Hotel du Vin

Hotel Du Vin

04/11/20

Bristo Place, Edinburgh

It hardly seems possible, but a quick glance back through the diary confirms it: we haven’t visited a proper restaurant since March.

Yes, that’s right. March.

Oh, yes, we’ve been in socially-distanced cafes and we’ve had swanky restaurants deliver food to our door to be heated up and consumed at home, but really, enough is enough. Another lockdown’s looming and we’re determined that it’s high time we dined out, so we cast around for places where we can possibly eat al fresco in November. In Scotland. Then we remember that the Hotel Du Vin does have a very pleasant courtyard and, what’s more, it is even equipped with patio heaters should the weather prove too brisk.

So here we are, at a table in said courtyard, nibbling at warm bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and discussing the unfolding horror story that is the American presidential election. Meanwhile, we lament the fact that today our discussion cannot be lubricated with something containing alcohol, but hey, them’s the rules – and you can’t have everything. The staff are friendly and attentive, and ensure that they observe social distancing at all times. We feel very relaxed.

For my starter, I choose sautéed mushrooms on toasted sourdough and it turns out to be a good choice. The generously sized mushrooms are soaked in a rich Madeira sauce and virtually melt in the mouth, while the crispy toast provides a perfect contrast. Susan has a baked St Marcellin cheese fondue which is rich and creamy and is accompanied by new potatoes, cornichons and croutons. It only takes a mouthful of our respective starters to make us appreciate how much we’ve missed doing this and, happily, we’ve chosen a good place to break our fast because both meals are pretty much note perfect.

Next up for me is haddock and king prawn gratin, baked in a cream sauce and glazed under breadcrumbs with thick, stringy layers of Gruyère. It’s a gooey, aromatic treat, generously stuffed with chunky prawns and accompanied by sides of frites and cauliflower cheese. Susan opts for mussels frites, a big bowl of moules marinère steamed in white wine, cream, shallots and garlic. Despite me selflessly helping her to eat it, the portion is too generous to finish.

After this, we’re feeling pretty full but we’re not ready to leave, so we have coffee and more chat, just to ensure that we’re absolutely certain there’s definitely no room for pudding.

And of course, in the fullness of time, it turns out there is room, and who knows when we’ll have this opportunity again? So I order an apple and blackberry crumble, the fruit still with a little bite left in it and served with an indulgent hot custard. Susan finishes off with a perfectly executed crème brûlée, the top scorched just enough that it breaks with a satisfying snap when tapped with a spoon. Voila!

By the time we head for home, the evening is already descending and we find ourselves thinking of all the incredible meals we’ve enjoyed since we first moved to Edinburgh. For now, we can only cross our fingers and hope that one day soon, those happy times will return, and that visits to places like Hotel Du Vin will once again be commonplace.

But right now, this was really just what we needed.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Hotel du Vin

31/07/17

Bristo Place, Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts a wealth of fine dining venues and Hotel du Vin, part of the Malmaison group, has been around since 2006. It also has a more fascinating history than some of the competition. Back in the day it was known as ‘Bedlam,’ the city’s biggest lunatic asylum. (The poet Robert Ferguson was one of its most celebrated inmates.) These days, of course, it’s all a bit more sedate, with a pleasant rustic feel, though that colourful history is commemorated in a private dining room which boasts a spectacular mural featuring two of Edinburgh’s most infamous inhabitants, Burke and Hare.

We first ate at Hotel du Vin back in the day, when we were first discovering the city, but long before we started reviewing our dining experiences. We have family visiting, so we decide to revisit the place, taking advantage of a bookatable deal that offers three courses and a glass of wine for just £20.95 per head.

For starters, Susan and I both opt for the seared Galician octopus, which is a rather splendid affair, succulent fishy tentacles resting on a bed of inky braised lentils with salsa verde. It’s rich and savoury and a great appetiser. There’s also Woodhall’s family black combe air-dried ham (looks fab but doesn’t photograph well) and a watercress and spinach soup, which is served with a poached egg and a dollop of sour cream. All of these are sampled and all are pronounced utterly delicious.

For her main course, Susan tries the Normandy chicken cobb salad, a beautifully arranged dish featuring tangy Roquefort cheese, avocado, tomatoes, brioche croutons, soft boiled eggs and pancetta. It looks and tastes absolutely splendid. I’m in a ‘gromphy’ mood, so I go for the black and blue burger. Now, I can guess what you’re thinking – a burger is a burger is a burger, right? Not so. This one features a succulent 200 gram pattie nestled between a light-as-a-feather black sesame seed brioche. The meat is liberally coated with Roquefort cheese and mushroom ketchup and is accompanied by a cone of crispy, salty french fries. Mmm. Best of all, it comes with crunchy dill pickles on the side (and when one of our guests announces he doesn’t like dill pickles, I’m in there like a shot!). Oh yes, there’s also a grilled Cornish mackerel served with trout roe and Waldorf fregola grossa. Everything is cooked to perfection and nicely presented – there’s really nothing here to find fault with, and trust me I look really hard.

Of course, there must be puddings and three of us cannot resist the description of a treacle tart, served with (how good does this sound?) custard ice cream. Yes please! And very nice it proves to be, thick, not too dry (because we all know that can happen, right?) and accompanied by a scoop of something that tastes very like deep-frozen heaven. The fourth member of our party investigates the peach melba – melt-in-the-mouth poached peaches with fresh raspberries, meringue and (nice touch this) jelly and ice cream! It’s a delight, but hey, it’s not treacle tart and custard ice cream, if you catch my drift.

All-in-all, this is splendid grown-up food, perfectly prepared and served in pleasant and convivial surroundings. The white wine offered is a chardonnay and though this would usually invoke a negative mark, it proves to be perfectly drinkable (though a sauvignon blanc would have been more agreeable to us ABCs).

It’s a tiny niggle. We were very happy with our Hotel du Vin experience and I can’t help feeling that, unless you’re extraordinarily fussy, you’ll enjoy it too. Make sure you pop your head into the Burke and Hare room to check out that artwork – unless of course you’ve actually booked the Burke and Hare room, in which case you can sit there and ogle it to your heart’s content.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney