The world needs more baked cheese

Hotel du Vin, Stratford

Tartiflette is one of the world’s great evils, tainting the breath with garlic and clogging the arteries with cholesterol.

But like many great wrongs, it’s also irresistible.

Waxy potatoes baked to crusty, seething perfection with pungent reblochon cheese, cream, onions, garlic and salty bacon is the ultimate comfort food.

On British menus you’re more likely to encounter fermented toad’s bollocks with hogweed emulsion and unicorn horn “soil” than this dish, originating from the French Alps.

Which made it an obvious choice as a  starter when I ate a post-theatre dinner at the Bistro at Hotel du Vin in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Hotel du Vin, Stratford

It’s a smart contemporary space that respects the integrity of the late 18th century building in which it’s located.

Expect exposed brickwork, smart tiled floors, lots of glass, eye-catching lighting and bare-top tables.

But tucking into my tartiflette, I could instead have been in a log-built farmhouse in the Haute-Savoie after a hard day milking goats.

This was a wonderfully satisfying dish – a winning combination of soothing textures and strong flavours.

Hotel du Vin, Stratford

Elsewhere at my table devilled chicken livers, sautéed mushrooms and a fine and powerful soup de poisson were enjoyed with equal gusto.

A simple French classic was also my choice as a main course.

Steak haché is a bit of a test, I think, ranging from a dull burger given a fancy French name to something altogether more elevated.

Hotel du Vin, Stratford

Here it was high-class.

Good quality beef had been diced rather than minced so that it retained chew, structure and taste. It was cooked medium-rare, as is right and proper.

It came with a good number of typical French fries, an intense sauce and a crisp and nicely dressed salad.

Alongside there were murmurs of approval from those eating a duck leg shepherd’s pie and rich Normandy fish pie with hake, gurnard, prawns and cockles.

Hotel du Vin, Stratford

Because our dishes were substantial, none of us made it to dessert.

Which is a pity because I’m confident that they would have been very fine after starters and mains that were cooked with great skill and care.

This is a place serving French and British classics uncluttered by gimmicks or unnecessary twists and all the more enjoyable for their simplicity and the respect that that is shown to tradition.

Service throughout was attentive but unobtrusive and was efficient.

The night drew to a conclusion as we necked back the last drops of white Rhone and hefty red Madiran we’d ordered from an interesting, fairly-priced and French-focused wine list.

Hotel du Vin, Stratford

Need to know

Expect to pay around £45 a head for food and wine.

The menu rapide is a cheaper (and tempting) option.

It’s child-friendly.

There are vegetarian choices.

Hotel du Vin

7-8, Rother St, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6LU. 01789 613685.

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