Although originally from near Cambridge, Lucie has most recently moved here from my home town of Manchester, so we kicked off by talking about the different food scenes in each city; in Manchester, a city of around 2m people, the Malmaison (a sister to Hotel du Vin) is just one of a range of sophisticated restaurants including places such as Vertigo and Michael Caines' Abode.
By contrast, the foodie buzz in Cambridge is more focused on the Mill Road independents and assorted gastropubs, such as The Punter and Fitzbillies, with Alimentum and Midsummer House providing the fine dining options.
Hotel du Vin doesn't quite fit into any of these categories and whilst that might be a marketers' nightmare, it makes the place rather unique for the diner; the vibe is informal, unpretentious sophistication that does not try too hard and it permeates the whole ethos, from the bare-brick walls to the simple-yet-delicious food, matched superbly with great wines.
I started with one of my favourites, a Grüner Veltliner "Loessterrassen" 2011 from Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria's Kamptal. The name, by the way, means terraces of loess, a reference to the terraced vineyards on mixed, loess soil with a high chalk content. The mixed subsoil gives Grüner a more rounded mouthfeel compared to, say, soil with a higher granite content.
Crisp, rounded and minerally, it worked superbly in the midday heat as an aperitif, and also matched perfectly with my starter choice of scallops from the specials board.
We had been given a choice of menus and decided that it was only fair to let chef show us what he could do when given free rein - and besides, I have experienced his food and wine matching abilities previously at both a port dinner and a cigar dinner and know him to be very talented indeed.
The starter came as three large, fresh and perfectly-cooked scallops - browned top and bottom, perfectly soft and sweetly juicy in the middle - atop slices of delicious warm black pudding with a smear of apple sauce to cut through the richness; great flavours, well matched and the presentation as straightforward and classical as the food itself.
fondant potato, chocolate sauce and fresh cherries and asked for a glass of red to match, confident that the waiting staff would pick something appropriate.
The wine that came turned out to be a Quinta Lagoalva Tinto Reserva 2010 from Portugal and was a superb match - with cherry fruit, hints of eucalyptus, good grippy tannins and prominent acidity, it cut through the perfectly-cooked rare meat and complemented the chocolate and cherry jus. Again, the presentation was classically beautiful, clean and unfussy - no foamed vegetables or extrovert garnishes, just great ingredients well cooked and well matched together.
Over mains, Lucie explained that Hotel du Vin had originally started out as a restaurant in Winchester with accommodation only added into the mix for guests who had driven there to dine, but did not wish to abstain from drinking for the whole evening.
For desserts, my eye was caught by a Uruguayan wine - specifically an Alcyone Tannat, Vinedo de los Vientos, NV. When it proved to be matched to a chocolate pavé with candied pistachios and Chantilly cream, the decision was made.
It was a series of firsts for me - my first Uruguayan wine, my first sweet Tannat - and it was gastronomic heaven; the pavé dense, rich and chocolatey, the wine equally so and with good acidity to cut through.
Over coffee and a wonderfully smooth Armagnac, we talked about upcoming events which include:
- Cheese Masterclass on 11th October
- Gosset Champagne Dinner on October 24th
- Steak Masterclass on on 8th November
- Croatian Wine Dinner on 22nd November
For more details, or to book, contact Lucie Marina at the Hotel - 01223 227 330 / firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her @HdV_Cambridge
I will be running a competition on the blog to win a pair of tickets to the Champagne dinner - details coming shortly.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro Cambridge, 15-19 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1QA
I ate as a guest of the hotel.
Hotel du Vin Cambridge - website, twitter