French food, to me at least, is inherently comforting. I often find myself craving unctuous and hearty cassoulets, gooey aligot and leek gougère, a dish I made for Sunday Roast every week as a kid until my mother told me no one else liked it. In Bristol, we have a few hearty French restaurants, the gorgeous Bar Buvette (who embarrassingly I’ve only had a cheese toastie in ) who predominantly concentrate on small plates and The Glassboat. Also the chains, Cote Brasserie and, of course, Hotel Du Vin.
I have eaten here before and thoroughly enjoyed it so was very pleased to be invited to try the new menu launch. Hotel Du Vin has decided to go back to what they’re known for and what they’re good at in their restaurants, proper French cooking in a bistro-style setting. The Bristol branch of Hotel Du Vin is lovely. Lots of dark stained wood and candlelight and vintage french pictures, labels and curios on the walls. The wait staff are impeccably dressed but allowed a sense of their own style, It’s nice to see a bit of personality and really sells the relaxed dining experience you’re looking for (no one likes to feel like an imposter when they’re eating!). The chap looking after us, whose name has escaped me, was especially lovely and deserves a pay rise.
To start we were offered a cocktail each, I requested “something not too sweet” and my friend “something with gin in it”. We were presented with a French 75 and a Bramble and were very happy with the choices. We were also started off with warm bread, butter and oil and left to decide what to eat. The menu is scattered with traditional French offerings such as Escargot a la Bourguignonne (Snails in garlic and parsley butter), French onion soup and steak tartare. I opted for the tartare and my friend the Wye valley salmon with chopped boiled egg, cornichons and onion. We also opted to have our courses matched by the lovely in-house Sommelier Pablo who did a grand job despite the menu only being live since the day before.
The tartare I opted to be served spicy and they delivered. Tender and succulent chopped steak, capers, gherkins and shallots were served with a deeply orange yolk and flakes of crunchy sea salt running throughout, providing surprise nuggets amongst the sweet and sour pickle and capers. My friends salmon was light and fresh and the texture of the chopped garnish was perfect to cut through the richness of the salmon. We finished our plates with many an eye roll, muffled grunts of happiness and smacking of lips. What a pair of uncultured swines.
For main I opted for the cassoulet, a rich thick stew of white beans, confit duck, Toulouse sausage and pancetta. I reserved some of the bread from the beginning of the meal for mopping and supped my deep red glass of Rioja whilst I waited for it to cool. In hindsight I perhaps should have put the Rioja down as whilst battling with my phone I exclaimed: “wait, I have to agitate my beans!” perhaps a little too loudly for 7:30pm on a Thursday. It was a generous portion deep with flavour made glossy by the rich, rendered fat running through it from the various meats. A lot of it ended up on my dress after a somersaulting fork incident but the less said about that the better. My partner ordered the Steak haché, a french style chopped steak formed into a patty and served with fries and a peppercorn sauce. It was dusted with a strong seasoning (very salty) but otherwise, she thoroughly enjoyed it, especially with Pablo’s Malbec pairing.
Willing to exploit our greediness we, of course, were happy to try and thumb in a pudding. I enthusiastically ordered the apple tarte tatin, something I’d not eaten since the last time I tried to make one to impress someone and nearly chopped my finger off. My friend decided on a tarte au citron with a raspberry sorbet. My tarte tatin was slightly on the burnt side where the caramel had caught but the dollop of cream and icing sugar took the edge off that. The lemon tart was a generous wedge, with tangy lemon, crumbly pastry and the punchy sorbet was jaw tinglingly good. We paired our own desserts, as I am not keen on sweet booze I went for a massive G&T (paper straws were a plus!) and my now utterly stuffed mate had a sweet sherry wine with hers.
All in all, bar a few little niggles the meal was absolutely delicious. The atmosphere was wonderful, the staff were attentive and knowledgeable of the menu despite it being new and we both left warm, fuzzy and comforted. I will absolutely be back the next time I have a hankering for cassoulet!
*Please note the meal was provided free of charge but the review was not shown to Hotel Du Vin before publishing*
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