Menu Review – Hotel Du Vin
The sun peeks out from behind the pregnant clouds, like an over-excited child in a tense game of hide and seek. Its warmth is magnified by the floor-to-ceiling glass window next to me and, as I feel it on my skin, I find myself exhaling a long overdue breath of rest and relief. After a particularly challenging morning and a bad night’s sleep before it, I find welcome respite in anticipation of a three-course lunch from the expertly-crafted Local Prix Fixe Menu at the ever-sublime Bistro du Vin (the restaurant at the heart of Hotel du Vin). The always friendly Agne Seikyte (Sales Manager at the hotel) walks towards me with a broad smile and hospitable cheer.
As we sit and catch up (in the lovely way that tends to happen on a regular basis with friends and connections in Exeter), I peruse the menu. The brainchild of Head Chef Gareth Mayer, it couples the high-quality bistro style food that Bistro du Vin has become famous for with the finest ultra-local ingredients. A marriage made in heaven, I will later find out.
This focus on local ingredient sourcing qualified Bistro du Vin for the Devon Food Trail when the menu launched earlier this year and has positioned their restaurant as a fantastic and competitive dining destination for non-residents as well as hotel guests.
There is only so much anticipation that a man of my stature can take and, just at the right time, our starters arrive at our table, served by a waitress who is just as bubbly as the non-alcoholic beer that she arrives with.
Wide-eyed, I survey the delicious starter that awaits me – Salcombe Crab Croquettes with Saffron Aioli and Crisp Frisée. Every bite brings with it a nostalgic memory of eating potato croquettes as a young boy growing up near London, mixed with more recent forays into the melt-in-your-mouth seafood offering of Devon.
Agne, on the other hand, opts for a Pear and Shallot Tarte Tatin with grilled Tickelmore Goats Cheese. With the same warmth and hospitality that she greeted me with, she offers me a forkful of her delightful dish. It is every bit as sharp, sweet and tasty as it sounded on the menu.
After a brief interlude, filled with more chat and laughter, the same smile-adorned waitress returns masterfully balancing our two sumptuous looking (and smelling) main courses in her hands. I employ my senses, like investigative journalists, to find out more about my Slow Cooked West Country Pork Belly with Boulangère Potatoes and Braised Red Cabbage and I look over to see Agne doing exactly the same for her Lemon and Thyme Crusted Brixham Pollock with Leek and Mussel Broth and Steamed New Potatoes.
I sit and try to think of a name for that mixture of smell and taste that happens when you eat delicious food. I choose to settle for the time being on the word ‘smelste’ as a placeholder and continue to enjoy the flavour party that is happening in my mouth as the crispy crackling of the pork belly crunches between my teeth and the vinegar-sharpness of the red cabbage complements the deep, rich flavour of the jus drizzled around the dish.
Feeling like my eyes may have been slightly larger than my stomach, I enjoy the respite of the pause between courses and resist the temptation to have a thumb-war with my iPhone to catch up on emails and clear the sometimes suffocating number of social media notifications (no, not because I’m personally popular but because I administrate seventeen social media accounts).
Conversation turns to our children and, despite their quirks and ‘interesting moments’, how precious they are to us. Perhaps infused with the emotion of that conversation, or maybe overcome with the delight that good food and drink brings, a contentment settles over our table like fog on an Autumn’s morning.
This is only compounded when, for the final time, we are visited by our friendly waitress, this time laden with Topsham Plum and Frangipane Tart with Crème Anglaise (for me), and Chocolate and Blackberry Pavlova with Chantilly Cream, Darts Farm Blackberries and Chocolate Sauce for Agne.
I remind myself that, no matter how full I’m feeling, there is always room for a spot of pudding and I savour every velvety, custardy mouthful in the kind of way that you do when you eat somewhere a bit special and don’t quite know when you next will.
After tidying up our desserts and drinks, Agne and I say our goodbyes and I ask to sit a little longer by myself in the restaurant, to allow the pleasure of the last hour to sink in and to drink in every last bit of the moment. The sun continues to warm my skin. I manage to keep resisting the lure of my phone. I feel at peace. I am resplendent.
Suitable for any occasion – business or pleasure – why not make Bistro du Vin your next dining destination in the foodie wonderland of Exeter. Visit www.hotelduvin.com to book your table or find out more.
All content by Joff Alexander-Frye