I was a Bistro du Vin/Hotel du Vin novice until a week ago, however I knew my Wednesday night could only be looking up if I was to be rolling into a temple devoted to wine, Anglo-Gallic grub and oodles of cheese. I am a simple girl, the words “bistro”, “vin” and a temperature-controlled larder humming with the faint feety odour of a smorgasbord of French fromages is enough to get my pulse racing and my tastebuds breakdancing.
The buzz following the launch party was considerable, and the space did not disappoint. We were ushered in past the long stretch of polished bar where idle couples languored over glasses of wine no doubt sourced from the nifty “Glass Dispenser” to a semi-secluded, candlelit lounge area reminiscent of the drawing room in a Sherkock Holmes-esque townhouse. Here you can enjoy an aperitif, bar snacks or plates of cheese and charcuterie, or book for your private event.
M. and I settled into our armchairs to sample the signature summer punch cocktail, made using Herefordshire-produced Chase Vodka, whizzed with summer fruits and topped up with ginger ale. The emphasis at Bistro du Vin is locally-sourced produced, wherever possible and the championing of local “food heroes”, from farmers to wineries whose details are listed on the back of the menu.
The simplicity of the menu relies on the punch provided by excellent quality ingredients, a fact reflected in my silky, butternut-squash coloured Lobster Bisque, smooth as a cucumber and a touch peppery, the way I like it. M. went for the chicken-liver and foie gras parfait – an ample serving with the texture of soft butter and just as creamy without feeling heavy or cloying. We almost ignored the chutney that came with it – in fact, I abandoned all pretense of table-manners and decorum, proceeding to spoon the stuff into my mouth like a hoover… Nom, nom, nom.
We paired this with a glass of 2008 Domaine Ostertag Riesling, Grand Cru Muenchberg from Alsace which went a treat with both starters and made me nostalgic for Strasbourg and the wine routes along the Rhine. And drool some more.
Mains were generous and flavourful, with my calve’s liver soft and pink on the inside and barely seared on the without with a sweet, caramelized jus and crispy diced potatoes. M. fared less well with a 30-day aged rump steak from Donald Russell in Aberdeenshire. The meat was dry and in M’s words “slightly over-cooked” it was nonetheless very tasty. M. favours his steaks “medium to rare” – clearly demonstrating he has spent far too long in South Africa and not in the UK, where medium to rare tends to be code for “charred to death”. I for one find it insulting to steak to order it any way other than wheeled in still mooing to the table, but failing that, a healthy tinge of blue works wonders.
Nonetheless, M. managed to finish his steak, washing it down with a great little 2009 Ribatejo wine – a nod to his Portuguese heritage – from Quinta Lagoalva de Cima. With the distinct and rather unusual Touriga Nacional notes, the dustiness was particularly pleasing and the spiciness went really well with the meat.
We skipped dessert in favour of exploring the Cheese Room – a dairy Santa’s Grotto built of glass and recycled wood, showing off the cheeses and cured meats which in my mind were calling to
me like that “Bali High” song in South Pacific. Sourced from excellent cheese shop, La Cave a Fromage, the Bistro du Vin selection is extensive and imaginative and we were given time to peruse and sniff and question and sniff some more before composing a platter heavy on the runny and smelly. A Munster, which at my suggestion the lovely cheese lady paired with cumin seeds as they do in Alsace, was my favourite, along with a Calvados-rich Pom’Calva, a soft, soft goat’s cheese with honey and a wonderful Lord of the Hundreds, with a distinct toasted nutty taste.
Bistro du Vin has found itself a great niche in London, offering fine food at affordable prices in surroundings worth dressing up for. The service is done with care and a genuine enthusiasm for the product and great care has gone into the cheese and wine selection. You could spend a fortune here, but a good steak and cheeseboard with a cracking bottle of something more off-the-beaten track can be done for £40 a head – the wine list has a very good selection under £25 or opt for the lovely “Glass Dispenser”: a specially designed “wines on tap” machine showcasing a rotating selection of bottles covering each price range which you help yourself to by the glass by means of a top-up plastic card. Bistro du Vin like it so much, they even created a game to go with it which you can play here. Would that the BdV lounge area become my new living room and the wine top-up card my new Oyster…