Sunday Brunch at Hotel du Vin in Henley

Hotel du Vin in Henley, for me, is synonymous with the Henley Literary Festival.

Every time I’ve been there, except for my most recent visit, it has been in some way related to the Festival and the hotel has always left a wonderful impression. Whether it’s sipping a glass of crisp Pinot in the courtyard at the launch party, or popping in for a quick cup of tea in between events, it’s always been a place to relax and enjoy.

But for every time I’ve been there while enjoying the festival, I’ve never actually eaten there. (I know, that should really be whispered!).

So when an email landed in my inbox inviting me to try out the Hotel du Vin Sunday Brunch it took me all of five minutes to reply with a ‘yes please!’.

A long, lazy Sunday brunch always feels indulgent – it means you’ve done all the jobs you need to do, and you can really enjoy the time you’ve got stretching ahead for the day. And the relaxed setting of the Hotel du Vin fits that perfectly. With wooden floors, dark wooden furniture, and an eclectic selection of art on the walls, it feels cosy and welcoming. A pool of light also flooded into the room from the courtyard and made us long for warmer weather and al fresco dining.

The Sunday Brunch offer is £24.95 per person for four courses, including the French Market Table, which is a bit of a showstopper – but more on that in a moment!

The first course on the menu was the soup of the day, and when we visited it was cream of cauliflower. The soup was thick but smooth, and creamy, with the fresh taste of the cauliflower really coming through. It was also a really generous sized bowl which definitely set the tone for the portions to come.

Then it was time for the French Market Table – just take a look at this:

Thin slices of delicious iberico ham, prosciuito and salami, fresh mussels, wedges of bread, coarse meaty terrine, olives, balsamic pickled onions, plump tomatoes, cucumber pieces, slices of salmon, a creamy potato salad. The feast went on…

Both Ben and I agreed that we could happily have stayed on the second course, filling our plates again and again, but a little self-restraint, and knowledge of what was to come, kept our greedy sides at bay.

Our waiter – one of several who looked after us impeccably – asked if we wanted a breather and we nodded a yes while trying to fathom how we’d manage more food. The spacing was spot on, allowing us time to relax and chat before our mains arrived.

The main course presents a choice, there is the Sunday roast, or options like Steak Frites and Poached Scottish Salmon. I chose the rib of Aberdeenshire beef Sunday roast and Ben went for the Severn & Wye Smoked Haddock.

The meat was pink, as I had asked for, and beautifully tender, cut into fairly thin slithers so you could really taste the beef. It was served with a rich and meaty gravy and a soft cloud of yorkshire pudding. A full bowl of fresh winter veg was on the side, almost overflowing with roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broccoli and red cabbage.

Ben’s fish was also fantastic, served with a mustard butter and placed on a hash brown, although the poached egg on top wasn’t runny, which a perfect poached egg should always be.

Pudding – yes there was more – was a comforting banana, rum bread and butter pudding for me, and apple tarte tatin for Ben. They were so good we both refused to share.

The bread and butter pudding was topped with rum and raisin ice cream, which had a faint hint of booze, and worked very well indeed with the banana in the pudding.

While we’re talking sweets, my head was turned a few times during our meal by the sight of a three-tier cake stand being carried through to the bar area. Admittedly any cake would usually turn my head, but this was particularly dazzling due to the puffs of candy floss which were sticking out of the top. It looked fabulous and fun, and will definitely be added to my ‘must-visit’ afternoon tea spots.

After a leisurely two hours we tried to button our coats back up (it was a task!) and headed out into the sunshine for a walk along Henley’s beautiful riverside. Henley is a lovely place to visit, picturesque and calm, and Hotel du Vin couldn’t be a better fit for the town. I will certainly not be leaving it until the next literary festival before I visit again.

I was invited to review the Sunday Brunch menu at Hotel du Vin in Henley so my visit was complimentary but all views are my own honest opinion. 

Cupcake Sunday

Cakes glorious cakes

I’ve often thought my surname was kind of ironic. After all Cook for the girl who once burnt chicken soup? However, after dinner party success on Friday I decided it was about time to live up to the name, and inspired by a) the current 1950s housewife trend and b) cupcake goddesses Rebecca Rutt and Jo Hunt I thought I’d turn my hand to baking.

(I realise this is nothing whatsoever to do with sewing or journalism but well, it’s Sunday, so let’s be whimsical and write about something yummy.)

First I found a recipe for Lemon Cupcakes in 200 Cakes and Bakes. There’s enough cakey goodness in those pages to make even  Augustus Gloop satiated. The idea for lemony goodness came from previously mentioned cupcake goddess Jo who made the most sweet, fluffy, gorgeous iced cupcakes for the Friday dinner party.

First I gathered my ingredients together like so:

Ingredients pre-cake making

Somehow, and believe me I have no idea how, the cake-baking went without a hitch. And there was even time for kitchen dancing courtesy of Radio 1.

Cupcakes pre-oven

My top tip for smooth, simple, dainty cakes that bounce back when you give them a little poke – bung everything in the bowl, mix and bosh, 15 minutes later the smell of warm sweet baking fills the kitchen. Easy peasy, although I was a bit like a mother sending her babies off to their first day at school when the mixture went in the oven and began to look like the cakes had muffin tops:

Good Luck babies!

But hoorah, they came out fine. And then the fun began.

I wanted frosting that looked like a little cloud puff, swept upwards with a lemon slice balancing on the top like a cherub. Instead I got a big dollop of lemon icing which I prodded at with a spatula in a vain attempt to make said swirly cloud. I read here that you can use an ordinary sandwich bag as a makeshift icing tube thingy. You can’t.

After an icing-sugar bomb exploded in my kitchen and the impromtu bag left a trail of icing across the counter for Hansel and Gretel to find their way home, I did manage to come up with some presentable looking goodies. And much to my great surprise, when I sat down with a cup of tea and took a bite, they actually tasted pretty darn good too. Not bad for an amateur Cook.

Cupcake anyone?