The Hôtel du Vin and Bistro is a quirky and lovely concept for what is currently a very small chain of hotels dotted around England, each in a converted historic building. The Birmingham outlet is in a converted Victorian eye hospital. The rooms aren't numbered: instead, each is sponsored by an alcohol purveyor. The Birmingham branch is the largest of the chain, with 66 rooms named disproportionately after champagne makers. This is not unrelated to the presence of the Bubble Lounge, a bar dedicated to champagne, with over fifty variants available for quaffing. As a hotel to stay in, it has much to recommend it; as a place to eat breakfast, it has even more.
Breakfast is served in the bistro, a luncherie and dinner venue dressed up to match its Francophone theme. Vines twine up the mottled yellowed ochre walls and empty wine bottles swarm the windowsills. The ceilings are high, the tables wooden, and the chairs tastefully modern. A large round table is laden with the bulk of the continental breakfast offerings, from yogurts to appealing granola to pastries to fruits, fresh and compoted. Another table offers juices, with selection of jams on a sideboard.
I loved the chocolate croissant: tender, buttery, flaky pastry encased chocolate which was actually chocolatey enough for my tastes - few chocolate croissants are. A large loaf of freshly baked banana bread, draped in a napkin, stood ready for slicing; I was particularly pleased with it because it was nut-free. I admired the Bonne Maman fruit compotes (their rhubarb compote is one of my favorite things currently), but passed over them, and another three in-house prepared fruit confections for the fruit salad. The fruit salad was fresh and thoughtfully put together, well-balanced in its ingredients. The grapes were seedless, the apples and pears chopped to a size easy to eat with grapes.
I passed on the tea and coffee, but did have a basket of toast. Nutty, flavorsome brown bread came with a warm croissant curled up amongst the triangles. The orange juice alone was nothing much; not bad, not great.
With all that bounty, I really didn't need a cooked supplement, but I can hardly regret doing so. One morning I had eggs benedict, the sauce sumptuous, the eggs perfectly done. The other day I had a bowl of sweet porridge. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Lightly, confidently seasoned and cooked exactly right, the oats on the al dente side of soft, just a little chewy. I never thought I would find porridge so exciting, but here it is, several days later, and I still smile when I remember it.
Service was friendly, the atmosphere relaxed, and the food ranged from decent to superb. I don't know if they serve the public, other than hotel guests, for breakfast. But the hotel's not so bad to stay in either.