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Du Vin not Divine
Hotel Du Vin (Winchester)
Member Name: sarajackson
Hotel Du Vin (Winchester)
Date: 28/01/04, updated on 28/01/04 (914 review reads)
Advantages: Good locations, Good cocktail menu, None
Disadvantages: Lack of room amenitied, Useless website, Disappointing service and food
Anyway, I am ashamed to say we were not immune to such propaganda, and full of expectation, not to mention much curiosity, we had for some time intended to stay at one of the hotels. Incidentally the hotels are based in six cities around the UK; Brighton, Birmingham, Bristol, Tunbridge Wells, Harrogate and Winchester. It was strange to find a hotel group that nobody ever said anything even slightly negative about. When we planned a trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed we decided that we would satisfy our curiosity with a stay at their newest hotel (at that time) in Brighton. We booked over the telephone (no online bookings!) at a rate of £130 for the standard room, not including breakfast. The rate also did not include car parking that came in at a steep £15 extra per day. A little closer to the date of our stay, we decided to change our booking over to the Hotel du Vin in
Winchester. We were tempted by the slightly more reasonable rate of £110 and also the fact that the hotel had a free car park. More importantly Winchester had a Fullers pub and the pull of London Pride and Summer Ale was just too much of a temptation!.
We arrived for our two night stay, easily finding the hotel which is pretty much in the centre of Winchester, just a short walk up the High Street, on Southgate Street. The hotel is housed in a traditional Georgian style building, with a courtyard behind ideal for summer drinks. We parked our car in the leafy car park and went into the hotel through the garden via the rear entrance. The style of the reception area is very low-key, much more like an entrance hallway in a house with a desk stuck in the corner. The desk is very low and so you stand around feeling rather awkward as people push past you trying to get out of the front door, and waiters hurry through to the wine cellar and restaurant. You could be forgiven for thinking this was some subtle way of making guests feels less powerful as you stand awkwardly at the desk like a schoolchild waiting for a reprimand from a teacher! We were checked in by the rather unfriendly young receptionist and shown to our room, up a narrow flight of stairs and round some winding corridors with snakes of coir matting shifting under our feet. The walls are lined with numerous prints and the overall effect is quite homely if a little cluttered. All the rooms are named after wines, and we also noticed one named after our beloved Fullers! I guess if you get a room named after a brand of Champagne you've struck lucky; ours was Villa Maria, a pretty good not too expensive wine (so the standard room then!). You really need to worry when you get the Blue Nun room (joke).
I was immediately struck by the size of the room, it was rather cramped. On entering through the door, the fitted wardrobe was on the right, meaning you couldn't open the wardrobe an
d the door at the same time. Straight ahead was the door to the bathroom. We excitedly anticipated the bathroom as every review you read raves (and I mean RAVES) about the bathrooms. Turning left you were immediately in the bedroom, which was a roughly square shape with three tall windows overlooking the street. The bed took up most of the space with two bedside cabinets alongside, one containing a minibar. We had also heard glowing references to the huge beds that Hotel du Vin had, but ours was just a standard double ? quite a letdown. On the right hand side of the room was the dressing table and also a small unit with the small TV on top. The room did have a small CD player, which looked to be the only addition to the room above the norm. We also had a tall free standing fan in the room, as the weekend was quite hot, but this made very little difference ? the room was HOT and stuffy. It only served to make the room look more cluttered and took up valuable space. We opened all the windows in an attempt to relieve the discomfort.
The long anticipated bathroom was a shock ? tiny. We were left dazed and confused as to the various phrases we had read over and again about the wonderful Hotel du Vin bathrooms. As soon as you opened the door you were hit by the intense heat in there. The shower was over the bath, whereas you would have expected a separate shower in a hotel with this reputation. It was so compact that you felt quite claustrophobic and the sweltering heat turned the room into a sauna as soon as you tried to have a bath. There was very little space to place your toiletries, and I managed to knock the shower gel and shampoo provided onto the floor as I tried to manouevre in there. (The toiletries provided are actually quite appealing, in glass wine bottle shape bottles - amazingly I didn't have broken glas all over the floor!)
Our first night was pretty unpleasant. The room continued to be hot, the fan had very little ef
fect, only caused a rather disturbing noise and the shouting and hullabaloo from outside meant that you had to choose between being kept awake by the heat or the noise if you opened the windows. I can't remember the last time I have spent such an uncomfortable night because of the heat in the room ? there was not a breath of air anywhere. Oh how we yearned for air conditioning. It is amazing how soon you get used to hotels with air conditioning, and whichever way you look at it, in a hotel that has such praise heaped upon it, you don't expect anything to make your stay actually uncomfortable. We soon realised that the room lacked a clock as well, so you had no idea what time it was when you woke up in the night ? not great when you have to be somewhere early in the morning and don't want to oversleep. I think the last time this has been a problem was years ago when certain Travelodges/Travel Inns sometimes did not have clocks. Even these lodges have realised that this is a basic item every guest now expects.
We spent a day out at the Festival (with a detour en route to attempt to clean the car after the roosting birds in the 'leafy' hotel car park had well and truly christened (i.e. covered) the car in a way only roosting birds can!). That seconf evening we had chosen to dine in the hotel bistro. We enjoyed a cocktail in the garden which a very pleasant location ? and the cocktail was good too. The cocktail menu is a classy one with a good selection of champagnes and champagne based cocktails, as you would expect. I chose a Kir Royale, and my husband one of the other appealing champagne cocktails. We then made our way inside to the bistro which appeared quite small, and we were rather unfortunately seated at a tiny table right next to the bar, which made you feel that you weren't really dining in the restaurant at all. We did manage to order a bottle of Canadian wine though, which was one of the highlights, and a choice w
hich seemed to impress the Sommelier ? there's a first time for everything! I ordered tempura prawns for starter which were good if not fantastic, and were quite a generous portion. This seemed a pretty basic bar-food type item to find on this French inspired menu. I felt the edge had definitely been taken off my main course. My husband chose Rosti with Roquefort Cheese which he was very pleased with. For main course I chose a chicken dish with fine beans and baby onions. The chicken was nicely cooked and the accompaniments well chosen, but in style it did remind me of a dish I had eaten at Rick Stein's St Petroc's Bistro in Padstow, and this only served to demonstrate that the dish was not as good as it could have been. It was a bit like a poor substitute for the original. My husband's Dover Sole was good, but again only served to highlight similar dishes that he had enjoyed more at other restaurants. Overall though my husband said he really enjoyed his meal, but I did come away feeling a little disappointed. The complex richness of the flavours of my meal seemed to show a lack of finesse and I could think of various similar dishes I had eaten elsewhere which were much more carefully constructed.
After another disturbed night, we checked out on Sunday morning, for the first time in more years than I can remember, looking forward to my own bedroom and my own bathroom at home. We mentioned the fact that the room did not have a clock, and the receptionist (now slightly better humoured) said that no, none of them did. What a really weird idea. Such a basic amenity, and they don't even have it!
We did notice whilst strolling in the garden that the hotel does have some garden rooms in a small stable-like converted outbuilding with lovely cottage gardens outside and places to sit outside your door on a small patio. These would have been absolutely charming, and if I were to return to the hotel it would only be in
one of those rooms. It seemed strange that neither on the hotel's website or on the little-more-than-useless hotel guides these rooms are not mentioned. Talk about a well kept secret.
I am left dumbfounded by the press reports about these hotels. I can only assume that some journalists are getting some pretty good backhanders or freebies to constantly promote the brand. Although the hotel did have a certain shabby charm, and it definitely was the place to be with well-to-do or wealthy clientele (Ian Botham was there when we visited), I feel that the praise is disproportionate. We really regret the fact that we changed our booking to the Winchester hotel, as perhaps the new and modern influenced hotel in Brighton would be totally different to the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester. A couple of weeks after our stay the Brighton Hotel won the best hotel in the UK award in another of those newspaper polls, and it turns out the rooms have air conditioning and plasma TV's! Whether all these incentives actually exist or whether they are like the huge beds and amazing bathrooms that we found were non-existent, who knows, but I would be curious to find out. If I was visiting down south, it would be nice to have a stop in Brighton, just to satisfy our curiosity once and for all. I guess that would settle whether we avoid the chain at all costs in future. Next year we are staying at a Malmaison for the first time and I will be really interested to see how that chain compares, being in a similar 'trendy, boutique hotel style' category. The brand does lack that certain something from beginning to end. The website though attractive is of little practical use. The room rates are extremely vague and there is no way to book online. The room facilities are not mentioned at all, and only sound-bites (amazing showers etc etc) exist. No more useful information is contained within the tiny hotel guides that you can request online, so before you sta
y you assume the hotel must have everything you expect, only to find this is not the case when you arrive. So now as I play the weekly Hotel du Vin challenge, it is with a certain sense of cynicism and amusement ? I would say the real challenge is to see through the sound-bites and propaganda!
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