Followers of Love to Dine may have noticed a bit of a hiatus in posts in recent months. Unfortunately, this has been due to lack of free time, and the associated lack of inspiration to sit and write that comes with being snowed under with other less foodie (and therefore far less interesting) things. I’ve still been doing lots of dining, both at home and abroad, but the writing has fallen by the wayside a bit. I’m aiming to rectify that in the coming weeks and months, and fortunately I have a good place to start, in a meal that was so good that it brought with it an instant desire to tell everyone about it!
A recent wedding of friends in the North West afforded us the opportunity to stop off on our way home for Sunday lunch in Cheltenham, and we decided to go to Hotel du Vin and Bistro, who offer a four course Sunday ‘Brunch’ (I found this name a bit odd as it’s served from 12 noon until 4 p.m. and doesn’t have any breakfasty elements to it!) which sounded very tempting, especially at the price of £24.95 per head.
The Cheltenham Hotel du Vin (part of the Malmaison chain) is just outside the centre of the city, so there’s plenty of parking (the hotel’s car park at the front is small and tight but we managed to park in the road nearby). We started with a drink in the bar area, then went downstairs to the bistro, which looked as if it might be a bit dark and shady, given it was in the basement, but it opens out onto a lovely courtyard area so it’s actually lighter than it initially appears and, although the furnishings and décor are quite dark, it has a lovely atmosphere to it.
The four course menu starts with Soup du Jour, which on this occasion was carrot and butternut squash. I’m not a massive lover of carrot soup as I often find it watery, and this one could have done with a bit more butternut flavour and a bit more creaminess, but once we’d added some seasoning it was perfectly palatable for me, and very enjoyable for Mr W who doesn’t have an issue with carrot soup!
Next was the course that had originally sold us on the idea of Hotel du Vin’s brunch: the French Market Table, a self-service table with a gorgeous selection of seafood (including dressed crab and fresh king prawns), charcuterie meats, pate and rillettes, bread, pickles, sauces and salads. We both agreed we could have made a meal from this course alone as we love this type of food. As it was, we tried to be fairly conservative in our selection so as not to spoil the rest of our meals! I was particularly thrilled that stuffed cherry peppers formed part of the selection, and we both loved a smooth liver pate that was delicious on the crusty fresh bread. Mr W loved the smoked salmon, although we were both disappointed in the potted shrimp which had a strange added flavour that we just couldn’t place.
I would say that the market table was the star of the show, but it turned out that things got even better in the shape of Mr W’s main course: smoked haddock, with a potato rosti, grain mustard sauce and a poached egg. I can only describe this as sublimely good, and I had unbridled food envy!
I opted for the Hotel du Vin burger, which was probably a mistake as it was so incredibly filling and I didn’t really do it justice, but it was still fantastic: a juicy burger topped with perfectly crispy bacon and melted cheese (I could have done with either more cheese or a stronger flavoured cheese), plus salad and relish in a brioche bun. This was served with frites, a style of chip that I only like if they are really good – and these were! Our main courses were served with a selection of vegetables, which looked excellent but were completely surplus to requirements, and probably better suited to some of the other options on the main course menu – which, incidentally, included roast beef or chicken, pie du jour (fish pie), catch of the day and steak frites.
We managed to squeeze in desserts: I opted for apple tarte tatin with crème normande. This was sharper and less caramelly than the usual tarte tatin, but I enjoyed it after a rich and filling meal, especially with the crème normande as opposed to the usual ice cream.
Mr W chose banana and rum bread and butter pudding with rum and raisin ice cream and this was another triumph, which once again brought on a bout of food envy – and I’m not even that keen on banana or rum!
We finished off our meal with a coffee in the courtyard area which was a nice spot in which to relax. Throughout our meal, the service was very good: friendly and extremely attentive, and the staff were all keen to explain to us how the four course menu worked, and kept us topped up with drinks too.
We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at Hotel du Vin and are really hoping that one day one might open in Cardiff, or at least nearby, but until then, we will definitely be heading back to Cheltenham in the near future to indulge in another four courses of Sunday lunch with a distinctly French theme!