The Hotel du Vin is a mini chain of tasteful hotels, usually found in ‘heritage’ cities — Henley, Cambridge, wretched Tunbridge Wells.
The Hotel du Vin is a mini chain of tasteful hotels, usually found in ‘heritage’ cities — Henley, Cambridge, wretched Tunbridge Wells. They have baths in bedrooms, rush-matting and white linen, and, although the name is French, they feel amazingly class-conscious, and therefore English. I like them, principally because of what they are not — neither unknown and dangerous boutique hotels, nor the dreaded Marriott. I fear the Marriott, because its ancient founder, J.W. Marriott, who looks like a cadaverous gnome, has his own in-house TV channel, on which he does a 24-hour talking head about himself. This makes me think he is capable of anything.
Now the Hotel du Vin has opened a restaurant in Dean Street, deepest Soho, next to the Groucho Club. This is bandit land, where restaurants cut each other’s throats for a potato peeling. They were brave to come here. Du Vin has bistros in its hotels already, but they feel like an afterthought made of steak frites, a mere interlude between checking in and passing out. This restaurant has pale green booths, an open kitchen and a cheese room and wine cellar with glass walls. There is also a library up a staircase, where all the book spines have been painted neon blue or neon pink. If you pull one out it sticks to its neighbour. This reminds me of the time I met a woman who told me, ‘I style books.’
The publicity material, meanwhile, of which there is a lot — ‘I think, therefore I du Vin’ — has a photograph of Piers Morgan lounging on a sofa laughing, and another of him preening into a mirror and possibly fondling his nipple. This is typical of the class confusion of the du Vin group. Piers Morgan? Is he representative of anything beyond himself?
Anyway, there seems to be more of a point to the ‘du Vin’ in a restaurant. A hotel ‘du Vin’ always made me think of poor Clarence, drowning in his butt of Malmsey. They sell wine in toy-sized 50ml glasses, which is great for tiny alcoholics, or the Borrowers. I arrive to find my companion sitting behind a row of them, the tiny wine menu beside her. ‘This one,’ she points to the red, ‘is savage. This one,’ she points to the white, ‘tastes of peas.’
We order a cheese plate and charcuterie, and a cheese soufflé, and demand to visit the cheese room and the cellar. They allow us to touch bottles we will not drink, and inform us we can take any cheese home, like an abandoned baby. The cheese plate comes in three sizes, so if you eat like a Frenchman — wisely — you can have a tasty lunch with wine for £15. If you eat like an Englishman, however, the price will be your weight in coins. The cheeses, whose names the waitress writes down on a card for me, are Brie de Meaux, Lancashire Bomb and Tickermore. They are all powerful and pungent; you could melt a civilisation with them, or make one.
The menu is stylishly normal: nothing scary, scaly or weird. The hamburger — it has mustard, garlic, chervil and Worcestershire sauce, plus cow — is wondrous, but built into such a tower with bacon and tomato and cheese that I cannot fit it in my mouth. It feels like a Norman Foster burger; it would not fit inside the shark in Jaws. My companion’s lamb has a perfect texture but is a notch too bland on the Spectator blandometer. The risotto is slightly sweet and thick, like a pudding, but nice enough, with all the savage wine.
We conclude with a Belgian waffle and white chocolate cheesecake. Both are flavoursome and excellent. Around us, groups of Adland desperadoes drink the cellar and try to forget that they are not in Soho House.