Bouillabaisse at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sometimes it’s the good local places that are quietly getting on with their business that you forget about, then return to and remember just how darn good they are. Such is the case with Cafe Vin Cinq, an cafe cum brasserie cum bistro – recently voted best restaurant in Warwickshire in the Coventry Telegraph’s People’s Choice Awards – that happens to have a cocktail bar on the top floor as an added treat.

I’ve been before to Cafe Vin Cinq, in fact I’ve written about it on this blog when we went for a New Year’s extravaganza a few years back. I’ve also been back for cocktails a few times. Yet despite it being right on our doorstep, I’ve got to confess it was far too long since we’d dined there. And the loss really is all ours, because on our recent visit we were reminded exactly what we’ve been missing out on.

It was a Wednesday night when Mr M and I popped in as a cheeky little treat to ourselves. But you wouldn’t have known it, it was packed. We managed to bag ourselves a little table in the perfect spot to admire the imposing buildings of Rugby School, as well as Cafe Vin Cinq’s beautiful interior. It’s got a lovely boutique restaurant charm, created in part by its elegant decor as well as by the friendly, yet polite, service you get when you walk through the door.

The interior of Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

The menu is a mix of French classics like bouillabaisse and coq au vin with other, slightly different, dishes thrown in, like a DIY risotto where you pick your own ingredients or a thai red curry that, again, you can mix and match ingredients to create yourself.

There are steaks on offer too, as well as an ‘ultimate surf and turf ‘ – prime fillet steak with lobster, or a chateaubriand. They do brunch and lunch too, and have a pretty good wine list. What more could you want from your local restaurant?

On a mission to carry on with our wine education so wonderfully started by our friends a few weeks ago, we steered clear of our usual default choice of Malbec, and decided on a French Pinot Noir for the night then cracked on with the food.

Baked camembert at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

Despite offerings of starters like pan-fried scallops or duck liver parfait proving tempting on the menu, they lost out to a baked camembert to share, studded with garlic, drizzled with orange blossom honey and served with charred ‘rustic’ bread. Yeah, so it’s hard to go wrong with a baked camembert when it comes to impressive culinary feats, but it definitely hit the spot. The cheese was oozy and warm, the garlic not too potent, and the honey added a nice bit of sweetness that contrasted with the bitterness of the charred parts of the bread. A great combination, nicely presented, and easily devoured.

Baked camembert at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

For main course, I steered clear of the meat and went for a French classic – bouillabaisse. I first had this when I was much younger and on holiday in France with my longstanding best buddy (who just so happens to be the one who cooked us the amazing meal I raved about when we visited her in London), and I remember a steaming tureen packed with all sorts of fish I’d never seen before being put on a special stand next to our table so we could ladle its loveliness into bowls to our hearts’ content. A big memory to live up to!

Bouillabaisse at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

I wasn’t disappointed. The bouillabaisse was packed with scallops, prawns, mussels, chunks of aniseed-y fennel, and that all-important fresh taste of the sea. It was warming, hearty, rich and full of flavour, yet not too heavy. And it was served in a simple, peasant style, with some hefty chunks of bread that were perfect for dunking in the sauce.

Bouillabaisse at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

Mr M has vowed that he won’t always choose steak these days. Instead he went for the lamb – another substantial meal packed with flavour. It was cooked just right, still a bit pink inside, and was piled on top of a big wedge of dauphinoise potato. Both were surrounded by a pool of rich, meaty jus and some simple but well-executed veg.

Lamb fillet at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

Yes we were full, but the floodgates had been opened so we just couldn’t help but try Cafe Vin Cinq’s famous cheese board. We’ve got friends who have raved about this and we needed something to accompany the remainder of our wine, so hey, why not?

I have to say, I’ve never quite had a cheese board this big in a restaurant. Maybe at home at Christmas or at a wedding possibly. But not in a restaurant for a casual Wednesday night dinner. Slabs of cheese, stacks of crackers, bunches of grapes, strawberries and even some quince jelly (well I think that’s what it was). As a soft cheese lover, I’d have liked to see one on there, but there was a nice mix, and I guess I had already eaten my body weight in camembert so shouldn’t really complain.

We didn’t manage to get anywhere near finishing it, but the ever-helpful staff didn’t balk at all at packing the rest up for us to take home. I know I say it all the time but it’s little things like that – you know, making your customers feel comfortable – that make a place stand out to me.

Cheese board at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

Petit Fours at Cafe Vin Cinq, Rugby

What’s this? MORE food? I know, insane. I’m not sure what possessed me to order a plate of petit fours at the same time I was ordering a cheese board. But I did, and there they are. Despite us having already admitted defeat with the cheese, it didn’t seem to stop us wolfing these badboys down, and rather delicious they were too. I reckon it’s a good idea to put something like this on the menu, for those times when you just want a little taste of sweet but not necessarily a whole dessert (or tonnes of cheese!)

And there it is, a feast fit for a king and perhaps more fitting for a weekend blowout than a quiet weekday meal but hey, who’s judging? One thing’s for sure, it’s made me kick myself repeatedly for neglecting Cafe Vin Cinq for far too long. Luckily for me, the good people of Rugby haven’t and this great local restaurant seems to have gone from strength to strength.

They’re doing so much right here. Good food, good ingredients, a great range of dishes and a wonderful balance of classic and adventurous. The service is great – in fact, after I let slip we were marking an important occasion, the kind waiter serving us reappeared with two glasses of champers. Again – a nice touch that adds a bit of personality and shows us humble diners that somewhere actually wants to give us a good time – not just take our money and run.

Speaking of money, there’s another thing that sweetens the deal at Cafe Vin Cinq even more. They’re on the Taste Card which means you can get all this yummy food and service at a REALLY reasonable price. Don’t get me wrong, I’d happily pay full price, given the fab experience we had, but who’s gonna turn their nose up at a discount? Not me. Especially not when it’s for something this good.

We used our Taste Card at Cafe Vin Cinq to get some money off the bill, and our glasses of champagne were complimentary, but they didn’t know I was a blogger or was planning to write about this.