There are a few lessons I need to learn in life. One of them is that I don’t like cigars, a fact that I seem to forget EVERY time I drink single malt whisky. I get carried away by the peaty booziness and convince myself I am really in a dusty Havana club, then light up a bad boy. Then I cough up a lung and the illusion dissipates faster than a fart in a wind tunnel.
Hotel du Vin in Cambridge is so damn comfortable, cosy and indulgent we barely actually saw any of Cambridge at all, remaining ensconced within the hotel walls. A cigar bothy in the back garden proved a haven of such deliciousness that I once again fell prey to Cohiba-shaped crime. I could have swum laps in the bathtub, moulded into the bed and I finally learnt to use a Nespresso!
C. and I were here to attend an “apple masterclass” – which we worried might involve a lot of fruitarian theory and note-taking but which, essentially, was a boozy voyage of discovery that shifted from Apple-Mojitos to refined and kicking ciders from nearby producers Glebe Farm, via Thatcher’s Rosé and – to soak up the drink – a perfect tarte-tatin doused in Brandy.
We got off to the right start then… An apple-bobbing session followed the guided tastings and I sadly lost the “who can make the longest peel” competition, however the entire 2-hour class was quite the barrel of fun, with just the right balance between presentation, drinking and educative fun. Part of a series of new ideas to complement the very reputable wine-tasting and cheese-discovery weekends Hotel du Vin are famous for, let’s hope there will be more seasonal “masterclasses” in the future.
The class was followed by a pick-me-up in the Hotel’s labyrinthine bar and its cosy nooks – Cambridge’s Hotel du Vin has partnered with the Scottish Single Malt Whisky Society to provide visitors with a vast selection of single-cask tipples of enormous variety. I settled for a snifter of Campbeltown – “manly and penetrating” as described by the menu (who could resist?!). Champagne followed by which point the journey to the Bistro for dinner had become a feat of endurance.
I love the Bistro du Vin in Soho. It tops my list of places to recommend in London so I had high hopes for the food here. Our starters were both exquisite – C. had a fluffy, creamy, twice-baked cheese soufflé with red onion jam and I had sweet, plump, meltingly-cooked scallops with black pudding and a discreet cauliflower purée topped with fresh pea shoots. So far, so nom. Sadly, mains were a tad of a disappointment.
My partridge and bread sauce was well-cooked and tasty, but the gravy it came with lacked salt and tasted slightly burnt and bitter. And I had doused the whole partridge with it. C’s lemon sole looked a bit tired and was over salted, it also came with very boring and uncrispy “pont-neuf” potatoes, which are essentially, chips. It was all going so well! My side of red onions, beetroot and horseradish though was delicious…
We both opted for the Cheese Trolley, being the cheese whores that we are and here Hotel du Vin Cambridge redeemed itself and came into its own as we were guided expertly and lovingly through the contents of the heavenly selection -supplied by Premier Cheese – by a charming waitress who clearly knew her stuff. We gorged on Gaperon, a garlicky, bulb-shaped cow’s cheese from Auvergne; punchy Lanark Blue and the incredibly pongy little brother to Stinking Bishop, the May Hill Green…
Hotel du Vin staff are what really make the difference. Clearly extremely well trained they all also genuinely enjoy their job and love where they work, a fact refreshingly obvious when you talk to anyone from the reception to the bar manager. The service throughout was effortlessly professional and everyone we spoke to bubbled with enthusiasm – without the over-the-top phoneyness reserved for roadside diners in America.
We did eventually see Cambridge too, which you probably don’t need me to tell you is definitely worth visiting…