Hotel Du Vin Bristol - Seafood Sharing Platter & New Menu
It’s one of those very Bristolian afternoons; sunlight assaults the eyes as a black cloud tails you from behind. We’re booked into Hotel du Vin to try out their new ‘It Takes Two’ (baby, to make a dream come true, just takes two) menu, a selection of generous seafood sharing platters. The sparkling Valentina walks us from lobby to dining room, bypassing the gorgeous lounge area (we’re irritatingly on time), and passes us onto front-of-house maestro Camil. We’re shown to a table near the border of the room, and soon we’re sipping on two lovely cocktails: an excellently calibrated Martini for me, and an authentically eggy Whiskey Sour for Helen. The menu reads very well. This isn’t one of those occasions where you read ambitious techniques in the descriptions, and tentatively murmur, ‘Can the chef really handle that?’ The Scallop Ceviche sounds enticing, and it’s always reassuring to see that Moules Marinere still hasn’t gone out of style. Knowing that the main course will be reminiscent of a Rick Stein last meal, however, we both opt for carnivorous choices. They don’t disappoint. Helen’s Chicken Liver Parfait is as intensely rich as it is sublimely smooth, and my Beef Carpaccio melts in the mouth like a rare-breed ham. Mine comes with a little scotch egg that is probably a nod to this dish’s cousin, the steak tartare, but the yolk is sadly cooked through. It’s a very well seasoned bite though, and provides a much welcome crunch.[pullquote align=left] It’s well balanced and moreish, and a sensible accompaniment to the upcoming main event. [/pullquote]
Daniel, the sommelier, has advised us in the direction of a crisp Albarino: Condes de Albarei. It’s well balanced and moreish, and a sensible accompaniment to the upcoming main event.
And my, what a main event it is: Les Fruits de Mer. It’s a silver tray; loaded with lobster, oysters, crab claws, prawns and squid, with a selection of sauces alongside. Atop the formidable mountain lays the head of the crab, and it’s a beast of a specimen. The lobster is as tender as I’ve tasted, meat is abundant in all sections of the crab, sweet roe-filled prawns are bigger than average, and the oysters certainly deliver the ozoney goods.
The one digression from seafood is some scattered chicory, and that’s where one disappointment arises. The problem is not with the leaves themselves- they provide a pleasing bitter note- but rather with the squid slices that have been placed within them. On the menu they are described as ceviche, but I’m guessing the marinade was either too long or too acidic - perhaps both. It’s no real distraction however; I can barely finish all the brown crab meat, so I’m not going to whine over a few strips of tough squid. We pour another glass of wine, and nobly peel the last of the prawns.
The beauty of a feast of shellfish is that you always have room for dessert, regardless of how many bivalves inhabit your stomach. I almost go for the Crème Brulee, but then a hankering for something bakewell-esque finds me choosing the Pear and Almond Tart. Helen, having apparently been programmed from birth, elects the Sea Salt Caramel Fondant. Both are beautiful.
Daniel has paired the dishes with a couple of dessert wines. Helen’s indulgent fondant (which has the curiously charming appearance of a sweet pork pie) works in tandem with a fortified dark wine. A floral Semillon elevates my moist almond tart quite exquisitely. I ask our sommelier to school me in what makes this such a wonderful tipple, and he responds with some helpful hints, and a succinct lesson in Botrytis (aka Noble Rot).
It was 48 hours since the Brexit verdict. After a morning of poking my head into the cacophony that is social media, I wasn’t entirely in the soundest possible mind when making my debut trip to this very European establishment.
The magic of Hotel du Vin, however, is that while you are inside, there is really nothing much to worry about.