They very fact that this hotel's name features the word 'bistro' tells you this is much more than just a place to sleep. The main focus of the Hotel du Vin is undoubtedly its food and wine. However, unlike other hotels where the emphasis is placed elsewhere other than in the rooms, one does not at any moment get the impression that this latter has been an afterthought. On the contrary, these are some of the best rooms in Brighton. One of our favourite properties in Brighton due to its stylish rooms, its professional, knowledgeable staff and above all the unrivalled atmosphere of its restaurant and in particular its bar, we thoroughly recommend this hotel to all those who appreciate their food and wine as well as those who want to experience one of the finest bars in the south of England.
Hotel du Vin & Bistro is located on Ship Street, just off of Kings Road on the seafront and is close to all of Brighton's main attractions including Brighton Pier, The Lanes, North Laine, the Pavilion and the main commercial shopping areas as well as restaurants and bars. Trains from the station, a 15 minute walk or 5-10 minute taxi ride away, serve Gatwick airport (30 mins) and London (50 mins on fast train). The hotel does not have any onsite parking although there are public car parks within walking distance.
The hotel is part of a group of 15 hotels of the same name founded back in 1994 in Winchester by Gerard Basset, the current holder of the World's Best Sommelier title, and hotelier/entrepreneur Robin Hutson, formerly of the Soho House group. The mock Tudor building which houses the hotel was built in 1934 for Henekey's the wine merchants, although the site was home to an inn almost 400 years ago. Before Hotel du Vin took over in 2001, building up and around the original edifice, the property had been a public house, a night club and then derelict for a time. The emphasis of the hotel is its food and wine, which is reflected in the fact that both Rémi Cousin, former deputy sommelier at The Fat Duck, and Ronan Sayburn, one of only 180 master sommeliers in the world, are both behind the hotel's wine selection. What's more, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is also on board, sponsoring the lounge and some of the rooms as well as having 70 of their bottles available at the bar. The idea is that the customer is able to take full advantage of the restaurants dining and drinking facilities and then simply stagger upstairs to their room. And that's exactly how it works!
The hotel's unique building tells much about its charm, although the date found on its exterior is not the date of construction but rather of the founding of Henekey's wine merchants, the company that used to call this their home. The actual lobby area, which has on the right hand-side has the concierge and to the front the reception desk with an old fashioned key grid behind it, is not particularly spacious and can quickly become clogged up with suitcases and customers coming to and fro. This aside, you'll receive a warm welcome for the smart staff in their waistcoats and your luggage will be taken up to your room as a matter of course. The space is decorated with various photos and paintings of Montmartre in Paris and of all things wine-related. To the left is the Smugglers lounge, sponsored by the SMWS, which is something straight out of a private gentlemen's club with its mix of worn leather and velvet armchairs, unfinished wooden floorboards, empty bottles on the window sill and framed copies of 'Unfiltered' magazine on the walls. On the gallery above the lounge and bar is the wine-tasting room, which features a pristine Laroche table with gleaming spittoons, which is available both for tasting classes (must book in advance) or for private functions with canapés and finger food. Just the other side of the gallery is the rooftop deck which will also soon be the smoking area of the hotel. In the seating area of the bar downstairs you'll find a library from which you are free to borrow as long as you put back the items when finished with. The hotel doesn't have its own fitness and wellbeing facilities, however in-room treatments can be arranged by the front desk upon request. While there is no business lounge either, wifi is complimentary through the hotel (chargeable after the first half hour). The entire hotel is extremely well-looked after and in exemplary condition for a property coming up to its 10th anniversary. The staff, especially in the restaurant and bar, is charismatic and refreshingly passionate and well-informed within their domains.
The 49 rooms at the Hotel du Vin are split between those in the main hotel and those above the pub which are different in the décor. The former are all sponsored by the SMWS while the latter are named after breweries in Sussex. All the rooms are comfortable to use and highly functional as well as being classically decorated in a way that avoids the danger of dating. The rooms in the main building are soberly decorated but with quality wallpapers, fabrics and furniture, including a feature wall with striped paper, Egyptian cotton dressed wooden beds and leather armchairs. Amenities include flatscreen television with satellite TV, CD radio stereo, DVD player, safe, iron and ironing board, tea and coffee facilities, well-stocked minibar, trouser press and bathrobes. The bathrooms are tiled with small green mosaics and feature soaking tubs with monsoon shower (some have separate bath and shower), a glass vanity with bowl-like ceramic sink and Arran Aromatics personalised toiletries. The junior suites on the pub side of the hotel are more elegant and brighter than those on the main hotel side and boast beautifully finished, light wood furniture, a seating area with couch and coffee table, a soaking tub in the room and extra details such as the drift wood above the bed and a separate bath and shower with smart fittings. The largest room, the loft, is a huge open plan affair with an oversize double bed, seating area with U-shaped sofa, two soaking tubs, iPod dock with Bower and Wilkin zeppelin from BMW sound system, telescope, antique rocking horse and private terrace. This is the perfect place for a small gathering or party in the summer given the great views and superb sound system.
Let's not beat around the bush. This is the real reason people flock to the hotel from far and wide. The bistro is packed every night of the week and for good reason. The setting is one of the best in Brighton: lofty ceilings, a central leather banquette with mini murals on its pillars, a plethora of wine-related memorabilia, paintings and photos and smartly laid tables on an ageing wooden floor. There is a real buzz about the place with the sound of laughter, clattering of crockery and glasses, but above all of contentment and satisfaction. Our meat was cooked to perfection and the accompaniments bursting with flavour. The butternut squash risotto, which was one of the best we've had, was a little on the heavy side so is probably best taken as a starter. And the wine, chosen for us by waiters who really know their stuff, spot on. The menu is full of mouth-watering propositions and to be honest we had a hard time deciding. But what is sure is that the products used of a very high quality and the results a triumph. The wine list the most comprehensive in Brighton, with more countries represented than any other restaurant in the city. There is also a simple classics menu available which features well done, basic dishes (although still more adventurous than what you'd find in most restaurants) as well as a du Vin menu which offers three basic mains plus a glass of wine for just £10.95. The lunch menu features some of the same dishes as the evening menu plus others such as braised endive and buffalo mozzarella to start and Bridge farm boiled salt beef for mains. Alternatively, the pub next door, which serves beer from Sussex breweries and a range of British wines, offers typical pub food at lunch time, to be served in either the main room or the Captain's table lounge just across the corridor. Our favourite part of the hotel though is the bar which is physically and idealistically at the centre of things. Of course you are welcome to eat and drink here during the day, but it is at night when things really take off. The bar attracts a mixed crowd of locals and tourists as well as guests, of course, and unlike in London or other big capital cities, there is no hint of snobbery despite the specialist nature of the wines. The bar itself, with its exposed brickwork, mock seagulls flying overhead and mural by Gary Myatt, is a cosy, intimate space which has inviting worn leather seating, soft lighting and gallery upstairs with outdoor terrace. Aside from the endless list of wines and whiskies available, you can enjoy one of the cocktails from the innovative list, served by the award-winning barmen with an infectious love for their profession. For those cigar aficionados out there, make sure you have a poke around the small room just next to the bar which holds the hotel's collection of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Dominican Republic cigars. And even if you are not a smoker, we are sure you'll appreciate the craftsmanship of the cigars and their humidors all the same. This is truly one of the best places to be in Brighton of an evening so even if you don't choose to stay at the hotel, make sure you pop in for a drink during your break.
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