It would be easy to turn your nose up at the brand new Bistro du Vin which opened last week in Clerkenwell. After all, it is the latest offering from the wildly successful Hotel du Vin group and before the doors were even opened at the Clerkenwell site, a dozen Bistro du Vin’s were already being planned. (The next one will be in Soho, opposite Dean Street Townhouse). Perhaps this could be seen as over confidence on the part of the owners, if it was not already apparent that they have a great concept which people love.
Goats cheese soufflé
I am generally not a fan of chains and so was a little ambivalent about being invited along with Food for Think and Rocket and Squash to try out Bistro du Vin. I was also a little sad that the restaurant was one the site of the now defunct but excellent Eastside Inn. However, after my meal there I was won over. Just like the hotels, the philosophy behind Bistro du Vin is one of accessible luxury. Bistro du Vin has some of the features you expect to find in a Michelin star restaurant like a special meat aging room, a famed Josper Grill burning away in the kitchen and a cheese trolley to rival that of Chez Bruce. However all of this is delivered in a cosy French bistro setting. The walls are a burnished yellow colour which is supposed to mimic nicotine stains without the accompanying smell and wine memorabilia hangs everywhere while an open kitchen in the centre adds the food porn element.
The huge sirloin steak
The menu reflects Bistro du Vin’s down to earth approach, featuring mainly simple, crowd pleasing food drawn from British and seasonal produce where ever possible. Chef Keith Shearer described his approach to me as “Creating bistro classics as simply as possible.” Prices are non-gasping and there is even a very French “Plat du Jour” option which is priced around £12.50 and features roast lamb on a Sunday or a Boullibaise on Tuesdays. Details of all the producers are listed on the back of the menu making it much easier reading.
To start, Bistro du Vin’s signature cocktail, a sweet marmalade vodka martini (£10) and a fluffy, rich goat’s cheese soufflé (£6.75). English asparagus with a sauce ravigote (£7.95) were tender yet crisp thanks to being perfectly in season and impeccably sourced.
I couldn’t resist trying out the Josper grill so ordered the bone in sirloin (£30). Only a handful of restaurants in the UK have a Josper grill, the Spanish charcoal oven which gets incredibly hot (up to 900 degrees) and gives a rich, smoky char to any meat cooked in it. The Belton Galloway sirloin arrived looking a little like a Tyrannosaurus Rex steak, it was so huge along with a gleaming copper saucepan of Béarnaise sauce. I loved the flavour of the smoky meat but unfortunately my steak was more medium than the medium-rare requested. Not the end of the world and this could easily have been just a bit of a teething problem in the opening week.
Dessert of rice pudding was a little on the dull side despite the disc of caramel that topped it and the accompanying rhubarb purée. A better option was the profiteroles which came filled with ice-cream rather than cream and drizzled in hot chocolate sauce. Spectacularly good! However it would be crazy to go past the cheese trolley which is sourced from La Cave Fromagerie and is truly incredible. I had cheese dreams for the whole next night.
Like Hotel du Vin, there is a big focus on wine at Bistro du Vin. A “By-the-Glass” dispensing system allows wines to be sampled by the glass from what is almost a giant wine vending machine. If this sounds all too new age there is also a traditional wine list that draws from France as well as more unusual locations such as Lebanon and different varieties such as Godello. I particularly enjoyed the Hochar from Chateau Musar in Lebanon which featured a heady mix of red and black fruits creating a light, sprightly wine.
This was the cheese “table” on the opening night of Bistro du Vin, which has now been condensed into a just as impressive cheese trolley
Bistro du Vin is going to be rolled out in London and will inevitably lose some of its individual character in the process, but for now the Clerkenwell restaurant is lively and welcoming. It is the sort of place you would love to have as your neighbourhood restaurant, and thanks to the expansion plans, that wish may just come true.
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Bistro du Vin
Details: Bistro du Vin, 38-42 St John Street, Clerkenwell EC1M 4DL (Ph 020 7490 9230) Tube: Farringdon
Damage: Pricey but I did not pay on this occasion.