The Dean Street Townhouse, Quo Vadis, Polpetto Upstairs at the French House. These are just some of the established eateries on Dean Street in Soho. So it must have been a very brave or extremely confident management team to take up residence alongside them. The Hotel du Vin chain are moving their bistros out of their hotels and putting them on the high street. Bistro Du Vin, Soho, now joins the branch already enjoying success in Clerkenwell and there are more properties being eyed up in the capital. The former Las Iguanas site is transformed and it’s out with the Latin American theme and in with St Tropez chic. Wooden floors, white ceramic tiles and banquettes, low mood lighting and a cheese cave but that aside it seems to be pulling in the punters.
My dining partner Mrs Z arrived separately but was shown straight to the table I’d been given, near to the open pass and the charcuterie and cheese section. The restaurant covers 125 diners and was pretty busy when we arrived. There was a little background music but above the din of chatter was hard to make out.
The thing that immediately struck me was the staff to diner ratio, there seemed to be quite a few waiters and waitresses buzzing around, and generally paying attention. The level of service was high, napkins being picked up from the ground and folded back on seats, and from listening in, the staff know what they’re selling. Training here is clearly paramount. A lone diner sitting close by was given special attention and I would have welcomed it if it were me.
The menus are A3 size, one side of food, the other an exhaustive list of suppliers. Glancing over it, there’s plenty for meat-lovers, but if you are a vegetarian I’d really be looking to eat elsewhere. Although that said, the salads do look pretty inventive and there is fish. The crown prince squash, pearl barley and caramelised red onion salad (£11.95) sounded great and there are starter portions of each salad available.
For starters we had Gazpacho (£4.95) and Cornish crab with toasted sourdough (£9.50). The Gazpacho was syrupy sweet with a balsamic vinegar after-taste, and not much kick. Sadly we had to leave half of it. The waiter did notice and seemed geniunely interested what we thought. The dressed crab however was a winner, delicious, fresh and served with hot toast. Plenty of brown and delicious white meat served in a two tone circle.
They’re big on their Josper Grill, essentially and without getting into technicals here, it’s the hottest indoor barbecue oven. Fish, burgers, steak and lobster are cooked in it and the results are delicious. My 45 day aged rump was cooked perfectly and I had no problem demolishing the 400g Long Horn (£26.00), once my steak knife arrived. I also ordered a mixed salad, expecting something other than lettuce, what arrived was uninspirational, and what resembled bagged salad transferred to a wooden serving bowl. I asked for something to rev it up a little, tomato or cucumber maybe and quickly a large salad of red onion and mixed tomato varieties arrived.
Mrs Z had the halibut, the size didn’t really match the price tag (£19.95) and the sauce vierge wasn’t a vierge in the conventional recipe sense. Uncooked cherry tomatoes atop an olive oil dressing with whole coriander seeds and not a caper in sight. The sides (all £3.50) helped make up for the thin slightly dry fillet. Glazed carrots, again not strictly Vichy but nice all the same in a buttery sauce sprinkled with cumin seeds. Haricot vert with gremolata exactly as they should be crunchy green beans, with a garlic and lemon zesty dressing.
My guest was still hungry, she hadn’t eaten much all day as had prepared for the French feast I’d promised but, after leaving her starter and fish not being that filling, she eyed up the Desserts. A separate menu included these, digestif, cocktails, sweet and fortified wines and the unlimited Cave a Fromage (£12.50). This was the chilled glass cabinet that occupies a corner of the restaurant and is great foodie theatre. A waiter takes the diner to the cheese cave, and explains the source of the cheese and offers up a board of picks to try.
The knowledge of the General Manager, Ben Mulvaney was impressive and he rattled through the provenance and taste from the Morbier to those a little closer to home, the scary and pretty realistic looking black waxy Lancashire bomb. The cheeses are, however, taken out of the fridge well before service and kept on a trolley to acclimatise. Specialist jams and jellies accompany the cheese, I saw a Gewurtztraminer jelly for example. You can even take cheese home with you.
Back to our meal, and the mixed berry jelly (all desserts £6.50) with creme fraiche was delicious, a grown up jelly made from a rose wine reduction. Not too sweet, lots of layered fresh berries and the creme fraiche had been delicately sweetened. As you can see – it looked the part too.
Le Salon, complete with a walled library, is used in the afternoon for tea, but also for pre and post meal drinks. It is also available to hire for private functions. It also has it’s own menu. A Miller Harris tea and cake intrigued me, and at £5.95, I thought good value. For those who aren’t in the know, Lyn Harris is a perfumer and has a fragrant team rooms on Bruton Street and I assume this is the fragranced tea they serve there. Le Salon also serves oysters (£3.50) and vintage champagne (£12.50). There’s a grazing menu too which features Iberico ham and a selection of cheese.
I’m looking forward to going back, this time during lunch or early evening service. I want to try the charcuterie and cheese plate which I noticed being eaten by couples on our exit. Unlimited cheese (yes no spelling error there) for £12.50 is a great companion to the wine-by-the-glass machine. The concept being that the customer tries an array of wines no matter what their budget or taste. You buy a card, which is topped up with cash, it’s swiped, and your selected drink is delivered automatically through pneumatically pumped taps which dispense the wine. I like the idea of try-before-you-buy. How many bottles of wine have you bought and left or drunk with regret?
In fairness we tried just a few dishes from many on offer, and whilst they weren’t all strictly what we expected from the menu, the food was cooked well. Mixed salad means just that, not mixed salad leaves. If you say you glaze your carrots, do it, Im afraid butter and cumin seeds a glaze does not make. My only true gripe was the Gazpacho which I think needs a re-think, overbearing balsamic vinegar notes, sherry vinegar may just do the trick.
I think the management of Bistro du Vin are very clever. A French bistro with great ideas on the high street is clearly lacking – ‘ils n’ont pas manque’. They’ve managed to stay true to their French roots, whilst integrating truly original and quirky concepts. Let’s face it, who doesn’t appreciate genuinely attentive and friendly service? If you’re looking for a dining room with a good buzz, plenty of French fayre cooked well, right in the heart of Soho, then give Bistro du Vin a shot.
Bistro du Vin, 36 Dean Street W1D 4PS
020 7432 4800
Open noon-10.30pm Mon-Fri; noon-3pm, 6-10.30pm Sat; noon-3pm, 6-10pm Sun.
Salon menu served noon-10.30pm Mon-Sat; noon-10pm Sun
Holdtheanchoviesplease was a guest of Bistro du Vin