A restaurant for all occasions; romantic dates, fancy mate dates and special occasions. Dig out your best frocks, suits and ties and dress up – it’s a place to wine and dine. We stopped by on a Friday night to find only a handful of people in (and for a while it was just us), but don’t be put off; this isn’t an eery, empty-feeling restaurant, lacking in the atmosphere department. Think of it as deliciously laid-back – just what we needed after a long week. We kicked back by twinkling candlelight, listening to the gentle buzz coming from the open kitchen, while a team of well-dressed waiting staff looked after us. They couldn’t have done more for us; introducing us to the new menu, suggesting wines they thought we might like and generally chit-chatting about our day. A really lovely bunch.
The bistro enjoyed a luxury refurbishment last summer and its good looks are still going strong; handsome mahogany tables, blonde wood flooring, soft, low lighting that soothes, exposed brickwork. French doors open out to a beautiful outdoor decking area (gorgeous in the summer) and there’s a private dining space to the back of the restaurant, perfect for special occasions, wine-tastings and intimate affairs.
One of the best things about wining and dining at Hotel du Vin is, of course, sampling its vino. The place is famed for it. We made best pals with the bistro’s head sommelier, who expertly paired our tipples with our desired dishes. We sampled red this time, plus dessert wine to go with our puds. The Pinot Noir and Merlot made for great choices (prices vary).
Think French home-style cooking; slow-cooked, elegantly presented, robust, earthy, hearty flavours and fresh, seasonal produce. The new-look a la carte menu, which received a bit of a makeover last week, serves up something for everyone, with oodles of fancy French flair. Classics – from garlicky snails in parsley butter and mussels bathed in white white and cream, to sizzling steak frites, tarte tatin and rich, fishy bouillabaisse – sit alongside tasty newbies, like roast cod with lentils, cassoulet with confit duck, white beans and sausage and a new range of omelettes and posh French sarnies, available from 12pm-5pm. Stand outs include an open-faced omelette with Severn & Wye smoked haddock and parmesan (£8.50), steak and blue cheese baguette (£11.50), oozy, gooey croque monsieur (£8.95) and good old eggs Benedict, Florentine and Royale (all £6.95) for brunch-lovers.
What we ate
Starters were light and simple – but deceptively delicious. Our chum settled on, what was essentially, mushrooms on toast(£6.95), but this time with the flavour turned up. Meaty chestnut and button mushrooms, sautéed until soft, woody and golden brown, toppled over a thick slice of warm, toasted brioche, bringing to the table lovely carby sweetness. Smothered in rich Madeira cream, spiked with plenty of garlic and nutmeg, it went down a treat. Classic steak tartare (£6.95) took our fancy; blushing raw beef, perfectly ground until fine, with capers, gherkins and shallots for salty tang, served with a fresh raw egg on top. Nothing new, or particularly, groundbreaking – but that’s how it should be. Some dishes you just don’t mess with. We loved it. For mains, our chum (a veggie) settled on the pumpkin and roasted chestnut risotto (£12.50). What arrived was a creamy, comforting bowl of wintry flavours; risotto, cooked until thick and silky (but not gummy – thankfully), with tender chunks of pumpkin and soft, roasted chestnuts mixed through. Comfort food at its best. We were overjoyed with our roast cod (£16.95) – one of the new additions to the menu. Served on a bed of braised puy lentils, dark, smoky and gloriously rich, with plump button onions and sweet-and-salty nuggets of pancetta. The good-sized steak of fish was cooked perfectly; bright white, flaky and juicy. We didn’t need to, but we ended up sharing the bistro’s superfood salad with poached smoked salmon (though you can opt for chicken or grilled halloumi). For £12.50 you get a huge portion of leafy goodness – perfect for two. Think kale, quinoa and shredded sprouts, topped with edamame beans and, in our case, flaky, poached salmon pieces. Super impressive, super delicious. There’s nothing worse than ordering a salad in a restaurant and receiving nothing more than a handful of limp lettuce leaves. For puds, we shared a helping of good old crème brûlée (£6.95), because old habits die hard. Hotel du Vin’s is a cracker; we liked that the vanilla custard was on the thicker side and baked until really quite firm, almost dense. It also wasn’t as sickly sweet as brûlées often are. Again, you get a throughly decent portion, so we advise ordering two spoons. Overall, a top-notch meal – we’ll be stopping by for some toastie action next time.