APART from my pale, spindly legs, I don’t have that much in common with the native woodlouse. Except for the fact that sunshine makes me want to press myself under a cool rock. Especially when I’m eating.
Who wants to munch al fresco, when the sight of your food is blotted out by the reflected glare of the plate, and there are zephyrs and insects around to tamper with your enjoyment? Not me, which is why, on a hot day, I scuttled into Hotel du Vin.
Yes, you can dine in this place’s suntrap of a courtyard, but the dining room might be the coolest and shadiest in town, if that is your inclination.Obviously not. We were the only mole-like guests in this space, with its blinds closed and lights dim, on a Saturday afternoon.
They’ve just launched summer à la carte and lunch menus (the latter includes a single course for £9.95, two courses for £12.95 and three for £14.95) and have a new head chef, Graham Lindsay, at the helm.
All the food options have been stripped back to crowd-pleasing and simple dishes, with this hotel chain’s signature Gallic bistro theme.
From the comparatively expensive all-day à la carte list, we went for dressed crab with walnut toast (£8.95) and a special, the Isle of Mull cheddar soufflé (£7.50). The latter was like a Borrowers-sized Ibiza foam party, with a white and frothy pine cone shaped mass topped by an undulating crusty surface. On the side – a mini copper pan of gloopy cheese sauce. Not bad, but it wasn’t intensely flavoured enough for me. More cheeses pleases.
The crustacean option was nicer, with a tian of clean-tasting and creamy crab meat, which was topped by a thick, terracotta-coloured roof of satay-like peanut sauce. It came with a couple of (virtually nut-free) crisp and raisin-clad slices of decent “walnut toast”, and a fat wedge of lemon.
When it came to main courses, I was relieved that I’d ordered a cheeky side dish of pomme frites (£3.50), as the roast cod (£14.95) dish was rather neat and carb-free. Surprising, given the price. Still, it was good and summery, with four chargrilled struts of leek, topped by a hunk of flaky cod and a blob of a cucumbery take on salsa verde.
My accomplice’s rack of lamb (£19.50) was a cracker. Her plate featured a half-rack of ribs, with a burnished exterior and a petal-coloured interior. The sidekicks: half a grilled tomato, a tangled handful of watercress and a small cocotte of thick mint sauce. It also came with – bonus – a separate dish of speckled new potatoes. So, with hindsight, I wonder why she felt the need to pick at my salty and crispy chips (the darkness in this place makes it easy to commit interplate tampering; next time I will be more vigilant).
Puds were a highlight. A golden baba au rhum (£7.50) looked like some kind of Jan Svankmajer-type creature, with an amorphously spongy body which was saturated with rum and scattered with plump, rum-soaked raisins. I devoured it before it could roll off the plate and scurry back into the kitchen.
In fact, I was so speedy, it was only after the last bite that I noticed this dessert’s accompaniment – Chantilly cream, served on a separate dish. I ate it neat.
The chocolate pavé (£8.50) consisted of a layer of rectangular chocolate sponge, topped with dark, glossy and sticky ganache, then another thin plank of sponge, and so on and so forth, with the upper stratum topped by pieces of butterscotchy candied pistachio.
Most of the other stuff had been good too. A few dishes are a quid or two more expensive than is appropriate, but, that’s a characteristic of hotel restaurants.
Sun worshippers may want to sit in the courtyard, but you’ll find me in Hotel du Vin’s dining room.
Hotel du Vin
11 Bristo Place, Edinburgh (0131-247 4900)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £70.40
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east