Food editor Jo Rees headed to Hotel du Vin in Bristol for a classic French bistro experience
We’ve always had a crush on French cooking in Blighty. Chefs proudly proclaim their schooling in the classic French style, while the quality of dining across the channel is the standard by which we judge our own cuisine (‘of course, in France, you get good food everywhere’, etc). And while we’ve enjoyed an influx of many cuisines, from Japanese to Mongolian barbecue, our love affair with French food has endured.
So it’s no surprise (although it might make you feel a little old) to discover that one of our favourite French restaurants, Hotel du Vin, has just celebrated its twentieth birthday. This homage to our love of Gallic gastronomy, in the form of a small chain of boutique hotels, started in Winchester in 1994, and came to Bristol in 1999.
Crafted out of a disused sugar warehouse, the Bristol outpost has a moody interior with classic bistro style restaurant and paraphernalia of vintage menus and wine bottles.
Twenty years may have passed but the raison d’être remains the same. Even some of the dishes remain, becoming Hotel du Vin classics in their own right. Beef bourguignon on the bone is one such dish, unctuous and sticky, and perfect served with a glass of Château Bauduc merlot. Similarly, the crème brûlée has never been off the list, with its crisp, cracked glaze of burnt sugar and high ratio of topping to rich vanilla cream.
Wine is, naturellement, a key part of the experience, and a sommelier is always on hand to make food and wine pairing easy. Roast cod fillet served with puy lentils, fragrant with woody herbs and peppered with button mushrooms and pancetta is expertly matched to a Kendall-Jackson chardonnay. Dessert wine fans will love the trio of stickies, served from lightest to darkest.
Atmospheric and intimate this may be, it’s certainly not just a destination for romantic dinners à deux. Private dining is available for small gatherings, and the bistro also enjoys a strong daytime following among the ladies who lunch and business people, as there’s enough bustle to facilitate private conversations, and enough theatre to make it special. And with a prix fixe at lunchtime (three courses at around £20) in addition to the a la carte bistro menu, the value’s pretty good. Welcome to la vie en rose.
Review published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Food Magazine.
Tempura oysters with ketchup tartar, £9.95
Steak and frites, £21.95
Crepes suzette souffle, £7.95
Hotel du Vin, The Sugar House, Narrow Lewins Mead, Bristol, BS1 2NU
Breakfast: Monday to Friday: 7am – 10am. Saturday and Sunday: 8am – 11am. Bank holidays: 8am – 11am.
Lunch: Monday to Saturday: 12pm – 2.30pm. Sunday brunch: 12pm – 4pm.
Dinner: Monday to Thursday: 5.30pm – 10pm. Friday and Saturday: 5.30pm – 10.30pm. Sunday: 6pm – 9.30pm