Jenny Hayes brings The Bristol Magazine to Hotel Du Vin for an exceptional culinary experience in beautiful surroundings
Hotel du Vin makes a great first impression. The exterior is a bold juxtaposition of the original beauty of the historic, Grade II listed 18th century former sugar warehouses, with ultra modern glass and steel elements. When I arrived with my dinner guest on a cold, bleak evening in mid January, it appeared at once sleek yet extremely inviting.
This balance of contemporary style and heritage continues harmoniously inside. We were shown through to the bar, that again achieved that polished but lived in look that so many establishments strive for but fail to accomplish. A combination of rough, whitewashed walls and exposed brickwork give a subtle nod to the building’s industrial past, brought up to date with large light bulbs suspended from the ceiling, their dark flexes left exposed to undulate lengthways along the ceiling in delicate counterpoint to the substantial beams that support it horizontally.
The rich colour of these beams is echoed in the warm wooden flooring, creating a cosy, lived-in feel that is enhanced by the general paraphernalia that decorates the area – an eclectic mix of art, curios, and even a huge central display of flowers that manages to be at one abundant and understated. And this laid back yet attentive vibe extends to the staff. A barman greeted us with a smile and hello as we walked in, and invited us to take a settle down on one of the comfy sofas and peruse the drinks menu while he let the restaurant know we’d arrived.
Happily sipping on champagne and nibbling the nuts and olives that accompanied our aperitif, we decided what to eat. My companion settled on comté cheese soufflé (£9.50) followed by calves’ liver and bacon (£16.50), while I opted for a goat’s cheese salad (£7.50) and then roast cod and puy lentils (£18.95).
Decisions made, orders taken and drinks finished, we were shown through to the dining room. More opulent than the bar area, yet still retaining an air of distressed glamour, this large room features stunning moulded walls crammed full of paintings and pictures that give the impression you’ve walked into a grand Georgian parlour. This feeling is heightened by the curvaceous dining chairs and gleaming candelabra light fittings, whose glow catches the highly polished glasses and silverwear on each table with a pleasing sparkle. It could all be a little too much, but cleverly any hint of unnecessary grandeur is offset by the fact that just a few of those pictures are a little squiffy, and there is a tell-tale mass of wine bottle lining window sills and mantlepieces that hints this is a room for to party in, not stand on ceremony. There was also a very happy buzz of conversation filling the room with easy contentment, coming from the couples and groups of all ages that occupied each table.
Before our starters arrived, the sommelier came over to introduce himself and ask is we needed any help chosing our wine. He suggested the 2012 Domaine Filliatreau Saumur Champigny, a classic cool-climate Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley with subtle, mineral notes that would add depth to both our dishes without fighting for dominance over either. We were convinced, and happily so for when it arrived it was a delight – surprisingly intense and expressing pleasant red fruit qualities without being too weighty.
Our starters followed soon after. My companion’s soufflé was enormous, rising up out of the bowl like a magnificent mountain yet cutting through to reveal a fluffy interior no more substantial than a cloud. My salad was a colourful delight, an invitingly Mr Whippy-esque smooth, cool serving of goat’s cheese nestled on a bed of peppery leaves and served with white and purple beetroot, which between them offset the cheese with both sweet and earth notes. Walnuts scattered on top added crunch and that inimitable blend of bittersweet flavour that wove the other elements together.
There was a pleasant pause before our mains arrived, and while my companion assured me her calves’ liver was marshmallow soft and delicious, I only had eyes – and tastebuds – for my cod. The fish itself was a mighty piece of perfection, topped with a crisp herb crust that cracked satisfyingly to reveal the delicate, flaky flesh below. It’s succulence was beautifully offset by puy lentils that were almost al dente, which popped little puddles of dense, savoury sauce onto my tongue. Adding to the rich intensity of the sauce were chunky bacon lardons that sent a giant wave of salty flavour crashing through my mouth before receeding to reveal the lasting flavour of the fish.
And, as you can imagine, after those two generous courses we were well and truly full. So, accepting our limits, we declined the dessert menu and ordered a taxi home…
Of course we didn’t! With food that tasty there was no way the dessert menu was slipping out of my grasp. So instead we enjoyed a necessary pause, before ordering a chocolate mousse (£7.95) and tarte au citron (£7.95) to share between us. I must admit, I should perhaps have thought a little harder about choosing the mousse for, after all, there is little scope to make it exciting. But the tarte au citron was another matter entirely – wafer thin golden pastry lay beneath a generous layer of citron that was at once creamy and alive with bright citrus flavour. Served with a vibrant quenelle of raspberry sorbet on the side, it looked gorgeous and tasted even better. It took all my willpower not to cross spoons with my companion over the last mouthful…
Narrow Lewins Mead, Bristol, BS1 2NU. Tel: 0844 736 4252