It was a Sunday, and also the day that my mom (best person ever) brought me out into the world safely 34 years ago. As she was off in New York with my dad, having a right nice time; I asked my husband to book us in somewhere for a Sunday lunch, as this would have been what I’d have enjoyed at my parents house. Had they not been off enjoying their retirement in the US (no jealously here). As Hotel Du Vin is very close to where we live; Marv booked us a table, to enjoy their four course set menu (£26.95). So, after opening my presents; I skipped over the Queensway Bridge and up the hill to begin eating. The skipping part of the last sentence may not be true; in my head movement on your birthday only involves dancing or skipping, and it makes for a quaint start to the story so I’ll leave it at that.
We walked into the beautiful Victorian building on Church Street, headed right, and were seated in the bistro. I have been to the pub in Hotel Du Vin, but never the bistro; it’s a classic setting, with plenty of French charm, a touch of grandeur and elegance, with a friendly atmosphere. I doubt I’d feel comfortable in a sweatshirt and jeans, but my semi-casual Zara dress seemed fitting, and Marv wore a shirt, which also felt appropriate. The rooms were filled with families celebrating special occasions, hotel guests, and couples there for a decent Sunday lunch; it was lively without being noisy if that makes sense? I felt Marv had made a great choice (mainly because I knew there’d be four courses).
After being seated; our drinks order was taken pretty much straight away. I went for a Bloody Margaret (gin rather than vodka – woohoo!), and Marv picked a Kir Royale. My Bloody Margaret was given a very generous slosh of Tabasco; it took a couple of sips to get my breath back, but I soon got into the swing of it. I could also taste the celery salt, which I loved, after the initial, shall we say “zing” had calmed down a little. I had not eaten breakfast that day, and decided that a Bloody Margaret would be an efficient kickstart to any morning, I think I’ll start that habit when I’ve made it past 65. I had a little sip of the Kir Royale, which was refreshing and smooth; although, I didn’t love the champers as much as the Piper Heidsieck I got to try at the Edwardian Tearooms previously, but I can’t help the fact that now I’ve been spoilt regarding fizz.
Next came the soup of the day, which was (luckily for us) vegetable. We got a basket of warm bread and a pot of butter; I was so happy when I realised the butter was spreadable. It sounds pedantic, but I hate it when butter comes straight out of the fridge in restaurants so that you end up slaughtering the bread with your knife as you try to bring the two together harmoniously. This butter went across the the top of my bread like a dream. The soup had plenty of seasoning and tasted warm and homely; plenty of seasonal veg and herbs made for a comforting start to my dinner, which I appreciated.
Next came the course I was most excited about; the Bistro Du Vin Deli Table. We were shown the way into a room full of food (this is what birthday dreams are made of). There was a lovely man with a big knife (not a collection of words I thought I’d be writing) who was cutting ham off the bone, which as pescatarians, we avoided; however, he was friendly all the same. My eyes were firmly on the array of smoked and cured seafood options, copious bowls of salad, mushroom pate, pickles (yeayah!), and more freshly-sliced, warm crusty-bread than you could shake a baguette at. I had to take a moment to keep my shit together so that I didn’t start crying with joy (it was that Bloody Margaret and no breakfast that did it). I think I succeeded at looking like a calm woman, simply placing every single bit of food into an edible replica of Everest onto her plate (keeping’ it cool since 1983). I. Love. A. Buffet.
I would recommend going as steady as you’re physically able, because you’ll still have two course to go. Technically, a deli table is the most generous second starter that you’re ever going to eat, especially as you’re free to return for more (yes, really). Therefore, have a little bit of what (everything) you fancy, and attempt to remain calm; there will be more to come. In my head all I could think was that I wish I’d brought Tupperware, but that’s just the kind of resourceful (and I like to think, responsible) human being I am.
The mushroom pate was a delight; it was super earthy and salty and I’d happily have had that with bread as a course on its own. The potted prawns were tasty too, and had plenty of chilli and seasoning, which elevated them. I don’t think I’d go for the mussels again; there was absolutely nothing wrong with the texture or flavour, I just realised that they’re better (for me) on their own, drenched in a creamy, wine and garlic sauce. The salads and pickles were fresh, with an array of textures, and could have been a light second starter without the rest of the food on the plate.
So, after ploughing through the delights of the deli; a lovely gentleman removed our plates, and asked if we were ready for our mains. I’m not sure we were, but we said yes anyway. The mains section of the menu contains a variety of traditional favourites, including a roast dinner, and fish or steak and chips. It also has more brunch-style options, like the Omelette Arnold Bennett and Ratatouille Baked Burford Brown Eggs; I suppose it will depend on what time you go, and what sort of mood you’re in. Sadly, there wasn’t a veggie-roast option, so I chose Catch Of The Day, which was Stone Bass with Risotto, and Marv had the Pie Of The Day, which was Cheese and Onion with Mash.
My fish fillet was cooked to perfection; the flesh flaked away and melted in my mouth. However, I wish the skin was crispy so that I could’ve eaten it too. The risotto was rich and creamy with fresh spring onions and leeks, which helped to add texture and cut through the dairy-heavy carbs (yum). Roasted vine tomatoes also accompanied the dish, which added a little sweet sharpness to everything; again, lifting and lightening each element. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would order Stone Bass in the future should I get the chance.
Marv’s pie did arrive burnt on the top and bottom; not just overly brown, but black in parts. He informed the waiter, and this was rectified quickly with apologies and a fresh pie. I cannot fault the staff and the level of service; they were all lovely and happy to help. I was too full to try any of his pie, but he said it was “bangin”. I managed a little mash, which was smooth, buttery, and everything you want from that king of comfort foods. The mains also came with a dish of traditional roast dinner veg, including broccoli, carrots, and roasties. These fitted better with Marv’s meal, and he said they were cooked well, had plenty of bite to them, and the roast potatoes were crisp then fluffy.
Just when you think “I hope she left to go home now, because that is a lot of food they’ve eaten”; I didn’t. It was time for dessert, or pud if you’re from where I grew up. We agreed before wording that we would both order differently so that we could halve them and enjoy both. This is team work at its greatest. I chose the Taste Fine Aux Pommes, and Marv went with the Creme Brûlée (because I asked him to and it was my birthday). I’m glad we did the half and half technique, because I honestly don’t think I could have finished the whole apple tart; it was huge. The pastry was flakey, crispy, and soft where it needed to be. I got a hint of salt, which went so well with the sweet apples and Calvados ice cream; heaven.
The Creme Brûlée was just right; creamy, soft, full of vanilla, and with the bitter/sweet flavour of the crunchy burnt-sugar topping. A lot lighter than the Taste Aux Pommes; I’d choose the Brûlée if you fancy something a little lighter to end the feast. There was a cheese board option which i did consider; however, I didn’t regret going with a sweet dessert at all.
Just when I thought it was all over; the kind gentleman who had served us brought out a slate board iced with “Happy Birthday” on it and a little brownie. This was a lovely touch to the meal and yes, I managed to eat the brownie, with cream, and the cherry on top. He wished me joyeux anniversaire as Marv paid the bill. He then suggested heading into the bar area because the espresso martinis were very good. Marv laughed it off, ready to leave, and roll home. I took that man’s advice, and dragged my husband to sit and enjoy a beer as I tried the recommended espresso martini (aren’t birthday allowances just the best).
We found a cosy spot on the comfortable seats in the low-lit back bar, drank our drinks, before heading home (as we were pretty much falling asleep). Thank you to Marv for an amazing birthday lunch, for always spoiling and feeding me, and for dealing so well with my annual meltdown because of my age. The setting was definitely birthday-worthy, and I’ll be popping back to Hotel Du Vin for more Martinis in the future. I love the look of the Champagne or Gin Afternoon Tea; has anyone tried this, or heard anything? Please let me know if you have!
Peace, love, and deli tables, Fay x
*All the food I ate was free because my husband paid (thank you Marv). All words, photos, and profanities are my own x
**The man who served us was correct: Hotel Du Vin do an excellent espresso martini, and I’d recommend them.