Hotel Du Vin Summer Menu Review
Hotel du Vin occupies an elegant building, a former sugar store in the very heart of Bristol. It contains a wine cellar that often appears in my dreams. Sometimes I happen upon the French contingent of Arsenal football club circa the year 2000 in said cellar, who then invite me to play in a testimonial match and share a bottle of red.
Though, imagining the Arsenal team huddled drinking a nice Bordeaux is probably not that much of a stretch considering the venue's reputation over the years.
The menu consists of French elegance mixed with a smattering of locally sourced ingredients and some standard comfort foods to assuage travelling business folk. A formal setting, a polite service and a menu always threatening to embarrass your food knowledge when questioned by your dining party. Shit, is this crab? In Bristol I’ve become accustomed to the casual restaurateur but HDV has always remained the full formal restaurant experience (As we realised with The Clifton Ivy) despite being referred to more colloquially as HDV which sounds like a haulage company.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt from previous visits to Hotel du Vin, it’s that the set menu’s are normally decent value. They really do have to be considering the myriad of quality so close to the centre. The latest offering was two courses for £17.95 and three for £20.95.
The soft boiled Goosnargh duck egg with asparagus soldiers (£8.50 from the main menu) was a bold and fun opening, keeping it simple with quality ingredients (and then complicating it by balancing said ingredients on a board). The accompanying brown crab mayonnaise was more like a pate and I was far too busy dribbling egg and stabbing myself with a perfectly cooked spear of asparagus.
From the set menu, the seared ‘Galician octopus with braised lentils and salsa verde’ starter was an unexpected highlight. The closest I normally get to seed, pulse, or lentil based dishes are sesame seeded burger buns.There were only a few choice chunks of octopus, but enough given the filling nature of the dish.
The big ticket item from the main menu was the rack of Yorkshire Dales lamb (coming in at a hefty £26). As beardedchef12 pointed out on Instagram, the fat could have done with being rendered, leaving me with an amount of butchery to perform myself. It was however a quality bit of meat if cooked somewhat unevenly. The pea, bean and goat’s curd salad was very delicate in flavour, a backup dancer for the rack. Instagrammed the shit out of it. Overdid it on the filters. Easily done.
Another inherited and welcome French trait is the importance of wine paring. It doesn’t feel out of place to call over the server or sommelier to get a recommendation, it’s a hotel and hospitality comes as standard. We sampled by the glass to match each course. I liked the pomp of it all. In other circumstances, asking the waiting staff to choose a wine to go with each course would be met with a bemused glance and at best a nod to a ‘nice drop’ rather than knowledge of food pairing (barring some of the finer Bristol establishments)
The black and blue burger filled a prerequisite for travelling businessmen on the menu. An attempt at a fun twist whilst still fulfilling the need for there to be a burger. Sensible business. There was a mighty wedge of roquefort, mushroom ketchup, and a beef patty all stacked with a black brioche bun. The burger itself was slightly on the dry side which you really can’t get away with in Bristol.
The dark lord of gluten (the black brioche bun) confused my brain. That isn’t hard admittedly, but does demonstrate how important the aesthetic of food is, and how fickle I am. Of course it tastes just like a normal brioche bun.
Hotel du Vin remains something of a rare institution. Vying for attention against other restaurants that peak and trough in popularity. The black brioche bun was perhaps an indication that the new menu was trying compete but it’s a different experience to almost any other central restaurant. There are places around Bristol that have exceptional food, but as a paying customer still make you feel like you should be privileged to be in their presence. Hotel du Vin provides a elegant and pleasant dining experience with a history of excellence. The set menu is recommended, the wine list even more so and the building itself is also part of the story. Just ask your server which dish they recommend.