When I’m travelling, I find few things more pleasing than the moment an attentive doorman plucks the suitcase from my fingers, whisks it away, and replaces it with a welcome drink. So much the better if it’s chilly outside and that drink is a dram of whisky proffered in a lilting Glaswegian accent, close to a crackling open fire.
This was the greeting awaiting my friend Darryl and I on a recent sojourn to Glasgow’s happening West End. Basking in the fire’s glow in the lounge of Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens we debated the merits of the attractions within easy reach. We could stroll through the Botanic Gardens, peruse the Impressionist and Renaissance collection at the superb Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum or drop into the Hanoi Bike Shop for some Vietnamese noodles and cool Asian ambience. There’s plenty we could do. But walking into our generously proportioned suite within Hotel du Vin, all wood and dark, sultry tones, we decide instead to do very little.
As a musician, Darryl was magnetically drawn to the Bose sound system and within minutes the soulful sounds of mellow blues filled the air. We curled up on the sofa and played snack roulette with a plate of fruit and sweet surprises, including a twist of marzipan that looked like a pretzel stick, and cubes of creamy fudge that I mistook for cheese. “We shouldn’t ruin our appetites,” I said, cramming another meringue puff into my mouth. Darryl ignored me and cleaned the plate.
Hotel du Vin Glasgow is a boutique hotel with that “little bit more”. Its reputation for style and service precedes it, but this is one of those rare establishments where the product is more than the sum of its parts, or the whispers behind its back. The building began life as a series of townhouses, constructed in the 1870s, with the hotel moving into Number One in 1986. It has since expanded to occupy all five houses with two interconnecting levels, but it retains the ambiance of a single private property. It feels like a home, albeit one with fabulous stained glass windows in every stairwell. It’s hard to believe that somewhere in this warren are another 48 rooms besides ours. It’s rare to cross paths with another guest outside the whisky snug, the Bistro or the cigar shack.
The Bistro’s Michelin star may have walked back in 2006 when Gordon Ramsay left, but this doesn’t exclude fine-dining fare from the menu. Tartan carpets, soft mood lighting and wood panelling imbue a sense of opulence into the proceedings and the sommelier is on-hand to translate the extensive wine list into potable format.
A glass of red and some crusty home-baked soft cheese and sunflower seed bread under the belt, and we were ready to peruse the fixed-price and a la carte menus. Each menu item is presented in order of primary ingredient, followed by accoutrements.
Given my Tasmanian origins – and the reputation of the Australian island’s Atlantic salmon as some of the best in the world – I felt I had to put the Dunkeld hot and cold smoked salmon to the taste test. It passed admirably. But it was the pan-fried scallops with squid ink noodles that won the day. The delicately browned molluscs and several Cornish oysters encircled a neat coil of black-as-night pasta, the accompanying sauce speckled with caviar and minute, crunchy spots of cucumber.
I had peanut butter ice cream, with peanut-laden chunks of chocolate and strawberry balsamic jam: sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy and tangy
For mains, Darryl opted for the Gigha halibut, which arrived perched on a wedge of crab crushed potatoes, surrounded by a moat filled with shellfish broth. The Gressingham duck wasn’t quite local – it hailed from Suffolk – but I forgave it on the basis of its flawless presentation, a fan arrangement of perfectly pink slices guarded by a trio of prune pommes Anna cubes and dots of star anise puree. The contrast of the potent licorice anise and the burst of sweetness from the prune jam subdued the rich, tender duck.
We could easily have stopped at this point, but of course didn’t: Darryl’s Amarena cherry soufflé floated beyond the boundaries of its dish and greedily consumed the Valhrona chocolate sauce that Fergus, our waiter, poured into its mouth. I had peanut butter ice cream, with peanut-laden chunks of chocolate and strawberry balsamic jam: sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy and tangy. So good, I declare it outlawed.
We made our way to the lounge for a nightcap. Gazing into the fire’s flames – the wintry equivalent of a crystal ball – I foresee many more visits to Hotel du Vin Glasgow. C
Hotel du Vin & Bistro, 1 Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow G12 OUX
0141 3780 385; hotelduvin.com