If you like wine, which I do, and enjoy eating animal cooked in a rustic French manner, which I do, then the marketing team at the Hotel du Vin group have come up with a restaurant name that may prove too attractive to resist. ‘Bistro du Vin’ is, ladies and gentlemen, an illustration of both the complex artistry involved in brand conception and the very basic elements required to arouse my interest in a new dining establishment.
Everybody needs good neighbours, apparently, and given the competition in this part of London, Bistro du Vin certainly has them. The area around Smithfield Market is home to Mark Hix’ Oyster & Chop House and John Terode’s Smiths of Smithfield. If you’re in the habit of stone-throwing, St John is but a short one from BdV’s freshly polished threshold. In short, BdV needs to be a seriously good alternative to the well-established locals if it’s to be the first success for the group in London.
It’s heartening to see some decent local Meantime beers on draft at the bar as I’m greeted by restaurant manager Mark Jones. He seems cheerfully high on life and furnishes me with a refrigerated tankard full of Meantime Helles lager, some pistachios and olives. It is an irrefutable fact that I am disproportionately happy when in possession of such items but the bar area is, I believe, a success nonetheless. As much as the next man, I like the low voltage glow of bulb filaments, the clinical look of white metro tiles and hardwood chairs seen in so many new places, but I also like comfortable club chairs, squishy carpets and the odd wallpapered snug. There are elements of the modern and traditional in the bar area at BdV and something timeless and comfortable about the interior as a result.
What’s immediately obvious on entering the dining room is the huge shiny bar around the open kitchen and also just how busy the place is. The blend of noise from kitchen and dining room, combined with nicely judged seat spacing makes for a relaxing, intimate atmosphere.
The starter of tomato and anchovy galette consists of anchovies and a rather huge mound of finely sliced tomatoes atop a thin disc of biscuity pastry. It was pleasant enough but, oddly for an anchovy dish, could have used a touch more salt. It turned out to be a perfectly fine starter, but by the time I was halfway through the giant portion I felt sufficiently familiar with the flavours to cease in my attempt to finish it.
Mark asserted in his intro spiel that steaks from the restaurant’s Josper grill ‘are as good as you’d get at the Hawksmoor or Goodmans”, at which point I wondered if it was actually life on which he was high or drugs only available on prescription. With this comparison in mind, I ordered the recommended Belton Galloway bone-in sirloin and, while trying to shake off my preconceptions, sipped a terrific malbec.
Incidentally, young Manc trainee sommelier Danielle Meenagh off the tele’ delivered our wine. She has proved to be a minor celebrity amongst BdV’s clientele, garnering lots of well-meant but faintly patronising comments about the ‘great girl she is”, maybe because she’s young but almost as though some punters are staggered to find that Mancunians make it so far south and wine has made it so far north. Rest assured that she is dishing out some seriously good grape juice in the restaurant, as this evening demonstrated.
When the steak arrived it was cooked perfectly. It was not, however, a Hawksmoor steak; the meat lacked the same depth of flavour and texture, and did not have the same, almost acrid, carbonised seal on the outside. It was still good, as it should be for £30, but if steak is truly and exclusively what you’re after, then the Hawksmoor is still the undisputed champ.
The service is great and ours concluded with enthusiastic guidance through an impressive cheese selection. Mains not from the grill looked appetising and further visits would, of course, reveal more about the menu as a whole. However, the atmosphere and style of the place is obviously drawing in customers and on this evidence it’s understandable why. There is something very comfortable and relaxing about BdV and the three wines we tried were excellent. The food, while not mind-blowing, is good enough that an evening at Bistro du Vin is certainly worth experiencing.