Taking your taste buds into new, exciting, surprising places where your expectations are met and hopefully surpassed is essential when dining out.
Menu choices should be exciting, teasing and desirable – making a choice from a list of ‘must haves’ should be a fun challenge. So it was at Hotel du Vin, the popular hotel and bistro in the centre of Tunbridge Wells. With the arrival of a new summer-inspired menu out of-town guests and town-residents are being tempted with a choice of traditional favourites with a modern twist based on French and British menu, with dishes such as Chicken Liver Parfait with a hazelnut muffin and a spoonful of tomato chutney (£7.95) for starters. For a main course choice, a Rack of Yorkshire Dales Lamb with a pea, bean and goat’s curd salad (£26.95) is just a taste of what’s on offer.
With a sweeping drive fronted by ‘In & Out’ pillars, the hotel offers visitors a sense of tradition, calm and grace that continues through the rather grand entrance and past a façade softened with creeping plants through the lobby and into the dining area known as the Bistro.
A large plaque reveals Queen Victoria was a regular visitor more than 100 years ago. Today’s entrance hall maintains a sense of royalty about it with large rooms leading off the spacious lobby, high ceilings and full-bodied chandeliers. Friendly staff, comfortable looking sofas and elegant furniture combine to exude a contemporary welcome and calm.
One of the town’s architectural treasures, the Grade ll-listed mansion welcomes guests and diners with elegant ease. Meals are served in the Bistro where light is softly diffused through large, almost floor to ceiling windows and onto varnished wood floor and panelling.
Diners can enjoy delightful views over the patio and gardens which themselves hold secrets waiting to be discovered – a small vineyard and Pétanque court for starters!
Tables are set without tablecloths, with starched napkins and heavy cutlery adding to the sense of occasion. The rooms have recently been tastefully refurbished with a vintage feel – think huge mottled mirrors, intriguing prints of iconic Tunbridge Wells’ architecture and a gloriously sparkly chandelier. Modern art on the wall adds to the ambience of traditional with a modern twist.
The new menu is well structured with a choice of eight starters, seven mains, three salads and seven dishes ‘From the Grill’. Described as classic French with a modern British twist, the Gallic flair for taste, tradition and detail flows through the carefully selected British ingredients and across the à la carte and Fixed Price menus.
A choice of five aperitifs were whittled down to two for my dining partner and myself; a Sloe Gin Spritz flavoured with orange bitters and Lillet Blanc vermouth, were topped up with house champagne; a refreshing entrée for courses to come.
The hotel is part of a boutique chain of 17 with menus common across the group, although head chefs are given some leeway in choosing artisan, often locally based suppliers.
Starters of Soft Boiled Goosnargh Duck Egg, Asparagus Soldiers with a Brown crab mayonnaise (£8.50) and Salt-Baked Beetroot Whipped Goat’s Cheese with a Sumac and Greek Yoghurt dressing, did sound tempting but lost out to our choices of Roasted Tiger Prawns served with a Pastis and Chilli Butter (£7.50) and my choice of beautifully balanced Cobble Lane Cured Meats, Pickled Carrots and Crackers (£9.50). Produced in London by an artisan-inspired group of friends their bresola, sliced coppa and salami and charcuterie is among the very best created in the UK, elegantly fusing European techniques with British-reared meat.
Aromatic and crisp, the Tiger prawns were lip-smackingly tasty, with just the merest hint of aniseed.
Matching food and wine is a tricky business. Although popular with food and drink writers, for many diners choosing wine creates awkward moments when flicking your eyes up and down an extensive wine list. Here, our sommelier stepped in and discussed our culinary preferences before recommending an aromatic German Gewürztraminer which perfectly complemented my main course of Roast Normandy Poussin with Black Pudding Hash topped off with a fried hen’s egg (£17.50
Continuing the European-influence through to our main courses, my dining companion could not be tempted by the waiter’s obvious favourite, the Butttered Poached Cod with Lyonnaise Potatoes, served with a smoked salmon and hispi cabbage sauce (£16.95) opting instead for Sea Bass with Panzanella salad and a Nasturtium Pesto (£16.95).
My Poussin, ordered with an additional side plate of sautéed spinach, had the delicious herby, caramelised skin reminiscent of Michelin-recommended restaurants across France. The dishes we enjoyed are classics for a reason and the busy chef’s brigade at the Hotel du Vin obviously take pride in their work, developing great flavours and textures and creating delicious, classic dishes with a contemporary twist.
Desserts were tempting and the Lemon Meringue Cheesecake (£6.50) served with little cubes of delightfully flavoured elderflower jelly and edible flowers was creamy and moorish, the flavours and textures balancing out into a plate that defines summer puddings. It was natural that I would dip my dessert spoon into my dining companion’s Chocolate Bombe, described as melting dark chocolate bomb with white chocolate ice cream and hot salted caramel. The warm/cold chocolate combination matched with the flavour of the decade – salted caramel – was a fine plate to finish the meal, comforting, gorgeously flavoured and full of surprising textures.
Service was professional and courteous, with glasses topped up unobtrusively and our sommelier well informed and proud of the hotel’s extensive cellar.
The hotel has over 30 well-appointed bedrooms and three elegant, versatile meeting rooms. The Havana room, once the home of a snooker table, now offers a spacious well-lit meeting space for up to 45 people.
A small private bar named Havana once held a cigar humidor and a display cabinet now holds fascinating items of smoking history including a rare torpedo cigar and ‘Heath-Robinson’ style lighter, taking one back to a lost world of smoking jackets hushed voices and large glasses of brandy. Today’s smokers have an atmospheric, heated bothy in which to gather, just outside near the patio.
There’s a sense that all who pass through the doors of the Tunbridge Wells’ Hotel du Vin are made to feel welcome. The new summer bistro menu is in essence the hotel, an effortless combination of old and new tastes and textures that effortlessly combine tradition with modern classic design and tastes.
This Hotel du Vin offers a delightful mix of old world charm, effective modern meeting spaces and a tempting Bistro menu of British and French favourites with delicious modern flavours and textures. Centrally located in a busy town the hotel offers a warm welcome to visitors and locals looking for a fabulous meal with family and friends.
(Written with co-operation of Hotel Du Vin, Tunbridge Wells and Visit Tunbridge Wells. Images © Hotel du Vin)
Click Hotel du Vin, Tunbridge Wells for more information.