I am not going to lie, in the past, my experiences of dining at Hotel Du Vin, Exeter have been disappointing. From the waiter asking if a table of three could make do with 2 knives otherwise he would have to go “all the way to the kitchen” to get another to being forgotten about entirely and a lacklustre menu. This time there was nothing of the sort. From the moment I arrived to the moment I left, I felt like I was in more than capable hands with the waiting staff and the food was superb.
Steve and I arrived a little after 7 pm and took advantage of the little pocket of sunshine and headed out to the garden for a pre-dinner drink. Steve opting for a bottled IPA and for me, a glass of Pinot Blanc from Alsace. We basked in the sunshine watching the hotel guests mooch about in their robes and slippers back and forth from the heated pool and spa area. Having used the pool and spa facilities on my last visit I have to say I felt a little more than envious. I had one of THE best massages here a year or so ago.
Anyway, I digress! Back to our evening. Pre-dinner drinks and the evening sunshine coming to an end we headed back inside to the restaurant area. The room itself is spacious with high ceilings and a wall of glass which peels back when the weather allows having a free-flowing feel into the garden.
Hotel Du Vin offers different menu options throughout the daytime and evening and on this occasion, Steve and I were choosing from the four-course tasting menu. A menu of typical French fayre expertly paired with specially selected wines to bring out the flavour of each course. This gave us both the opportunity to try wines that we had heard little about. It’s a perfect way to find your new favourite whilst on your culinary journey.
On first glance, the menu was instantly appealing. Each course presented was made up of two or three choices. This made it easier for one to decide on what to order. Luckily for Steve and I, our palates are quite varied. This meant that between us we managed to sample most of the menu.
The first course was a choice between Severn and Wye Smoked Salmon Classic and a Pear, Walnut and Roquefort Salad. Steve opted for the salmon. Exquisitely presented coral coloured smoked salmon garnished with a grated soft boiled egg, caper, cornichon, red onion and parsley crown. There is something truly magical about the combination of quality smoked salmon alongside egg. The creaminess of the yolk manages to cut through the oiliness of the fish perfectly. Add in the tartness of caper and cornichons and the gentle hum of the red onion and you have a winning dish. This fish was served with a glass of Jean Biecher Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France. In fact, it happened to be the same wine as I had sampled as the sun was setting outside pre-dinner. A light and elegant wine with just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the dish.
I opted for the other starter on the menu. The Roquefort, Pear and Walnut Salad. What can I say about this dish other than I loved the simplicity? I often make a similar salad myself at home and think the combination of the saltiness of the Roquefort alongside the sweetness of the pear and the crunch of the walnuts can’t be bettered when done well. My elegant salad was served with an equally elegant Chateau Ste Michelle Reisling from Washington, USA.
The second course was easier for me to choose from. Being a non-meat eater there was only one dish out of the two I could enjoy and by golly did I enjoy it. The most beautiful mushrooms sautéed in a garlic cream sauce served atop some buttery brioche toast. The richness from the cream sauce worked so well with the light red Pinot Noir from Omero Cellars, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA. For me, this would make a perfect lunch dish in its own right. Definitely a recipe I would very much like to have a go recreating at home.
Steve chose the Chicken Liver Parfait in comparison. This was served with Brioche toast and raisin chutney. The parfait was smooth and worked well with the toasted brioche. We both felt the raisin chutney did nothing to enhance the dish. His wine pairing was unusual. A sweet dessert wine from Domaine de Grange Neuve that worked extremely well. We would never have thought to pair a pâté with something so sweet and unctuous but it worked tremendously. This is a perfect example of why this pairing menu works. It takes you out of your comfort zone with wines and gives you an opportunity to explore new flavours and grape varieties.
Our main course choices kept with the traditional French theme. Steve opted for the Ribeye steak cooked rare and served with pomme frites and I chose the Sole Meunière. A whole lemon sole lightly pan-fried with a caper and parsley beurre noisette. This fish was perfection in my eyes. Not only was the fish cooked perfectly but the flavours from the buttery sauce worked so well here. Simple food done very well indeed. Both wines served with our main courses were from France. Steve enjoyed a red Bordeaux from Château Bauduc and for myself a delightful Chablis from Burgundy.
My dessert was the French classic creme brûlée. An old school favourite of mine and the first dessert I learnt to make well. This creme brûlée was just how it should be. A smooth set custard with a crunchy sugary top. It was served with one of my favourite dessert wines of all time. A Tokaji from Hungary. The apricot sweetness of the wine brought out the vanilla in the brûlée to perfection. I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing. Steve had a selection of local cheeses served with a 20-year-old Tawny port. The menu stated on ordering that it would be a 10 year old Tawny but luckily for Steve they had run out so he was upgraded. What an unexpected treat!
If I had to sum up our meal in one word I would have to use sublime. Each course superseded our expectations and having a different wine pairing for each dish was a simply wonderful idea. As I said before, Hotel Du Vin, Exeter hasn’t always come up trumps in service and quality before but they most certainly did this time. Our waiter Antoine couldn’t have been more personable and was a pleasure to chat with. The restaurant manager for the evening, Rose was a delight. They both couldn’t have been more helpful and every question asked was answered swiftly and knowledgeably.
If you are looking for a classic French menu without the hassle of choosing wines this 4-course tasting menu will suit your needs perfectly. The price per couple is £99. This includes four courses and four wines. Each glass of wine is measured at 125ml except the dessert wines and port which are measured at 50ml. I personally think it is great value for money and based on the service I received and the food I was served I would highly recommend it.
You will find Hotel Du Vin, Exeter on Magdalen Street, EX2 4HY. To make a booking telephone 01392 790120.
Disclaimer: This blog post contains gifted items.