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A Birthday Menu at Hotel du Vin – Henley:
How time flies. I remember the first Hotel du Vin openings (at the time I had a boyfriend whose family lived in Winchester) and it really doesn’t seem like 20 years ago. But, this successful group of boutique hotels in charming market towns is indeed twenty years old this Autumn and I was invited along to try out the 20th Anniversary Menu – a retrospective based on the original menu. And, to spend the night in one of their charming rooms; despite having eaten there on many occasions, I’ve never had reason to stay overnight. The Henley Hotel du Vin opened in 2005 in what I believe used to be part of Brakspears brewery. I’ve eaten there many times but, hadn’t been there since a recent refurbishment of the dining area, which has opened the room up and enabled the Hotel to provide diners with a little more space between their tables.
My room turned out to be the size of a London flat, with a huge bed, comfy sofa and open plan bath and rainfall shower. I am not usually a fan of baths in bedrooms – but here it worked perfectly, probably because of the size of the room itself which ensured that you didn’t feel as if the bathing area was too close to the bed or lounge area. I was particularly impressed with the range of toiletries from Miller Harris and the thoughtful provision of coffee machine and fresh milk.
It’s curious how much has changed in food styling. The anniversary menu at a first glance looked like the sort of food I’d cook at home. On reflection I would never have cooked dishes like this twenty years ago…and at least some of the ingredients would have been hard to find in London let alone in Henley or Winchester. After a glass of champagne to celebrate, we settled down to chose, enjoying a plate of cheese straws, parma ham, bread, olives and oil to nibble on while we waited.
Caesar salad looked delicious. Fresh anchovies perhaps wouldn’t have been on the version twenty years ago, but here they really added to the dish.
Bresaola is something I remember trying for the first time and loving. Now, we probably wouldn’t make a fuss about it, just one of a selection of cured meats that are available from any supermarket. Served with lemon and rocket salad and with shavings of parmesan, this is the kind of dish I’d offer up as a dinner party starter today. Though twenty years ago, I’d have been saving it for Christmas or an Anniversary!
Pan-fried chicken breast looked for all the world like something that Nigel Slater might be recommending in Marie Claire and that most of us would have been too scared to cook for ourselves. Served on a bed of chorizo, thyme, garlic and orange lentils this was perfect comfort food. Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of reality cookery shows is that far more of my friends these days seem to experiment in the kitchen. Although of course, that could also be down to many of them being talented food bloggers anyway.
Similarly, my pan-fried salmon with spicy ratatouille and black olive tapenade was delicious and very much the kind of dish I’d cook at home now. Twenty years ago even olives were rare and tapenade was something you brought home with you from Mediterranean Europe along with olive oil and pistachios, all of which were available but horrendously expensive in the UK at the time.
Desserts of tiramisu and bread and butter pudding with rum and raisin ice-cream were perhaps a little heavier than we’d expect these days. Delicious of course and not hard to eat.
The anniversary menu was enough to send me to bed replete and content.
The next morning, breakfast didn’t disappoint, my full English hold the eggs came with a lovely field mushroom and some tasty sausage and bacon. Breakfast is the only meal where I really wish I ate eggs, but here the plate looked perfect without.
I’d happily stay in Hotel du Vin again, here or elsewhere in the UK. They offer a reliable boutique experience which manages to combine some of the unique elements of each of their properties with a consistency of service and product that is comforting for anyone travelling. WiFi, which used to be limited and charged for, is now free throughout the hotel, the food is always good and of course, there’s an excellent wine list.
Hotel du Vin,
Tel: 084473 64258