I think I owe the chef at Newcastle’s Hotel du Vin an apology.
In May I accused his restaurant of mediocrity and overpricing.
I assumed it was down to him. I thought they were just having an off day – that’s why I gave the place the benefit of the doubt and 3 out of 5 stars. I don’t give half-stars – the graphics team at The Journal can’t cope with that, otherwise it would have had 2½.
But now I’ve downgraded it. Because I’ve discovered that the problem with the Hotel du Vin is systemic, not local.
Somewhere behind the scenes in the Hotel du Vin chain there’s an executive catering team that hasn’t a clue.
A couple of weeks ago Mrs Diner and I stayed at the Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells, and dined in the restaurant. It was exactly the same menu as Newcastle: same lack of imagination, same overpricing.
I had half a French chicken: it was bland and ungarnished. Mrs Diner had rose veal schnitzel – too thickly cut and underseasoned.
Just like in Newcastle, the meal was mediocre. And the menu seriously overpriced – high quality brasserie prices for Holiday Inn cooking.
In fact, the food in Tunbridge Wells was far worse than in Newcastle. You want to know how bad?
Mrs Diner ordered caprese salad to start: “Heritage tomatoes, Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo mozzarella and aged balsamic dressing”.
How simple is that? Even a plongeur with a hangover should get that one right.
It arrived with no mozzarella. I kid you not – no cheese on the plate at all. Mrs D called over the maître d’.
“Where’s the mozzarella?” she asked sweetly.
The maître d’ looked at the plate closely, studying the lonely pile of tomato pieces.
“There,” he finally said triumphantly, pointing at some scattered onion fragments on the top.
Mrs Diner wasn’t phased. She ever so gently lifted the plate and handed it to the man.
“Just ask them to put some mozzarella on the plate, please”.
It took nearly fifteen minutes for the plate to be delivered back, chunks of mozzarella duly added.
Mrs Diner looked at it again, and sighed. There was no balsamic dressing. She tasted one tomato. It was cold: catering fridge frigid. They’d managed to make heritage tomatoes taste of nothing at all. Terrible, quite terrible.
Hotel du Vin, sack your entire catering management team now. Start again with someone who knows how to run a restaurant. And in the meantime, please, please remind me not to visit one of your branches again until you've sorted it out.