Front of house staff offer a traditional welcome to guests and diners arriving at the striking entrance of Hotel du Vin, a grand Virginia-creeper-clad Georgian house in central Royal Tunbridge Wells with a reputation for offering delicious seasonal and traditional French menus and a carefully curated wine list chosen to complement the food and as standalone drinks.

Hotel du Vin Entrance Royal Tunbridge Wells

Referencing French bistros from which the boutique chain took its initial inspiration, the 34-bedroom hotel’s elegant dining rooms offer an extensive à la carte menu, which is shared throughout the chain (Hotel du Vin is a collection of 17 stylish boutique hotels across the UK).

People familiar with classic French cooking will find comfort in the menu, while those new to this cuisine will be delighted to try Gallic classics such as French Onion Soup, Steak Tartare, and Half Roast Normandy Chicken.

Hotel du Vin bar On arrival Victor, our sommelier for the evening, suggested cocktails to whet the appetite. My dining companion opted for a Ginger Fizz, similar to a Mojito with the added tang of freshly sliced ginger alongside lime and Prosecco while my Churchill Martini was a warming mix flavours including whisky, vermouth and Cointreau. The martini is based on one of Churchill’s favourite drinks, but given added flavour by the addition of Whisky, replacing gin and Cointreau complementing the addition of Vermouth, a drink enjoying a renaissance in the country’s cocktail bars. Both were created by the bar team and set the mood for the evening beautifully.

Set in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells, within a few minutes walk of the 2 local theatres, art galleries and main shopping area this Hotel du Vin is a Grade II listed sandstone mansion built as a private residence in 1762 and one that counted Queen Victoria as a guest. This sense of grandeur continues though the entrance, reception and into dining area.

The hotel offers a range of private dining rooms and spaces with menus that are popular with the business community, with people celebrating in style, with friends and families.

Hotel du Vin Tunbridge Wells Bistro dining room

Our dinner was served in the candlelit traditional French-style bistro which runs along the back of the hotel. During the day it is bathed in natural sunlight while in the evening the tone is warm and stylish, reflecting the reclaimed dark-stained floorboards. Tables are well-spaced allowing conversations to remain private without sacrificing an intimate atmosphere.

For the first time in her life my dining companion opted for snails, or Escargots à la Bourguignonne to be exact. Six snails were presented in their shell, oozing a mixture of butter, parsley, shallots and finely chopped garlic. Described as ‘actually quite delicious,’ this won’t be the last time she has them, a very good introduction to the dish and the way Hotel du Vin chefs work traditional French cooking skills, tastes and textures. Sourced from the Welsh border rivers, the Wye and Severn, my smoked salmon dish was served with a chopped garnish of soft boiled egg, cornichons, parsley and red onion, a suitably balanced and sharp mix which cut through the fish creating a deliciously rounded entrée.

Hotel du Vin Tunbridge Wells bistro table

Hotel du Vin menus are inspired by the cooking traditions, rich tastes and subtleties of the various regions of France and seasonal ingredients. Thus my main course Cassoulet Classique was richly authentic and a classic casserole of white beans, confit duck, smoked Toulouse sausage and pancetta. The Toulouse sausage was seasoned with garlic, sage, coriander and pepper while the sauce contributed to an undeniable richness with an authentic taste of a dish that means so much to France, and now to Hotel du Vin.

On the other side of the table, my companion chose Roast Cod served with a mix of Braised Puy Lentils, Button Mushrooms and Pancetta. Puy lentils are famously paired with pork and can take a lot of flavour, which this dish offers. The plate was well seasoned, and the meaty lentils had kept their shape and hadn’t disintegrated during cooking, with their texture a perfect complement for the flakiness of the elegantly roasted cod.

Hotel du Vin has a sommelier to help with wine choices in Tunbridge Wells

Throughout the meal we were attentively looked after by Victor and his staff, whom kept a discrete watch on our progress. With a different, specially selected wine to accompany each plate our choices veered towards wines from European vineyards, with a single estate Beaujolais, and California.

As so often happens, when it came to the end of the main course at first one thinks there is no room left, that is until the dessert menu appears. In this case the thought of an Apple Tarte Tartin served with Crème Normande; Tarte au Citron with raspberry sorbet (my choice) or a Rhum Baba with Crème Chantilly, which my friend chose was too much to resist. The vivid colours of the raspberry sorbet and fluffy desire of the Crème Chantilly gave way to delightfully light and refreshing puddings without being too sweet and harsh on the teeth which can spoil a meal, but not this time. Paired with small glasses of dessert wine, the puddings were a fitting finish to a well-balanced, cooked dinner.

Following dessert we moved into a cosy bar area and forgiving, comfortable sofas where coffee was served. A gentle hubbub of conversation permeated the room and again discrete, attentive service made us very welcome, a feeling and atmosphere often missing in hotel bars, but not at Hotel du Vin Tunbridge Wells

Hotel du Vin Lounge Bar Tunbridge Wells

We finished the evening relaxed and continued our conversation about snails, roast cod and lemon tarts and wondered what our other friends, family and maybe even Queen Victoria might have chosen from the Bistro menu.

by Bruce McMichael of The Lemon Grove

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Hotel du Vin & Bistro
Afternoon Tea - Hotel Du Vin

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