The phase ‘Bunga Bunga’ might raise a few eyebrows among some but forget about powerful Italian leaders and supposedly naked lady friend’s and instead imagine a little slice of Little Italy; powerfully flavoursome pizzas cooked to perfection, limoncello liquors, well crafted beer and a setting to make you forget Covent Gardens hustle and bustle.
From humble beginnings in Battersea, Bunga Bunga has branched out, up and down, into the thriving and more central location of London’s Drury Lane, beside theatre land, shops and gran tourist-mo lanes. Walking off the streets into BungaTini, we were escorted to a table, at 8 o’clock the restaurant was quite busy, with the majority of customers eating upstairs overlooking the ground floor bar and with many diners awaiting entry into the basement of Bunga Bunga, where entertainment beckoned. The street level area was a perfect place to enjoy drinks before entering downstairs to watch the much publicized variety show. The launch night alone welcomed performances from music makers The Jersey Boys and Sheridan Smith ‘Funny Girl.’
I’d already researched the menu and actually appreciated the petite sized menu that featured starters like bruschetta, arancini, burrata, olives and octopus. I’d never heard of arancini but it’s something I could have eaten twice over, as I opted for the melt in the mouth white truffle & wild mushroom risotto balls, whilst my sister chose the fennel sausage & mozzarella balls also covered in crispy breadcrumbs and complete with side salad.
We eyed up meat and cheese platters next but with sizeable pizza’s on the menu and a love of dessert, we edged towards the second course. If you love spice then you need to get the Piccante- a pizza covered evenly with tomato, mozzarella, n’duja, ricotta, calabrese salami and cherry tomatoes. The ricotta, mixed with spreadable pork salami made me hum with every mouthful and their not too thin sourdough base meant I wasn’t leaving the crusts to go to waste. My sister went with a classic Vesuvio pizza- impeccably covered with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, Parma ham and rocket. These wood fired pizza’s definitely left rival brands in the shade (please please can you stock these in supermarkets or open some more restaurants.)
Staff were good to look at and had a look of authentic Italian about them, smartly dressed and always willing to go above and beyond, we were impressed when we were swiftly moved table when a party were too close to us, knocking over a once jolly looking Peroni. The restrooms gave you a brief moment to brush up on your italiano and the restaurants walls were covered in plates, pottery, oil canvases and photographs of the historically rich and famous. As we admired our surroundings, we were lovingly brought shots of limoncello and dessert menus. Not stuffed but contently full, we decided to test our waitresses knowledge, she gave me the kiss seal of approval to go with the popular tirimasu, which was bellissimo.
Now we don’t want to give too much away but as soon as you enter the gateway hedonism you’ll be breathing heavily and fast, gaining that same feeling most people get as they board a fun fair ride (or maybe that’s simply my childish nature.) Expect a few surprises and characters who will enthral and captivate. Downstairs is transformed into more Italian settings, with marble, statues, art and casino decor and entertainment.. don’t lose your betting chips for your chance to play blackjack. The variety show starts from around 7 but we didn’t join the booked parties until 10ish, so we missed a lot of goodies we’re sure but we’re still privileged enough to observe acrobatics and jazz singing before The Bunga Boys got tables on their feet for the hilariously loved bungaoke (hopefully you see what they did there?) Dressed in red waistcoats, varying hats and armed with musical instruments and mics, they brough classic 80’s, 90’s and commercial songs to life, whilst merry diners belted out much loved classics, including ‘9-5,’ ‘summer of 69’ and ‘I wanna dance with somebody,’ to name a few of our favourites.
Tables were moved away and those without a seat we’re able to join in with the frivolity where the night was heading. Everybody was at Bunga Bunga for their own reasons and celebrations but the actions of staff and performers ensued that people came together, sharing cheeky smiles and glances, clutching at mics, jeering and drinking from the anatomy of ornate continental statues.
We loved how cocktails were presented and just how effortlessly Bunga Bunga transformed the most quintessential of Londoner into an Italian national.
You can be sure to leave this conception of food, drink and showmanship in a bustle of chatter, and dreaming of gondola rides home.
Written by Vanessa Carby