Last week I was invited to the opening of the first stand alone restaurant by the Hotel du Vin group, Bistro du Vin in Clerkenwell. The event was superb and the great food left a lasting memory. All around the open plan kitchen were plates of oysters, scallops, lobster, crab, razor clams, asparagus, steak… the list goes on. Not to mention the private dining room that was turned into a cheese room for the evening. They’re still trying to get rid of the smell, apparently.
I arrived and was greeted with a Bistro du Vin signature Marmalade Martini (£10). The vodka, produced by Chase Distillery was done so exclusively for the restaurant launch. Sixty bottles were provided for the opening and I hear that they have nearly all gone!
After a quick get to know you chat, we walked past the impressive meat aging room and were shown to our candlelit table, which set the relaxed mood for the evening. The restaurant is very impressive. Low lighting, candlelit tables spaced nicely apart so you’re not dining on top of the guests on the tables next to you. There is also a fantastic open plan kitchen, armed with clever induction hobs, a Josper grill and a range of impressive gadgets. During service, all cooking takes place in this very kitchen and even though I wasn’t sat too far away from the chefs, I didn’t notice any uncouth behaviour (or swearing) and it looked like a very organised operation.
The Hotel du Vin group sources the best quality local and seasonal produce wherever possible, except for ingredients such as the Siscilian lemon (of course). The food is then cooked simply without fuss, leaving the flavours of the good quality produce to shine. The back of the menu even acts as a fact sheet for the producers and is aptly titled ‘think homegrown & local.’
I ordered the English asparagus with sauce ravigote (£7.95) to start, partly because I love asparagus so much and it has just come into season but also because I knew that I had fillet steak, chips, pudding and cheese to come. As I expected, the asparagus was tender and delicious. One of my fellow diners, Rocket & Squash hit it on the nose when he guessed it was from Evesham, his home town. I’m afraid I didn’t start taking pictures until the main arrived – the lighting was dim but I spied Ms Gourmet Chick running her plate over to the kitchen light to get a quick snap so I followed suit when my main arrived.
The Hot Roasted Shells came recommended, but as I had eaten my body weight in shellfish at the launch, I opted for the Bone in fillet 300g Belton Galloway steak with pepperorn sauce (£35) and pomme frites (£3.50). I asked for the steak medium-rare but the edges of the steak were closer to medium. But, as I got nearer the bone the meat became incredibly juicy and tender. If I wasn’t in such lovely surroundings I might have even picked the bone up at the end and attempted to get every last shred of meat off it, if you know what I mean. The portion of pomme frites was larger than expected. This is definitely not a complaint, just an observation. I ate the whole cone but it would easily have been enough to share between two.
Bistro du Vin also operates a ‘by the glass’ dispensing system where customers are able to top up a swipe card and try a range of rare and vintage wines. A great way to try before committing to a bottle.
The dessert menu arrived and it was refreshing to see that there were a few reworked classics on there such as rice pudding and profiteroles. I opted for the latter as I love them and haven’t had them in years. I was overjoyed when the plate was placed in front of me. It contained three scoops of vanilla ice cream with a slice of choux pastry on the top and bottom of each one. A little pot of Valhrona chocolate was poured on top and I was in my element. The plate was scraped.
I also couldn’t resist getting a picture of Ms Gourmet Chick’s delicious looking Rice Pudding.
One part of the evening that I thought was really great was the service. The Hotel du Vin group are known for their high staff retention rate and for hiring staff with skill and fantastic personalities. This really showed. The delightful chap that served us a fantastic range of cheese at the end of the meal was very knowledgeable and I learned that all of the waiting staff are given the opportunity to pursue an area that they are interested in. The cheese chap (his name escapes me but he was from Switzerland) had shown an interest in cheese so the management sent him on a cheese course and he now provides diners with the cheese trolley at the end of the evening. I was in awe of his enthusiasm and he was incredibly excited about an orange goats cheese that we had on our board. His excitement rubbed off and I’m happy to be able to tell people that I’ve eaten orange goats cheese – his words, not mine!
I can imagine dining at Bistro du Vin for any occasion. A romantic dinner for two, a family Sunday lunch, a birthday or even a celebration dinner with friends. I love the location, I love the food, I love the atmosphere. Thumbs up from me.
Bistro du Vin
40 St John Street
020 7490 9230