Hotel du Vin, Cheltenham

Does posh always mean scary? Apparently not, for when it comes to the hotel du Vin in Cheltenham, even the lowliest of forelock-tuggers are made to feel welcome.

I know, I know - I've got an obsession with poshness. It's one of many obsessions of mine, which include Scott of the Antarctic (though I favour Titus Oates); Alexander the Great; Oxford; and whether there really is such a thing as free will in a cause-and-effect universe. The usual run-of-the-mill kind of stuff.

The Hotel du Vin in Cheltenham is posh. But in a good way.

"Oh no," said one of my friends, crestfallen. "Don't tell me you're going to be nice about somewhere?"

Apparently, there's a sort of inverse charm to my recommendations - which is troubling. (To reassure her, I regaled her with the story of my recent lunch at the Prince of Wales, near Berkeley. My baked potato was so green, it should have been set in gold and resold as an engagement ring. When I tentatively complained, the waitress came over and we both gave the potato a Paddington-type hard stare. There was no getting away from the fact that it was a startling shade of vermillion. "You'll have to choose something else because that was the last one," she finally pronounced. Which carried a kind of eerie logic.)

For several years, my children went to a Very Posh School, during which entire time I was on pins in case I accidentally said 'toilet' instead of 'loo'. Ian didn't help: he amused himself by pretending to be my chauffeur. It wouldn't have been so bad if everyone hadn't believed him. As a result, I had to:

a) always travel in the back of our Ford Mondeo 1.8L;

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b) call him Jarvis and

c) remind myself not to kiss him goodbye in case my husband found out.

Although my roots can be traced back to around 1215 (GMT: in other words, just before lunch), I'm pretentiously nouveau pauvre.

I worry that this shows when I patronize posh places. But the Hotel du Vin is inclusively so. It incorporates aspects that are deeply posh - most people in there would probably know whether 'scone' should have a long or short 'o' - while not being scary. In fact, it was while having lunch here a few weeks ago that I finally learned how to pronounce 'gnocchi', a food item I'd been woefully unable to order until then.

We swanned in through reception (I think; I'm not 100 percent sure on the technical aspects of 'swanning'), which was busy with guests, and into the bar area, which was full. Actually, this review starts tragically but gets better, because we hung around in the bar area, unsure what to do next. If you don't happen to know the restaurant is down the (impressive) stairs, the layout, frankly, is confusing. Someone to greet us would have been nice...

In the absence of other ideas, we made our way down to the restaurant below. And this is where we began to feel wanted. The service, once we were seated, was posh and attentive, from our dedicated waitress to the wine waiter, who didn't flinch when Ian (as usual) ordered a cheap Shiraz.

The place was incredibly full for a Wednesday night; intriguingly for Ian, each table seemed to be occupied by a man outnumbered by women; or one with an outrageously younger partner. (Except, as he disappointedly pointed out, ours.)

The food was pretty good. The menu - which is about to undergo a seasonal change - has a 'simple classics' subdivision, with dishes such as sole bonne femme and steak tartare. We ordered a beetroot and glazed goat's cheese tart; chicken liver and foie gras parfait, confiture onions and toasted brioche: excellent starters. The blade of beef with Vichy carrots, garlic mash and red wine jus; and a roast rump of Cinderford lamb were exemplary, if pricey, because you do need side orders if you've an appetite. (They might be �2.75, but here's an hotel that calls a chip a chip and knows how to cook them to boot.)

Interesting things to note: If you sit on the leather banquette seats, you appear to leave a lasting impression behind. The lady next to us left a perfect heart shape which was mesmerizing.

Next was the Wuthering Heights aspect of dining here. As we sat eating, forlorn faces would regularly appear the wrong side of the windows outside. "The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, 'Let me inlet me in!' 'Who are you?' I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself."

"Look mate," the pale apparition mouthed. "I just went out for a smoke and now I can't get back in." This happened more than once while we were there. While Heathcliff's problem was admittedly more complex, the Hotel du Vin's could have been solved by a simple notice advising guests that the garden doors don't open from the outside.

We finished with dark chocolate fondant (which we refused because of a 15 minute wait, but it came anyway) and a bowl of home-made ice cream. My advice is - do indulge; they were fab. Out of curiosity, we paid �3 for chocolate truffles and petit fours. My advice is - don't indulge; they were overpriced.

The cost of this experience was �106. Not so much value for money as par for the course. Poshness doesn't come cheap.

Ambience 7

Service 8

Food 8

Value for money 6

Hotel du Vin is in Parabola Road, Cheltenham, 01242 588450,

The hotel is offering a special parents' deal until the end of the year. Book one night bed, breakfast and dinner for �250 and they'll discount Dad's age off the bill.

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