To say that running a competition to win dinner with me was something of a risk is perhaps going too far. After all, my readers are simply charming people, stylish, polite and intelligent – well, almost all. The prize was to come out with me for dinner and as a venue I chose The Bistro at Hotel du Vin. I have been a fan since day one and for some time I acted as an ambassador for the company, a job that was pure joy.
The winner, Tim Pilcher, agreed to meet me at the bar and no surprise, he found it quite easy to pick me out from the crowd. We shook hands and started to chat and immediately realised that we had one thing in common and that was books. I relaxed, the wine helped but mainly because any nerves had disappeared. How people can go on blind dates I do not know, this one only came with the promise of dinner, but if there were anything else on the agenda I would have been terrified.
Hotel du Vin is as charming as ever, the atmosphere is relaxed and there was no pressure for us to take our table, but eventually we stopped chattering and went through.
The Bistro lives up to the idea of simple French food – robust and unpretentious but delivered with style. As ever I gave my guest first stab at the menu and Mr P decided to kick-off with potted crab with egg and caperberry salad which he wolfed down in a manner that spoke approval. I had the duck rillettes with celeriac and apple remoulade which I also love, especially the creamy contrast of the celeriac and the sharp crunch of the remoulade.
For his main course Mr P chose confit duck which glistened on his plate. For me confit duck has to be cooked to the point where the skin becomes crystalline and crunches at the touch of the knife, but inside still moist and falling from the bone. Mr P set to, and there was an audible crunch followed by huge fork fulls of soft meat. I have to say I was pretty envious.
That was until I tucked into my dish which was a special and not on the menu. I love specials and especially when they are ‘special’. Pigs cheeks, or Bath chaps as I know them, are a real treat and these had been handled with a great deal of skill and served in a generous portion. I have in the past been served one solitary Bath chap which, forgive me, is rather cheeky and mean. At Hotel du Vin they were plentiful and truly delicious, soft and packed with flavour.
I mentioned robust earlier and our meal was certainly that, meaty and robust. I doubt that anyone would leave there feeling that a meal was in any way parsimonious, on the contrary, the Bistro’s food errs on the side of massively generous. I left the choice of wine to the sommelier, well he knows a lot more about it than I do and I have always found that when given that instruction they choose something great from their excellent list – maybe a little above entry level but still great value.
Having had such a meaty main course I was feeling rather full and with a little wine left we both decided that cheese rather than dessert was the right way to go. So apologies for reviewing only one final course but that’s just the way things went.
Our waiter returned with two plates of cheese, each bearing five different cheeses, ten cheeses in total. Firstly, full marks then for selection – how many places can offer ten cheeses? Secondly, full marks for condition, all the cheeses were served in their prime. Finally full marks for quantity, none of that silly smear and thumb print nonsense here, proper chunks and slices that you could really get your tongue around. With them we had a very welcome glass of port that put a final flourish to a thoroughly enjoyable evening, Great food and great company so thank you to Mr P and to H du V.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro Brighton,
Ship Street, Brighton, Sussex BN1 1AD