A taste of Italy 2: kitsch and cocktails at Bunga Bunga

The ground-floor bar at Bunga Bunga

When Duncan Stirling and Charlie Gilkes announced they were going to open a pizzeria, it was bound to be anything other than conventional. The pair are behind cult speakeasy Bart’s and 80s-themed club Maggie’s, both in Chelsea, and they have brought their love of kitsch, cocktails and cuisine to their third venture, Bunga Bunga in Battersea, south London.

It is named after the wild “Bunga Bunga” parties allegedly organised by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose face appears on a tribute wall of cartoons and magazine covers as well as crafted into a mug for the house BungaBunga cocktail. But this is just a small part of the two-storey venue’s pastiche of all that is amusing and melodramatic in Italian culture.

Ground-floor dining area

Charlie, Duncan and designer Ellie Wauters have been inspired by trips to Italy and to New York’s Little Italy, where they have sourced many of the design features. The ground floor is dominated by a black-topped bar in the shape of a gondola. Design features include a Martini-branded Vespa and a chandelier made out of Vespa helmets plus a painting of the canals of Venice on the back wall. There is regular karaoke, using a system provided by specialists Lucky Voice, on a small stage that also hosts cabaret each night, from opera singers to magicians. This is the venue’s main drinking and dining area, filled with informal trestle and bar tables, where customers can enjoy pizzas and other Italian cuisine.

It also features an impressive drinks list, presented like a newspaper, with original cocktails created under general manager Robin Kay – formerly of Mayfair tiki bar Mahiki – and head bartender Matteo Corsalini. There are classic aperitivo cocktails including a Negroni, a Spritz and an Americano, as well as aperitivo drinks with a twist such as the Tutto Sbagliato mixing lavender-infused Bombay Sapphire, Martini Rosso, a Campari reduction syrup and prosecco.

The Sistine Chapel recreated at Bunga Bunga

Champagne cocktails are reinvented with prosecco, including An Englishman’s Italian – Lillet Blanc vermouth, pressed apple juice, Bramley apple sauce, nettle cordial and Val d’Oca prosecco, garnished with star anise. Classics such as a Margarita and a Mojito have also been reworked while the signature BungaBunga cocktail, served in the Berlusconi mug, is a mix of Bombay Sapphire, citrus and blood orange Martini Fiero, crushed black peppercorns and Ting sparkling grapefruit juice.

Italian bitters and liqueurs feature strongly in another section of the menu, such as the Godfather Smash made with Amaro Averna, sugar, mint, fresh blackberries and soda water. Sharing cocktails are served in other bespoke ceramic vessels in the shape of a horse’s head, a Fiat 500, the leaning tower of Pisa and the Colosseum. The back bar also features a broad range of Italian liqueurs, grappa and premium spirits plus a good selection of wines, mainly from Italy. As well as champagne, there are several proseccos including one, Valdobbiadene, on tap.

L'Osservatorio

The venue is currently open only in the evening, Tuesdays to Saturdays – and until 2.30am at weekends – and the first-floor rooms are generally reserved for parties. These are accessed through a wide stairwell decorated on the walls and ceilings with Michelangelo’s paintings from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, with added drama and opulence from a 15ft crystal chandelier above. The kitsch level drops somewhat in the Osservatorio, the conservatory-like dining room on the first floor offering views over London plus star maps and telescopes to explore the night sky.

The Eurovision bar at Bunga Bunga

The kitsch level is cranked up in the next room, a bar dedicated to the Eurovision Song Contest. The walls are covered in memorabilia including pictures of performers such as Abba, Bucks Fizz and Jedward. It has its own Eurovision-themed cocktail menu with drinks such as Waterloo – containing Swedish aquavit, banana liqueur and 7Up – and Making Your Mind Up, made with Bombay Sapphire, apple liqueur, passion fruit juice and pomegranate juice. As Charlie Gilkes sums up the whole venue, “We’ve created Bunga Bunga with a big sense of humour as a really fun place to drink, eat, sing and be entertained.”

Bunga Bunga, 37 Battersea Bridge Road, London SW11 3BA Tel: 020 7095 0360 www.bungabunga-london.com

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About barmagazine

Editor of Bar magazine
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