VIN EXTRAORDINAIRE - Hotel du Vin and Bistro, Tunbridge Wells

If you fancy a break from Christmas cooking and a cosy night out rather than in, head for the Bistro du Vin in the heart of Tunbridge Wells for some hearty winter classics...

If you fancy a break from Christmas cooking and a cosy night out rather than in, head for the Bistro du Vin in the heart of Tunbridge Wells for some hearty winter classics.

When winter sets in, and pubs and restaurants tuck away their suntrap terraces, patios and gardens until the spring, the instinct when you’re venturing out into the cold for a bite to eat is to choose a venue that’s warm, snug and inviting. Well, they don’t come much cosier than the Hotel du Vin in the heart of Tunbridge Wells, a smartly converted, town-centre Grade II listed 18th-century sandstone mansion that’s full of dark and inviting corners, original features and deep sofas that just invite you to linger. If you can drag yourself away from bar areas that are more like elegant drawing rooms, the bistro is exactly how you want it to be – full of old-English grandeur, with its swags of hops around tall French windows, wooden floorboards, walls crammed with different pictures that all seem to have a wine focus, quirky wall lights and a grand fireplace with an ornate frieze. It seats up to 120, but feels a good deal more intimate than that suggests.We were welcomed by new manager Clement Sargeni, who is half French and half Italian, so feeling already right at home in this cosmopolitan  spa town, and My Gorgeous Daughter and I settled in for an evening we were clearly going to enjoy, surrounded by other equally chirpy looking couples, families and groups. Head chef Paul Nixon serves simple classics that change seasonally, adds a few daily surprises, and always uses the finest and freshest local produce – fish from Chapmans of Sevenoaks, meat and game from Redland farm near Tunbridge Wells, with a Sussex bronze turkey on his Christmas menu.His clean, concise menu offers six starters and six mains, plus a choice of nine classic dishes such as devilled kidneys and chicken and leek pie – and a really rather good choice of vegetarian dishes. Sides come separate at �2.95 each, and we shared a generous selection of seasonal vegetables.To start, MGD plumped for the roast pumpkin and parmesan soup, loving the presentation in a deep white china bowl but finding the thick soup a little light in flavour for her taste – but “a great winter warmer.”My ballotine of salmon with lemon and dill cr�me fra�che was positively bursting with flavour – intense yet delicate at the same time, and again a fine presentation on an oval white plate with rocket adding a splash of green. A glass of crisp New Zealand Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc made a great accompaniment.For her main course, MGD’s poached lemon sole with seared scallops and herb velout� was perhaps a rather summery choice for a chilly evening, but creamy and delicious in a restrained sort of way. Not so my trio of pork with apple jus, for me the star of the show and not surprisingly one of the head chef’s favourites, too. Robust and earthy, and very, very cleverly done, you get everything from a black pudding tortellini to tender slices of roast loin and simply mouthwatering crackling. A full-bodied Pinot Noir from Chile had the necessary backbone to cope with the intensity of this perfect winter dish.Puddings are a real treat here and MGD struck gold with her vanilla cr�me br�l�e – “one of the best I’ve ever tasted,” she declared. “And the biggest.” Even between us we couldn’t finish it off, but I did manage to demolish all my pistachio and chocolate torte with raspberry coulis, a stunning combination of contrasting tastes with eye appeal.Staff are sweet and attentive, very smart in their full-length black aprons, and chef Paul is passionate about what he and his team are achieving in the kitchen. He tells me that his ‘Land, Sea and Local’ promotion is coming back after Christmas, with everything on the menu sourced from 20 miles away. But in the meantime, if you fancy a break from the kitchen in the run-up to Christmas, then Bistro du Vin makes a great refuge.

 

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