David Adamson eats like a Venetian at the small plates bar

The day before I visited Bacaro I had cooked a filling, wholesome victory lap of a Sunday something for my brother and I; the fennel sausage ragu recipe from chef, fish aficionado and all-round titan of clattering cutlery, Rick Stein. 

It was a success, probably due to Will starting by chopping some garlic and ending up rattling the pans while I peered over the hob and murmured approvingly. 

It did mean, however, that when it came to looking through the menu of Bacaro barely 24 hours later and seeing "nduja and fennel sausage ragu" or "pork and beef featherblade lasagne" I wasn't struck by the usual temptation. Turns out 'too much of a good thing' can also apply to pasta and sausages. 

This proved a blessing in disguise as it excluded aspects of the menu to which I would have usually applied my maxim - 'if they do the classics well, you're onto something'. 

Besides, who wants to read about lasagne.

The decor of the place is glam without veering into the Turkey teeth territory so well explored from here to Manchester and beyond

Bacaro sits towards the Derby Square side of Castle Street, that promenade of so much promise that still threatens to be something special, and this interesting take on 'an Italian Restaurant' could be the anchor alongside that newer but older, grander dame of all things glamorous Italian, San Carlo. 

Bacaro is thankfully different to the likes of San Carlo, understanding that Milanese opulence cut out in marble is something not everyone can manage or even necessarily want to attempt, so why bother? This small plates restaurant looks lovely inside but the food is, in concept at least, fare for the common man.

2024 03 05 Bacaro Exterior
Outside Bacaro on Castle Street Image: Confidentials

Handily, Bacaro give a short explanation of their namesake and an idea of just where on the spectrum of Italian fanciness it falls: "In Venice, a bacaro is a workingman’s pub where snacks called cicchetti are served in small plates, and wine is served in a commensurately small glass (“ombra” in the local dialect). Historically, bàcari were simple places: small, dark canteens where a Venetian’s thirst for wine could be quenched and his appetite calmed."

Can you qualify as a 'workingman' if you did an English degree and now review restaurants for a living? Some would say no, absolutely bloody not. 

On the clock, I gave Bacaro a go.

2024 03 05 Bacaro Interior Bar
Inside Bacaro Image: Confidentials

The place does a good job of striking the balance between being handsomely fitted out with alluring lamp lighting - and an even more alluring bar - without falling into pretentious decoration or, worse, a full-wall collage of masks and gondolas. Wooden bistro chairs take the floor while red leather banquettes border the room. In hindsight, considering the menu, I should have sat at the bar. Partly because I was dining alone, mostly because I liked the look of it, but also because that seems to be the best vantage for enjoying Bacaro at its best. With company, I would quite happily while away an evening at the underlit bartop with a bottle of Gavi and a Generation Game of unending dishes. Another time.

2024 03 05 Bacaro Interior Tables
The view from the table Image: Confidentials

I started by ordering a Malfy gin con arancia, or blood orange, with tonic. I'm very fond of a G&T but these days find lime far too bitter and strangely unrefreshing, leaving your mouth like the floor of a squash court - orange has long been the default and there's no going back. I sipped it (big sips) and took a look at the crostini menu; a small but comprehensive list of canape-size bites to start things off. I went for the dressed crab with avocado and roe (£4.50 each). While I'm really not part of the avocado defence league, I thought it would be a good counterpoint to what could end up being a very snazzily dressed crab. Fortunately it was a classy outfit, with the subtle and fresh tones of the crab, with notes of chilli and parsley, left to be front and centre while the avocado grounded everything. One is plenty and just the thing for powering you through the decision-making of a small plates menu.

2024 03 05 Bacaro Crab Crostini
Dressed crab with avocado and roe crostini Image: Confidentials

For the main event of the meal I went for two drastically different dishes, what with small plates being essentially an opportunity to keep variety in mind and take the road less travelled. One dish in particular grabbed me from the page; octopus with pickled walnut on crispy potato and a caper and shallot dressing - all the astringent notes that my changed palette likes to hear ringing loud and clear. 

The appearance of octopus might not be to everyone's aesthetic ideal, but I personally find it very enticing, especially when not overly-embellished. It was perfectly cooked, with that fine balance of seasoning and the right amount of flash in the pan, and if anything could have been a bigger portion, but I think that's just my gluttony for these sorts of dishes. The crispy potatoes delivered perfectly on the crispiness, a welcome change of texture, and the pickled walnut was beautifully tart. What could have been tarter was the shallot and caper dressing, two ingredients that have tartness in ample supply, and if this had been even sharper I would have been bowled over. Very close indeed. It went down well with the wine, a large glass of Verduzzo which, while a more than solid and serviceable Italian white, was lacking the arresting flavours that you hope for outside of the usual grapes.

2024 03 05 Bacaro Octopus
Octopus with pickled walnut on crispy potato and a caper and shallot dressing Image: Confidentials

The second of the small plates was a significant departure not only from the sea, but from Italy more generally in the inclusion of Stornoway black pudding, but there's a long and rich relationship between Italy and Scotland, so I wasn't worried. If anything I was intrigued. Stornoway black pudding with sauteed chicken livers, caramelised onions and Marsala cream. Go on then. 

This was lighter than it looks, with the Marsala ringing through the potential density of the cream and giving it that sweet undertone that matches well with the likes of livers and black pudding. I know I should tow the party line and say Bury black pudding is the best, but I'd be lying. Stornoway's oaty, earthy tones are peaty and plentiful in flavour, and so the sweet marsala combined well, along with the chicken livers, cooked just the right side of pink to avoid that chalky disappointment.

2024 03 05 Bacaro Livers And Black Pudding
Stornoway black pudding with sauteed chicken livers, caramelised onions and Marsala cream Image: Confidentials

Finally, for dessert, there was lots on offer but I fell back on my maxim of the classics being done well and went for affogato. I can't believe I'm typing the words out, but there was actually too much ice cream, a more than generous three scoops. While I could certainly suffer through this with little encouragement, it did mean that when an espresso and a shot of Amaretto are added you're perilously close to a table awash with affogato. I dutifully bailed it out of the glass and managed all three scoops of the well-churned and creamy gelato. I was on the clock after all. 

2024 03 05 Bacaro Affogato
Affogato Image: Confidentials

Bacaro is just a few small steps from potentially being something special; the menu isn't afraid to offer the opportunity of a range of varied dishes, but it could be even more courageous - is eight different small pizzas the best use of space on that menu? 

The decor of the place is glam without veering into the Turkey teeth territory so well explored from here to Manchester and beyond. If the aesthetic of the bar were rolled out across the restaurant more generally it would have the enticing atmosphere of a film set, at the moment it's more TV. 

When the sun soon comes out and shines on this windy street I would love to see the place alive with all the promise it clearly has. And when it comes to quenching thirsts and calming appetites, if Bacaro sharpens up slightly it could be the king of the castle.

Bacaro, 47 Castle St, L2 9UB

Bacaro is on Confidential Guides

Recommended by Confidential Guides

2024 03 05 Bacaro Poster
Bacaro, Castle Street Image: Confidentials
  • Food 8/10

    Dressed crab crostini 8, octopus with walnut, caper and shallots 8.5, Black pudding and chicken livers with Marsala cream 8, Affogato 8

  • Service 4/5

    Very friendly and relaxed

  • Ambience 4/5

    Could quite easily bump this up by turning it all up a notch