Blue Monday might be well be the latest PR nonsense we’re going to have to live with for time immemorial, but there’s no denying the energy-sapping effects of January.
Fortunately, there are plenty of sensible solutions to the above, solutions which don’t involve ill-advised instant abstinence and doomed attempts at a sudden monkish lifestyle.
The most sage suggestion came our way from Hotel du Vin – a new winter menu of indecently good French classic dishes which would warm the coques of even the most ardent UKIPer, Top Gear viewer, or deluded and tub-thumping rosbif.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the food on offer at Hotel du Vin and it appears the Gallic influence has made further welcome inroads on their menu.
My starter of a traditional French onion soup was so utterly glorious it almost made the whole post-Christmas grind seem worthwhile.
It was relatively simple but perfectly put together. From the sweet caramelised onions, to the steaming hot booze-fuelled broth, covered with croutons and an obscene amount of melted, stringy Gruyère cheese.
Similarly satisfying, was my dining partner’s starter of sauteed mushrooms on brioche toast. The succulent ‘shrooms in Madeira cream were gobbled down faster than a speeding French World Cup-winning winger.
Both gorgeous but fairly rich starters were accompanied with a glass of a light and bouncy Beaujolais.
A herb-dusted classic cassoulet was a wonderful, hearty main, and partnered with a glass of Aussie Cab Sav which was almost as robust as the red-hot cast-iron casserole dish.
The confit duck dropped off the bone into a bed of beans, flanked by two fat (but by no means fatty) Toulouse sausages and large, lightly smoked, cubes of pancetta. Traditional and fairly tremendous.
My dining partner, vegetarian and potential Olympic speed-eating competitor, was also pleased with her main of aubergine and halloumi parmigiana bake. A reassuringly rich cheese-athon backed up with good and fresh Italian-style tomato sauce.
The tarte au citron was a great combination of buttery pastry with a wonderful lemon curd filling, and a globe of raspberry sorbet eased the citrus zip.
After two rich courses my dining partner’s race was almost run and she chose the, slightly, lighter option of café gourmand – a black coffee with a decadent selection of a chocolate macaron, honey madeleine and canelé.
The Hotel du Vin group now prides itself on being ‘classically French and undeniably British’ and that seems about right.
As well as being rich, hearty beasts, the dishes were very generous sizes and wouldn’t leave anyone feeling shortchanged.
The service was also remarkably good. There’s a sommelier on hand and all of the staff seem knowledgeable and contribute to a relaxed atmosphere and comfortable vibe.
In addition to the new a la carte the prix fixe menu (available daily, excluding Saturday from 7pm) is well worth a look. It features a few choice ingredients from Kent and Sussex, and is priced at £18.95 for two courses or £21.95 for a three-courser.
By Steve Holloway