By Emyr Thomas
*Bustro du Vin closed in May 2012*
Clerkenwell has risen to become quite the culinary destination in London over the last few years. While the acclaimed St John has been holding court for many years and the wider area has been home to many of London’s best gastropubs, including The Eagle, which is attributed with being the pioneer of the gastropub movement, there has been a definite notable influx in recent years.
The most recent opening is Bistro du Vin, the first foray into the London dining scene from the Hotel du Vin hotel group, which is also the group’s first standalone restaurant. The group focuses on sourcing good quality local and seasonal produce wherever possible and operates on the ethos of good cooking and great wine lists.
On entering, you are greeted by a rather lovely bar area, which could easily be a destination bar in itself; on our visit, however, it was sadly deserted, but we didn’t linger for long as the scent emanating from the Josper grill was drawing us in to the main restaurant.
The restaurant has the look of an American steakhouse mixed with a French wine bar, and you are immediately aware of the welcoming and convivial atmosphere. The restaurant caters for almost any occasion: a dinner à deux, a business meeting or solo eating on the bar stools, and indeed there was such a mix on our visit.
Given that the restaurant’s motto is “I think. Therefore, I du Vin”, we started with the wine list, which features bottles ranging from £18.50 to £220, with the added bonus of offering fine wines by the glass from a featured glass dispenser.
While perusing the simple, focused menu, we enjoyed a selection of excellent fresh breads, for which we were thankful, as there was a rather long wait for our starters to arrive, but this was the only minor quibble with a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
My starter of gratinee goats’ cheese soufflé was perfectly light and fluffy, encased in a comforting blanket of cheese, and my dining companion commented that the lobster bisque was expertly seasoned.
With the kitchen on full view and the lingering scent of char grilled meat all around, there was only ever going to be one choice for mains: steaks. Both the fillet and the sirloin were cooked well, exactly as ordered, with a wonderful charred taste. The accompanying fries were thin and crispy and the peppercorn sauce had just the right amount of kick, although the portion size was a little on the small size.
We skipped dessert in favour of the cheese trolley, which offered an excellent selection, including a wonderful Lancashire Bomb cheese. Much like the sleek service throughout the evening, the cheese course was offered with great knowledge, enthusiasm and good humour.
Having only been open a mere month, the Hotel du Vin group seems to have a winning formula with Bistro du Vin, and a second London outpost is already scheduled to open in Soho in June, with more in the pipeline thereafter. While restaurants can lose their appeal and individuality when rolled out as part of a chain, if each Bistro du Vin sticks to the group’s ethos of providing good cooking with great wine lists, each individual site will be a success in its own right.
As a standalone restaurant, Bistro du Vin Clerkenwell firmly holds its own in an area of London that is bursting with excellent restaurants; and that’s praise, indeed.
Address: 40 St John Street, London EC1 4DL
Telephone: 020 7490 9230
Bar Nearby: The Cocktail Lounge at the Zetter Townhouse hotel