New Year’s Eve is always a tough one. Risk a busy pub and the inevitable aggravation that comes with trying to have a nice evening amid all the new year hype? Or stay in then regret not making more of the occasion? Or….how about a nine course meal at a restaurant you know to be pretty good? Yes please.
Cafe Vin Cinq is one of our old favourites in Rugby. Set on three floors with a cocktail bar at the top, its French-influenced food has never let us down. The interior is beautifully decorated, complete with spiral staircase and chandelier, and the service is always impeccable. We’ve been here for New Year’s Eve before, but never for a multi-coursed sit down extravaganza like this.
The night began in the cocktail bar with drinks and canapés. I love a good canapé, and these were just right. Small and delicate and perfect to whet your appetite. Smoked salmon, chicken liver parfait, some kind of crab mousse, and even a creamy blue cheese mix wrapped in a baby gem lettuce leaf. All washed down with a glass of fizz and the signature cocktail of the night, a Ruby – gin and Cointreau among mixed with some other stuff I can’t remember that tasted rather good.
So on to the latest eating marathon. The meal started with Bloody Mary soup. I suppose with the sheer number of courses, we expected a tiny shot glass of soup, and instead were greeted with a full starter-size bowl. The generous size of courses seemed to be a theme that continued through the night and perhaps was the only negative of the evening, but more on that later. The soup was tasty, with a great Bloody Mary kick to it. I’m not sure if I actually had, or perhaps just didn’t notice, the vodka and black pepper sorbet, but whether it was missed off or had melted away, the soup stood alone well without it.
Next up, the warm smoked duck salad. Again, we expected a small piece of duck and instead had a rather generous portion of thick slices of nicely-smoked duck, served with a huge pile of leaves and pea shoots, as well as croutons, blackberry and apricot. The white truffle dressing was distinctive, as truffle always is, but not overpowering. And the Parmesan crisp not only looked the part, but tasted just right with no hint of the burnt taste that can sometimes emerge if it’s overcooked.
For the fish course, we were served filet of steamed lemon sole, wrapped up with a mousseline of lobster and white crab, with buttered watercress and an oyster beurre blanc. This was one of my favourite courses, although it was a bit too fishy for some of the non fish lovers on the table. The sole was Iight and delicate, while the mousseline had been steamed into a solid but delicate consistency. The combination of both, plus the beurre blanc, made for quite a fishy (in a good way), but light course which not only tasted good but looked impressive on the plate.
And so to the palate cleanser. For anyone who read the last post, you’ll have heard me rave about my sister-in-law’s Boxing Day raspberry and pink champagne sorbet, so the champagne sorbet at Cafe Vin Cinq was going to have to go some to beat that. Again, no small glass. Instead, a full champagne glass of smooth, fairy creamy sorbet. The taste wasn’t overtly alcohol-ey, and did the job of clearing the taste of soup, duck and fish ready for the main event.
So, the main event. Fillet of beef and hand-picked mushroom tarte tatin, with baby spinach, marrow-roasted potatoes, and a madeira jus. Again, the sheer size of the course – bearing in mind it’s part of a nine-course meal – slightly took us aback. A hefty slab of beef fillet, not cooked to order (presumably because of the logistics of producing a meal for a packed out restaurant all in one go) but cooked well, still pink inside yet charred on the outside, and incredibly tender. The potatoes were tasty, though we definitely didn’t need as many as we had, given their size, and the madeira jus was well executed, rich and indugent but not overpowering. The mushroom tarte tatin was nice, rich mushrooms on a light pastry base, but I’m not sure how much it added to the dish. We all agreed we could probably have done without it and stuck with the sweet, crispy thin slices of fried onions on top.
As you can imagine, by this point we were all pretty done, and still with dessert, cheese and coffee to go. It’s for this reason that I think the size of the courses was a bit of an error. We had really been looking forward to our dark chocolate torte and artisan cheeseboard, but it became a bit of an endurance test because of the sheer volume of food we’d already eaten.
The torte was everything a dark chocolate torte should be – rich, smooth and shiny with crumbly, light pastry and classy golden decoration. The sweet white chocolate ice cream and Madagascan vanilla froth it was served with complemented the bitterness of the chocolate and I’m sure I’d be raving far more about this dessert if I hadn’t been quite as stuffed as I was.
And finally. An artisan cheeseboard. I can’t even begin to tell you what cheeses there were, but they went well with the red onion and date marmalade and soured grape and cinnamon jelly. A glass of sparking apple juice served with it went down a treat as well, though that may have been purely because it was a refreshing welcome break from rich food and wine.
So, there you have it. Nine courses (I haven’t bothered waxing lyrical about coffee) and we were done. With ten minutes to go to midnight, we staggered up to the cocktail bar, saw in the new year, and then despite some valiant attempts at dancing were forced to admit it was all too much, and waddled home at about half past.
The food was great – to carry out a service for a whole restaurant at the same time, of that many courses, to that quality, is no mean feat. It’s just a shame that perhaps over-zealous portion size detracted from the experience for some people. I know we weren’t the only table slightly overwhelmed by the volume of food, and although it may sound ungrateful in the light of such generous portions, I’m sure most people would have preferred slightly less on the plates so they could enjoy the whole experience more. When you’re effectively having a tasting menu, you expect smaller portions so you can savour each one. Sometimes less is more, as the old adage goes. But despite that, it was a great way to say goodbye to 2014 and see in the new year with great company and of course, the obligatory food marathon!
Happy New Year one and all. Here’s to more foodie adventures in 2015!