A stroll along The Stray, two hundred acres of beautiful common land that flank the southern edge of Harrogate, makes a sedate approach to the Hotel du Vin. The front elevation of the hotel is rather grand. A terrace of eight Georgian town houses converted and run as a hotel since the 1930’s. The entrance is through a Palladian style door which leads into a spacious atrium illuminated by sunlight pouring through large, well proportioned windows. The decor is dark with comfortable leather chairs, lots of oak furniture and displays of beautiful wine bottles. “Of course, the name says it all. This is an establishment that prides itself in serving very good quality wine” I remind myself.
Today we are eating lunch from the Bistro menu but first we are ushered to the large courtyard. It is one of the warmest September days on record and the temperature is soaring towards 28C. Grant Lowe, the Manager, had arranged a cool, refreshing glass of Pimm’s to welcome us.
Lunch was served in one of the stylish function rooms around a large wooden table. Rabbit pâté, and vegetables à la Grecque was offered as part of the set two course lunch menu. Not the best choice on such a hot day and so I picked an alternative first course of scallop ceviche.
A spritz of fresh lime and flecks of fresh red chilli gave this dish a hot, sour South East Asian flavour. Not entirely out of place in a French themed restaurant since the French occupation of South East Asia had a heavy influence on the cuisine of that region. The scallops were fresh, clean, finely sliced and sweet. Portion size is hard to get right with raw dishes and chef, Kevin Whitehead was spot on here. Four delicate mouthfuls was ideal
The food is good at Hotel du Vin but it is the wine that really sings a tune here. Mark Perlaki, Hotel du Vin’s sommelier stole the show by choosing Chateaux Baudec, Bordeaux Blanc 2009, a mix of 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon is clean, crisp and gently acidic. It has complex grassy flavours with a hint of smokiness. Served very cool it was a perfect choice for such a warm day.
Bread was served in baskets. It was a good quality, long fermented bread but it could have been fresher. For discerning customers the quality of bread is a shibboleth. Get it right and customers begin to relax and feel confident that food to follow is going to be good. Get it wrong and the meal is off to a bad start. I liked the pats of butter neatly wrapped in waxed paper.
Our second course was swordfish, samphire, tomato and caper beurre noisette. The dish was French in style but definitely not local. I wondered what had happened to the Bistro du Vin’s policy of selecting “the finest produce that Yorkshire has to offer from a hand-picked selection of local family producers?”
Sword fish is harpooned from the Pacific Ocean and stocks are managed in a sustainable way but Harrogate is close to Whitby which holds a vibrant daily market stocked with fish caught in the cool clear waters of the North Sea. Perhaps mackerel might have been a better choice? Regardless I loved the samphire and the buttery, capers which worked well with the meaty swordfish.
The vegetables were good but again Kevin Whitehead missed the local, seasonal zeitgeist by serving new potatoes and beans without a declaration of their providence. Mark Perlaki, choose a sophisticated Wild South, Pinot Noir from Marlborough served from a spectacular Riedel decanter. It was gorgeous – light, fruity with a delicate smoke note.
Clearly Hotel du Vin is much more about the quality and provenance of the wine served than food. However the menu is excellent for a bistro style eating experience. In particular the set menu for two, including a bottle of house wine, at £35 is hard to beat.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro
Yorkshire HG1 1LB
Telephone: 01423 856 800