Thursday, 28 July 2011

Bistro du Vin (Soho)

Despite a spate of Clerkenwell reviews, my keenness to try this most esteemed of chains led me to the new Soho branch on Dean Street. In fact ended up visiting twice in barely twelve hours. Sadly, unlike many more professional food critics, I don't have expenses and so this repeat visit was definitely out of choice rather than for decadent and haughty "I must dine everywhere twice" research purposes.

One visit was for drinks and a snack with a friend, sat at the bar. And the other, a big family lunch, inspired from my previous night's success.

free nibbles with drinks
Before I caveat any praise by besmirching all chains in the hope that this doesn't become the new McDonald's (doubtful), I'll do the review stuff first.

The location is brilliant, bur daring - right across the street from the Dean Street Townhouse, surely a direct competitor and still a hot spot. I like it there but more for drinks, it's slick but the food is overpriced and forgettable. And the floor service is flaky.

This isn't as 'cool' I guess, but it's still very stylish inside. The long zinc bar and louche banquettes are fairly expected, but some other features are not; a separate wine room with a dining table, a huge colour-coded library overlooking a semi-private area and certainly not least of all, an air-conditioned cheese and charcuterie room. Amazing.

On to the food - on my bar visit, I try the burger. It's served on a chopping board with an indented ring for a cone of fries, and a dinky copper pan for sauce. The steaks here are a big USP so this is really meant for the béarnaise etc... but it works perfectly here, with a tangy red pepper burger relish. 

And the burger (£14.50) is a beast. It's big, juicy, charred yet pink to perfection and I'd struggle to find fault with it. The amount of juices running out might annoy some, but for me they were like blood to a great white shark. The bun is brioche (and not too small for the burger, grrr!), the bacon and the fries are brilliant, the latter possibly double-cooked? 

9/10 easily - one small point for their staffing is that the barman wasn't aware the burgers could be cooked to order and went to check with the chef - who presumably cussed him out and proceeded to cook a perfect burger. I wasn't nervous about that one in a place with a Josper...

At the lunch, every dish was a hit too. Our party was comped a cheese and charcuterie board which is great as we weren't having starters. The veal parmigiana (£18.50) was quite delicate for such a usually bolshy dish - the tomato sauce was worthy of any pasta, the rose veal (nice touch) wasn't overcooked and the cheese didn't taste too claggy. Lovely prosciutto too. This seems like apologetically saying 'it wasn't awful, it wasn't terrible' but it was actually very good!

The lamb rump with pesto (£19.50) was pink and generous, and nicely presented too, but as with the parmigiana could have had more on the side. Places these days make a killing on sides but I would argue that the increased revenue might not actually cover the perception of affordability and not being fleeced which leads to repeat visits. Still, it's nice to get stuck in to someone else's chips.

veal parmigiana

The sea bass salad (£14.50) with fennel and chilli was another success. Fragrant and punchy without being overpowering, these two ingredients complemented a pretty generous slab of fish well.

lamb rump with vine toms and homemade pesto

We didn't have dessert, but headed straight for the cheese room. A fantastic member of staff talked us through the cheeses with expertise and prepared boards based on our preferences and a few recommendations of his. They were excellent - it's worth the visit alone, especially at £12.50 for unlimited cheese! I'd love to see the unlimited element put to the challenge...

sea bass resting on (enveloping?) fennel salad

On to the service. It's impeccable, extremely attentive and helpful. The sommelier was proactively offering tastes of various wines and the cheese guy was great too. I hope this excellent service continues after the honeymoon period as their staff could be a huge asset to the place. Wines are superb, as you'd expect in a place named thus. They also have a plat du jour for £10-14 which is a good nod to the French lunchtime égalité which enables any old French peasant to be able to eat out daily. Not bad!

The steaks here look fantastic and are probably worthy of their own post. I think I'll see Greedy Diva's côte de boeuf from Clerkenwell in my dreams...

So yes, this is a chain, but as long as the quality and service are maintained, I think it's a sleek, mature addition to the Soho scene. It will endure a lot of competition and comparison with the trendier Dean Street Townhouse across the way, but I think the superior food and service will see it right.

And in terms of chains, both Dean St Townhouse (can we call the Soho House establishments chains yet?) and the Bistro du Vin have actually replaced a Pitcher & Piano, and an All Bar One respectively. In the evolution of chains, that is inarguably progress...
the cheese room..
Food – 9/10
Drink – 9/10
Service - 9/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 7/10 (iced carafe provided automatically on bar visit, still or sparkling proffered at lunch) 
Staff Hotness – 9/10 (very smart, professional and nicely uniformed. Couple of hotties behind the bar)

Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon


  1. Great write up- we had a lovely meal there a couple of weeks ago- the steak and the lemon and pine nut tart were highlights (sadly had a touch too much pink wine to muster a proper write up ...)

  2. Yep I did have a fair bit of pink wine on my visit also! The tart sounds great - will attempt both cheese and dessert next time!