Monday, 9 March 2009

Hotel du Vin & Bistro

A: Crescent Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 2LY
M: Google Map
F: (01892) 512044
T: (01892) 526455

Which? Good Food Guide
The Tunbridge Wells outpost of this successful bistro, wine bar and hotel chain, which extends in a graceful arc from Brighton to Glasgow, is a rather grand sandstone Georgian mansion. It runs to the same level of brisk effectiveness as the other branches, and the menu offers the group style of modern brasserie cooking, rendered by Paul Nixon with some flair.

A salad of black pudding and bacon with a boiled egg makes a nice late breakfast at any time of day, or you might opt for Thai fishcakes with chilli butter. A list of simple classics such as fish pie or chargrilled rib-eye steak with garlic butter and chips buttresses the more elaborate main-course offerings, such as pan-roasted grey mullet with caramelised swede purée and pancetta. Vegetarians might choose artichoke and pesto gnocchi, while the naughty-but-nice dessert approach makes comprehensive use of chocolate and toffee.

Wines are as extensive and alluring as they are throughout the chain. The average price might feel high, but there is actually plenty below £25. House French at £14.50 kicks things off, but there is so much else to explore that it would seem unadventurous to stick there.
AA Restaurant
This imposing 18th-century building has been transformed into a contemporary boutique hotel by the hugely respected Hotel du Vin chain, with stylish, comfortable accommodation and a tastefully designed bar and bistro. The latter draws discerning diners with its inspired contemporary menu, which successfully balances modern dishes with simple classics.

Using the very best, carefully selected local produce, you might begin with potted shrimps with balsamic croûton or salmon and haddock fishcake with chilli butter, and then move on to pot-roasted guinea fowl with herb mash, or confit pork belly with cabbage fondue and caramelised apple jus. Desserts take in a classic apple tarte Tatin with clotted cream and a more ambitious thyme mousse with roasted plums. Excellent wine list.
AA Hotel
This impressive Grade II listed building dates from 1762, and as a princess, Queen Victoria often stayed here. The spacious bedrooms are available in a range of sizes, beautifully and individually appointed, and equipped with a host of thoughtful extras. Public rooms include a bistro-style restaurant, two elegant lounges and a small bar.
Information Britain
The Hotel du Vin is a perfect base for exploring this historic spa town and the surrounding West Kent and Sussex countryside, for holding a small meeting or function, or just dropping in for lunch or dinner. Quality food cooked simply with the freshest local ingredients at sensible prices - that is the Bistro's philosophy.

In the summer, lunch on the terrace overlooking Calverley is a special treat. And wine is, of course, an important element of the hotel with each bedroom being sponsored by a celebrated wine house. The wine list offers carefully selected bottles at good value for money. Private tasting sessions can be organised with prior notice, and wine dinners are held at the hotel on a regular basis.

The 36 individually decorated bedrooms feature superb beds made up with Egyptian cotton linen, CD players, trouser presses, mini-bars and satellite television. The bathrooms, meanwhile, boast power showers, oversized baths, robes and fluffy towels. Above all, at Hotel du Vin, you are assured of a warm welcome.
Gourmet Britain
Situated in a splendid Grade II listed building, dating back to the mid 18th century, which more than once housed Queen Victoria. The dining room's decorated with wine pictures and hung with dried hops, giving a romantic atmosphere. Here, chef Matt Green-Armytage offers the likes of Seared Pigeon Breast with roasted Pine Kernels, Deep-fried Goats' Cheese in a Macadamia Crust and Seared Scallops with roasted Celeriac Purée and Gremolata among the starters. Perhaps Pan-fried Turbot with Cauliflower and Chorizo Risotto, Confit of Duck Leg with Pak Choi and Red Wine Jus, and Rump of Lamb with Ratatouille and Olive Mash among the mains. Perhaps finish with Gooseberry Fool with Lime Sorbet, Honey-roasted Figs with Goats' Cheese Ice Cream or Farmhouse Cheese, in peak condition.
The imposing building, ‘creaky & atmospheric rooms’, including a restaurant that’s ‘wonderfully decorated’ with modern British food & ‘fantastic’ wine list, make this Tunbridge Wells’s most stylish hotel. As with others in this upscale group, the kitchen follows a common approach – the Mediterranean spiced with a bit of salsa with paupiette of salmon, avocado salsa and gazpacho sauce, roast rump of lamb, wilted spinach and tapenade jus, going down a treat with the Hermès-scarf brigade.
Mobile Food Guide
Like many of the sites chosen by the Hotel du Vin group, the Tunbridge Wells outlet occupies a landmark building - in this case an eighteenth-century, Grade II-listed sandstone mansion that once played host to the young Queen Victoria. These days, an air of clubby exclusivity and easy-going luxury pervades the place. The bistro dining room has its own special character with flickering candles on dark wooden tables and walls festooned with apt wine pictures; there are lovely views across Calverley Park from the terrace, and guests can play boules if they wish.

The menu follows a trusted formula, with 'Simple Classics' like Morecambe Bay potted shrimps and char-grilled ribeye steak with béarnaise sauce augmenting a line-up of dishes like seared scallops with roasted celeriac purée and gremolata, confit of duck with pack choi and red wine jus, and lemon mousse layered with blueberry compote. The wine list is a real corker - as you might expect from the Hotel du Vin group - and sommeliers are always on hand to guide you through the fascinating assortment of top-class bottles from around the globe.
The Telegraph (12-Feb-2000)
Readers, my sense of adventure is wilting. I am fed up with hotels that serve rancid dinners, have strange plumbing arrangements and in whose bathrooms lurk bars of soap with pubic hairs attached. Where better to find good food, exemplary plumbing and, hopefully, a touch of glamour, I ask myself, than in a Georgian sandstone building in Tunbridge Wells - or Royal Tunbridge Wells as it's become behind my back?

Oh, the excitement on finding the Hotel du Vin & Bistro and slithering our car into the last space in its car park out front. Oh, the pleasure of walking through its magnificent porticoed porch into a handsome hall with soaring ceiling, rugs on its dark wood floor and a love-seat. And oh, what consternation, on giving our name to the chap at reception, to see a certain confusion dawn. "But you've already checked in!" "No, just arrived." "But you've gone up to your room!" "No. We're right here." The visitors book is brought. There it is, in black and white. Our name - but different writing, different London address. "Please wait a moment . . . "

It's sorted in a trice. We and our bags are taken via an old-fashioned lift to what's almost certainly a better room than the one they first thought of - large, uncluttered and modern, with sand-coloured linen curtains, dark-green-painted furniture and chunky old-fashioned radiators . . . oh, and a couple of armchairs complete with standard lamp to read by. Very stylish, except for those framed posters of Swiss mountain scenes that transport one straight back to the Seventies. Click. Being the Hotel du Vin, the rooms are sponsored by wine-makers and as ours is called Swiss Wine Colours . . . well, we worked it out eventually. In the bathroom (almost as big) sits a claw-leg bath accompanied by piles of towels, bathrobes and their cosseting, own label soap - "aromatherapy relaxing body bar", it's called - which smells wonderful.

Downstairs, in one of the large, dimly lit sitting-rooms, its door open to the comings and goings in the hall, my husband, immersed in a huge armchair, keeps muttering: "This is delightful." And so it is - there's a great atmosphere. A member of staff is on hand at once. What would we like to drink? As always - not quite always - I ask for Campari. "Fresh orange juice?" "Of course." The menu offers "freshest local ingredients cooked simply in modern bistro style". Excellent. I plump for scallop and pepper tart with chive vinaigrette, and sea bass and vegetable langoustine salad with lemon-grass dressing to follow. Emerging from his dream world, my husband opts for monkfish and skate terrine with crispy whitebait - "Can't resist those" - and grilled tuna with braised aubergines.

As this is the Hotel du Vin, they major on wine. They have a sommelier. Dmitri is young, French and dead keen. "Very sorry to keep you waiting," he says (he hasn't) and we're soon deep into the merits of this wine as opposed to that wine. He sure knows his stuff and we get the distinct impression we "could do better" with our choice as, oh-so-charmingly, he tries to steer us from dry white to very dry white.

Our corner table in the bistro is perfect; so, too, is the lighting, a shade above dim. I like the wooden floors, the precisely arranged posters and pictures and the traditional, round polished tables with wrought ironwork beneath. And the food's right up our street. My husband's crispy whitebait are arranged invitingly around the terrine. My scallop tart is wonderfully tasty, the pastry thin and crisp. His tuna gets the thumbs-up. So does the sea bass, with lots of plump, tender langoustines lurking among the vegetables. Two can't-resist extras are sugar snap peas and some beautifully thin chips. Puddings are just as inspired - my husband spends ages sniffing the Calvados fumes rising from his apple feuilleté. "Go on, eat it!" I say.

So . . . Hotel du Vin is every bit as professional and glamorous as I'd hoped. In our room, everything's been thought of: the bed's hugely comfortable; there's a radio and CD player in the wardrobe; fresh coffee and cafetière in a cupboard. "The shower's like a monsoon," reports my husband, while I nearly get lost in that huge bath. For breakfast there are lots of really good croissants and coffee, although my husband comments on the lack of muesli - "Very bistro-ish, I'd have thought" - and wishes he'd been consulted about his cooked breakfast before it arrived in all its glory.

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