I swapped cooking on camping stoves for a swish supper, sampling the summery Al Fresco menu at Bristol’s delightful Hotel Du Vin.
Cocooned in a chilled out courtyard away from the traffic buzz of central Bristol, Du Vin is a pleasure to walk into. The hip hotel, in a restored sugar house, is all glass windows and exposed beams, a cosy yet modern take on luxurious city living, and the restaurant is in a similar vein – an elegant, spacious dining room that echoes of something from a French chateau. This is what Cafe Rouge wishes it made you feel like, as portraits of long-forgotten French debutantes jostle for position with retro prints and art nouveau adverts in an attractive jumble on the walls above the beautifully dressed tables, all softly lit by candelight.
The service at Du Vin is as charming as the decor, and we were immediately swooped down upon by a comfortingly bossy sommelier, keen to tell us exactly which wine we should be tasting. She wasn’t wrong – the carafe of a rich Spanish red she poured out for us was spicy, warm and a perfect companion to the food.
Dinner itself started impeccably – Pete had a lipsmackingly tart caprese salad, a riot of heritage tomatoes doused in balsamic (£7.95), and my homemade gravlax (£7.50) with cucumber and mustard sauce was absolutely perfect. Its flavour took me straight back to Finland, arguably the best country in the world at doing interestingly vinegary things to fish.
Main courses of sirloin steak (£17.95) and poached scottish salmon (£14.50) were both in the same vein as the starters – simple, strong flavours and quality, fresh produce, not hugely groundbreaking in style or taste but comforting and familiar. Both were served in piping hot, generous portions with hefty sides of haricots verts and buttered spinach.
The only letdown to Du Vin were the puddings, which hit me hard as dessert is normally the part of the meal when I start making involuntary happy noises. My banana and chocolate brownie (£6.95) was missing any hint of fruit, and Pete’s tarte au citron (£6.95) tasted rather like a boiled lemon sweet stuck on a hobnob. Luckily we were so full of delightful main courses (and slightly merry on the delicious wine) that by dessert we’d really stopped caring.
Despite my pudding heartbreak, I was charmed by Du Vin. Bristol often feels strangely lacking in cosy, friendly bistros that welcome you in, treat you good and feed you up on honest, local delights. Don’t come for haute cuisine or tiny portions of foamy things, come for a glass of perfectly chosen wine from their cellar, a lazy brunch with friends, or if you’re me, six servings of gravlax. Heaven.
Oh, and Du Vin also get about a million points for the rather gorgeous inhabitant of their courtyard – astro Gromit!