On the rare occasions I am allowed out of the house for good behaviour and relieved of my ironing and child-nagging duties, I like to do it in style. When I was working, I took eating out for granted, but now the dice are loaded very heavily: it has to be absolutely perfect, or I feel I’ve wasted a very rare opportunity to enjoy the freedom of having by housedad bonds unshackled.
Last week was one such opportunity, and it did not disappoint. In fact, it beyond exceeded my expectations.
My fellow foodie friends Scott and Dan were my long-overdue dining partners. I don’t see Scott nearly often enough – perhaps once a year – but when we do get together, the boat gets pushed out and rowed across the Atlantic of gastronomy. One of our most memorable gastronomic journeys was to Heston Blumenthal’s world famous and totally NOT overrated Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.
The experience raised the bar so high that we’ve almost been afraid to commit to another culinary night out lest it fails to get anywhere near the taste target.
It was Scott’s turn to choose, and he chose the recently-opened Bistro du Vin on Dean Street in the heart of London’s Soho.
This bar-cum-restauarant used to be a rather soulless, cavernous All Bar One, but it’s had a monumental makeover, putting me in mind of a New York eaterie, all dark wood, soft light and a buzz that would send Mr Aldrin back to the Moon.
This is a Real Man’s Fantasy, with dishes so masculine with their focus on steak and cheese, they might literally be heart-stopping. But as I say, I don’t get out much, so an injection of the red stuff and the cholesterol-loaded creamy stuff is all fine by me once in a while. Well, most of the while.
As with all male friendships, there was an atmosphere of competition and fear in the air: determination to choose the right dish from the menu; terror that one of the others might choose something you would have preferred. But I’m glad to report it was pretty much an even contest. I went for mallard, cooked pink with a crispy skin, and served with a spiced pear; Scott had soft, rich pork cheeks; Dan went for a show-stopping beef and oyster pie with a shortcrust pastry top that was as high as a circus tent.
It was all fantastic: straightforward, honest grub. Nothing fancy, just superb ingredients. But this wasn’t the main event – that delight awaited us in the cheese room.
Our waiter, a very knowledgable, superbly attentive chap called Ben Mulvaney (who it turned out was the General Manager) showed us around the stacks of cheeses from all over Europe and asked about our tastes.
‘Nothing I can buy in a supermarket,’ I said. ‘I want it to be as varied and as different as possible. Something that’s going to be an education. I don’t gety out much.’
He arrived with this work of artistry: 12 cheeses on a long, cool slate board. And to accompany it, ‘flights’ of three different types of Sauvignon Blanc – one from France; another from New Zealand; the third from South Africa; and three different Pinot Noirs.
And as we munched and swooned our way through, I made notes on each cheese (from left to right, bottom to top)…
Valencay with truffle honey – dense and rich, aromatic, unctuous and sweet.
Perl Wen – Brie without the cabbageyness. So creamy.
Brin d’Armour – Rosemary-crused. An explosionof perfume in your mouth.
Ami du chambertin – mouth-filling, palate-burning, with a hint of hazelnuts
Truffitte (I think that’s how it’s spelt) – eat in small doses. So incredible rich. The foie gras of cheeses.
Pare corizien – nutty and dense. Like a gourmet cheddar of the Keens variety
Aged Comte – sweet and crumbly with a spicy bite. An adult sweet that melts in your mouth.
Beaufort – Manchego-like in style, with a strong tongue-burning taste. Makes you wince if you eat it without quince.
Lancashire Bomb – as creamy as clotted cream. Sticks to your mouth so that glorious taste lingers longer.
For d’Ambert – Creamy blue, like a sweeter Dolcelatte
Cropwell Bishop Stilton – an orgasm in your mouth. Salty and sweet with a long, deep creaminess.
It wasn’t exactly cheap – just under £100 a head – but £ for £ it was the best dining experience I’ve ever had. By the time we left, we were utterly sated and very, very drunk. And for some reason, when I toppled into bed at 12.30pm, my wife was n’t remotely interested in my cheese-tasting notes. She’s unreasonable like that.