I was recently invited to dine at Clerkenwell's relatively new Bistro du Vin courtesy of the lovely people at The Cullinary Guide. This is one of the newest members of the popular Hotel du Vin family so I was keen to see how it matched up and what it had to offer.
I took the boy again and as it was just over a week since we'd been to Les Deux Salons, I was slightly worried he wouldn't be keen on more French fare. I need not have worried though he'll try anything and luckilly he had a very enjoyable meal.
Like Les Deux Salons this place had the buzzing atmosphere that I think is essential to any French bistro-style venue in London. What I thought gave Bistro du Vin the edge was the fact it's slightly more compact therefore created a very intimate setting. Overhearing the chatter from the neighbouring tables does, for me, put me in mind of a French restaurant. It was very busy with a mixed bag of diners and there was just a genuinely good vibe about the place. Also the decor is very chic and stylish, I was suitably impressed.
The menu has a good selection, but not an overbearingly long list and it didn't take me long to opt for a fishy feast. I chose the potted crab to start and it was sublime. Simple but perfect. A delicious round of white, dressed crab meat topped with an amost paste-like brown crab meat and served with delicious, crispy, lightly grilled sourdough slices which tasted as though they had been rubbed all over with garlic, salt and pepper - it was lovely. A little large for one person perhaps, but this turned out to be a blessing.
The boy chose the lamb sweetbreads - like the snails the week before, this offal dish is something he'd never tried before. They were fantastic, well seasoned, cooked to tender perfection, full of delicious flavour in a sticky berry jus and topped with a little coriander. Once again this was a large portion for an entree, however for the boy with his larger appetite, this was not a problem.
For his main the boy went for a sirloin of steak cooked medium rare and I have to say it was truly cooked beautifully. Flavoured with a subtle hint of garlic and with an almost crust of salt on the outside it was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous. He had some chips on the side, which were good, and which I naturally stole a few of.
My main course was, unfortunately, a bit of a let-down to an otherwise excellent meal. I'd ordered the Sole Veronique, which promised to be sole cooked in a creamy white wine sauce with mushrooms, clams and mussels. The sole was cooked well and did have a lovely fresh flavour, taking in all of the contributing flavours from the sauce and the shellfish and the sprigs of parsley that were plentiful. So far, so good. I'd ordered some new potatoes and a mixed leaf salad which were also good, the salad was dressed in a nice, simple oil.
The disappointment came when I first tried a clam. I'd had probably the best clams I've ever tasted a couple of weeks earlier at Fino, but these would probably have still been as good, as the flavours seemed fine, however as I took a bite, my mouth was filled with gritty bits of sand. Not good. I would have been willing to put this down as a bad one that had slipped through the net, but I tried another and once again my teeth came down on sand, very, very unpleasant. The realisation that these hadn't been cleaned properly didn't fill me with joy.
I tried to persevere as the sole really was very good, and after a few enjoyable mouthfuls I plucked up the courage to try one of the mussels. These were the same as the clams and unfortunately it was the final nail in the coffin for this dish for me. I was beyond put-off. Clearly you don't ever want to take a chance with shellfish anyway and I was suprised that a restaurant of this standing could fail in such a basic way.
At least I had room for pudding (every cloud and all that). To be frank the dessert I chose was alone worth visiting the restaurant for. It was gorgeous - a valrhona chocolate tart with honeycomb and a vanilla chantilly cream. The pastry was the best I've ever tasted in England by a mile sweet, light and delicate with a filling to die for. The chocolate was creamy, rich and almost velvetty - it literally had me making 'mmm' sounds out loud about three times. The cream and delicious, crunchy honeycomb were the perfect partners for this chocolate perfection.
The boy had a strawberry and cream affair which was nice, but not a patch on mine.
Aside from the main course of mine, we enjoyed a great meal and I can see Bistro du Vin's Clerkenwell joint going from strength to strength. They were bursting at the seams and as I mentioned they really had a great atmosphere.
The presentation wasn't amazing. It was good and all looked appetising, but as they say on their website they're not trying to be pretentious, merely provide wholesome, hearty food and I think they have achieved this well - with a few adjustments in the kitchen (especially where cleaning out clams and mussels are concerned) I think this will become a front-runner on the London restaurant scene.
What I think makes this superior from other bistro-style restaurants I've visited in London is the centre-point open plan kitchen with bar-style seating. Diners are able to take their dinner at the bar and enjoy the theatre of watching their dinner being cooked - wonderful.
Service on the whole was good throughout - the head waiter in particular took his time to welcome us. Also the wine waiter was very attentive and good at explaining what would make a good pairing to various parts of the meal, which I found impressive. Towards the end of the meal we did find we had to fight for attention a little bit and certainly we waited a while for our empty dessert plates to be taken away. But to be fair to the staff it was very busy in the restaurant at this time - I'd put this down as a teething problem.
Bistro du Vin's Soho sister is due to open shortly and I for one will definitely be booking a table to see how this matches up - although I may give shellfish dishes a miss!
For more information or to book a table please visit the website at: