MUM and I are mulling over where to take my sister for a celebratory birthday dinner.
Hotel Du Vin Bistro
11 Bristo Place, Edinburgh EH1 1EZ
(0844 736 4255, www.hotelduvin.com)
Main courses £13.95-£29.50
Cheese trolley £6.95-£8.95
The place has to have atmosphere, the food has to be good – knowing my sister, a decent steak may well be required – something a little bit special, but not in the I-might-need-a-second-mortgage bracket. Mother and I are running out of ideas, so why not ask Birthday Girl herself?
“Hotel du Vin,” she says, without a moment’s hesitation – sorted.
Situated in what was once an 18th-century asylum, between Edinburgh’s student heartland and the Old Town, Hotel du Vin opened in the capital in 2008, part of the popular luxury boutique hotel chain. In summer you can eat al fresco in the courtyard, but about now there is nothing more welcoming than the flicker of candle-effect oil burners dancing against warm dark wood lighting up the traditional French prints lining the walls. It is so atmospheric, I fear I may have to reach for an oil burner to fully read all the menu has to offer.
Despite there being a remarkably large wine list with recommendations we want to see how the house wine measures up and order a bottle of Chardonnay, Hotel du Vin Selection, Vanel from France’s Languedoc region, which is well priced at £19.50. It suits all of us, and stands up well to a mixed bag of starters and mains.
Birthday Girl starts with salad frisée aux lardons with pancetta and what she claims is one of the best poached eggs she has ever tasted. Mother is taking a traditional route with her old favourite prawn cocktail, which has, she says, the perfect prawn-sauce-brown bread ratio. I opt for steak tartare, which proves to be a wonderfully silky smooth mix of chopped beef, capers, gherkins and shallots, all beautifully seasoned.
The mains are split into three sections; Plats Principaux, Comfort and Grillades. I opt for the roast cod and lentils du Puy, from Plats. The cod is beautifully cooked, meaty and flaking effortlessly, while the braised lentils are wonderfully moist, their rich, slightly nutty flavour the perfect complement.
Mum turns to the Comfort section for her haddock and chips, which may sound a little mundane but in fact turns out to be a whopper of a battered fillet, again perfectly cooked, and prettily presented on crisp brown paper accompanied by a metal cone of crisp-on-the-outside, melt-on-the-inside pommes frites, as well as the mushiest (and tastiest) of mushy peas.
Birthday Girl, meanwhile, eyes the Grillades section knowingly and plumps for fillet steak, which comes with pommes frites and a choice of sauce. She opts for peppercorn, which has just the right kick to tease every last mouthful of pleasure from her perfectly cooked steak. We share sides of spinach au gratin and buttered heritage potatoes (which work surprisingly well with the cod and lentils), both generous portions and quite delicious.
Service throughout is friendly, if occasionally a little haphazard, but that could simply be down to the fact that we were there on a busy Saturday night.
The restaurant by now has quietened down considerably, but there is still time to squeeze in dessert. Mother goes for crème brûlée – my go-to dessert when I worked in France – and this one measures up well; a wonderfully crisp top giving way with a pleasing crackle to the dreamy, creamy interior. Birthday Girl polishes off a wonderfully light mousse au chocolat in record time, while I devour a deliciously cheek-sucky tarte au citron teamed with the coldest raspberry sorbet I have ever encountered. And despite a glass of champagne being recommended as a suitable partner, I opt for a glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes Els Pyrenees, a quite divine dessert wine.
Our birthday chariot awaits, but with a bill of around £150 for three including wine and service, with £112 of that on food, our night out feels a good deal more special than the tally suggests. n