Before we had children we were real Hotel du Vin junkies turning up to Tunbridge Wells, Winchester, Bristol or Birmingham in a heartbeat or at least whenever we were lucky enough to score a last minute reservation.
Friday night would roll around and invariably one of us would say – ‘Shall we see if we can get into the Hotel du Vin?’
We didn’t mind which one we ended up in for we knew the form – chic and boutique before everyone else jumped on that particular bandwagon, muted Farrow & Ball colours before they became so ubiquitious, no room service but fresh milk and real coffee in your room, food that was straight-forward and delicious without any offputting tureen-wieldng waiters lingering by your table.
The rooms were luxurious, the beds the most comfortable we’d ever slept in but surprisingly affordable (around £99 back then) so you could splurge on the mega wine list at dinner. More than a decade later, now with three children under our belt, we decided we were in dire need of some Hotel du Vin therapy and booked into the one at Poole. One of the trademarks of this chain is to convert beautiful buildings of historical importance – there’s the eye hospital in Birmingham, the sugar warehouse in Bristol, the old asylum in Edinburgh. Hotel du Vin Poole is in a stunning creeper clad Georgian mansion house just off the Old Quay. We had planned a walk on nearby Sandbanks and a quick squint at all those bling billionaire palaces but it was the weekend of torrential rain so we retired to our room instead (back to back episodes of Come Dine with Me Ireland cosied up in bed while the rain lashed against the windows – can a Saturday afternoon get any better?).
One of the newest in the chain, Hotel du Vin Poole has all the familiar hallmarks – the laidback bistro style dining room, the minimal yet lavish bedrooms – but with a more modern edge. Downstairs we found two perfect looking bars – one full of nooks and crannies, the other with a roaring open fire - hard to choose. We also discovered a wonderful library - if I'd known about this I might have dragged myself downstairs sooner to take time out with a book.
It was cocktail time and - how spot on is this? - the menu had a whole page dedicated to flavoured martinis. We opted for pear and espresso which were both spectacularly good.
Saturday night and the hotel was packed with a combination of Dorset locals coming in for dinner and escapee couples like ourselves. There was a lot resting on this 24 hour mini-break, the first weekend without kids for years and, have to say, the hotel delivered on every level. The dining room is cool and modern with tables that are well spaced and staff who are unfailingly friendly but also ready to leave you to your own devices. There was a definite feel good vibe in the restaurant that night, wherever you looked - couples or tables of 10 - people were having a great time. Grown up partying, perhaps that's it.
We shared an indulgent and totally delicious chateaubriand – which came, perfectly cooked, with fries and bearnaise – and drank a South African merlot that the sommelier recommended. I wish I’d written down the name because it was a knock out. And we did manage a quick Cointreau in the bar after dinner (just to try out the roaring fire). We woke to the sound of seagulls and the promise of a Hotel du Vin breakfast - orange juice so fresh it's squeezed in front of you, a long table laid out with fresh croissants, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, killer coffee and the Sunday papers. It was tough leaving all this decadence but we'll be back. And maybe next we’ll be able to drag ourselves away for a quick saunter on the beach but, somehow, I doubt it.