakfasts, 400 lunches and 400 dinners for our quarantine guests, every day,” says food and beverage manager Kevin Puglisevich. “It was a lot of work. You had people from all backgrounds, guests who do not go out to restaurants because they have such massive dietary requirements.”

Puglisevich tells these stories about the past two years. There was the bottle shop Bacchus ran for quarantine guests, and wine tastings Puglisevich would run over Zoom with hand-drawn maps and typed notes covering different grape-growing regions. There was the call centre the restaurant staff set up to check in on guests twice a week.

“It was the best place to be quarantined,” Puglisevich says, laughing.

But you get the impression those initiatives were as much for the staff as they were the guests. When it became clear the pandemic would roll on for years rather than months, with no end in sight to hotel quarantine and no opening in sight for Bacchus – that’s when it became hard.

“There was a point where opening Bacchus did not seem tangible anymore,” Puglisevich says. “That’s when you have to believe in something a lot. To stick it out for two years, that really tests your belief in the restaurant. We were on the edge towards the end. There was a time when we didn’t believe.”

This Friday, the wait for Puglisevich and his co-workers – along with Bacchus’s many dedicated diners – ends, with the restaurant opening for the first time since the March 2020 shutdown of food and drinks venues.

“It’s exciting because there’s been so much work that has gone into it,” he says. “It’s surreal and strange and incredibly emotional.”

This will be a slightly different Bacchus. Speroni departed the executive chef position in July last year, to be replaced by Matthew Wood, former head chef at Stokehouse, senior sous-chef at Aria Brisbane and most recently executive chef at Hilton Brisbane. Taking over as chef de cuisine is Isaia Dal Fiume, a long-time Speroni lieutenant who, like his former boss, began his career at the two Michelin-starred San Domenico in Italy.

“While there are some subtle changes to the style or aesthetic of the food, it’s very much a continuation of what was there before,” Wood says. “Diners who remember Bacchus pre-pandemic, there’s enough change there for it to be interesting, but at the same time it will feel very comfortable to be coming back to something they still recognise.”

Dal Fiume’s Italian-inflected menu is primarily concerned with celebrating local produce. For entrees, there’s mushroom with smoked burrata and mushroom broth, Longreach kangaroo tartare with beetroot and camel cheese, and Rainbow Beach champagne lobster with macadamia, red cabbage and tarragon. For mains, you might order risotto with Brisbane Valley quail, pumpkin seeds and lime; Tasmanian sea urchin in handmade tagliolini, chive and white sauce; or a Queensland Wagyu petite tender with parsnip and brussels sprouts.

Bacchus’s extravagant desserts, degustation menus (one of which is vegan) and high teas are also returning. Wines will be drawn from a 600-bottle list that features 47 drops by the glass. The fit-out has evolved too, with new furniture, fittings and a colour palette that features deep mahogany, tobacco and teal.

“The fact it’s such an ambitious restaurant within a hotel is unique,” Wood says. “That, coupled with the drive and experience of the people who run it, is what sets it apart.

“Bacchus has quite a reputation, and it’s also got a very loyal following of regular guests. And they are frothing at the mouth to be able to come back.”

Bacchus reopens this Friday May 20.

Bacchus
Level 1 at Rydges South Bank, 9 Glenelg Street, South Brisbane
(07) 3364 0837

Hours:
Wed to Sat 5.30pm–late
Sun (high tea) 1pm–4pm

bacchussouthbank.com.au