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EATING OUT: An over-the-top meal.

Byline: LORNE JACKSON

BACCHUS, Birmingham

HE was my bestest buddy in the whole wide word.

Friendly, energetic and with an unquenchable passion for bones, you couldn't find a better dog than Rover.

There was only one problem threatening our relationship.

Rover had no table manners. Whenever I sat down for a bite, my hound was lingering.

Panting, drooling, staring, drooling, whimpering, drooling - that son of a bitch did everything he could to makeme feel guilty.

And just because I was munching and the mutt was munchless.

In the end I felt so guilty that I dropped him off at the local pound.

I bought a gerbil instead. Who cares if Rover was a good friend? When it came to social etiquette, he wasn't nothin' but a hound dog.

Dissolve cut. Several years later. Bacchus, a restaurant in Birmingham city centre.

Something much worse than a fourlegged friend is watching me eat.

Plump babies are ogling me from the ceiling.

Admittedly they're only part of an elaborately painted mural. Buteven so, it doesn't half put you off your food.

Bacchus is full of such over-the-top effects. Oil paintings, suits of armour, plaster busts, chandeliers - this must be what it's like inside Dale Winton'sbathroom. Which leaves me wondering if the food will be the same - more over the top than the Somme.

I start with the chef's soup de jour (pounds 3.95), a spicy concoction of beans and tomatoes.

It's more watery than I usually like. When it comes to soup I like it rich and solid - just like David Beckham's marriage.

Well, perhaps not. Helen, a sassy surfer girl from Cornwall, opts for the pan-fried wild mushrooms in a garlic sauce served with toasted brioche (pounds 4.95).

'Wow, it's really garlicky!' she remarks, unremarkably. (After all, if it wasn't garlicky the chef could be in serious breach of the Trades Descriptions Act.) Merrily munching on her multitude of mushrooms, she adds: 'My breath's going to be really smelly afterwards - but it's worth it.'

I make a mental note to offer Helen a firm handshake when we part.

Clearly a kiss on the cheek would be impossible while I'm wearing a gas mask.

For a main course, I decide on a macho meaty choice - the pan-fried fillet steak with a red current jus served with seasoned wedge fries and seasonal vegetables (pounds 14.95).

It's jus what the doctor ordered. Quite a mouthful - and I don't just mean the description on the menu.

The steak is crisp and well cookedon the outside, with a tender, pink centre. Meanwhile my dish and everything on it is dangerously supersized. This is no china plate - it's a tectonic one.

Helen has a similarly hefty helping of gammon schnitzel topped with a fried egg and served with baby new potatoes and vegetables (pounds 10.45).

The prime portion of piggy is slightly salty, but plump packed with flavour.

We try to polish off as much as possible. Unfortunately I've left my canister of Mr Sheen at home.

I'm starting to feel a bit like a chunky piece of gammon schnitzel myself.

Although Helen and I have both enjoyed this unpretentious feast, there's certainly no way we can accommodate pudding.

I gaze in post-prandial horror at the few remaining scraps on my plate. Which gets me thinking.

Isn't there a certain salivating canine of my acquaintance who'd appreciate such tasty tit-bits. Now where was that pound I dumped Rover in?

The total bill, including drinks and a tip, come to pounds 42.

Bacchus, New Street, Birmingham (0121 616 7991)

CAPTION(S):

SWISH: the tables inside the underground restaurant; OSTENTATIOUS: the highly decorated bar at Bacchus restaurant in Birmingham
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 31, 2004
Words:613
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