My husband and I have always rebelled against the forced affection of Valentine’s Day, and have at most marked it with a supermarket meal deal in front of the telly. After all, who needs a commercialised, Hallmark Card day on which to show someone that you love them when you can shower them in gifts and sweet nothings on any or every day of the year. Although, that said, we have been married for eight years now so life is now mainly nagging each other about the bins and sitting mute on the sofa watching separate screens, but IF I want to pirouette across the room and throw rose petals in my husband's face I’ll do it on whatever day I so choose, thank you very much.
However this year the Hotel Du Vin in Exeter, located in my favourite building in the city, the grand old eye hospital close to the city centre, has lured us out of our scepticism with their tempting ‘Share The Love’ Valentine’s Menu, one designed to force couples beyond their usual instincts and make them actually talk to one another.
I love this hotel. Yes, it’s a ten minute walk from home and does two-for-one Prosecco on a Friday, but it's also a lovely metaphor for how marriage is all about careful balance - modern interiors with historical architecture, a sense of escape in the heart of the city, formal dining with a relaxed atmosphere, and restaurant lighting bright enough to recognise what you’re eating while dim enough to hide any herbs stuck in your teeth.
The Valentine’s menu is classic and decadent, kicking off with a glass of champagne to enjoy while inhaling deeply on the delicious wafts from the open kitchen. I never drink champagne - Prosecco yes, I've been known to enjoy a glass or two, but Champagne for me marks a really special occasion.
The starter was perfectly cooked scallops and tiger prawns in garlic butter. The prawns were so hefty that we had to take a moment to hold them aloft and marvel at them, which naturally led to an impromptu shellfish puppet show, “Hallo, I’m Mr Prawn! Look at my big, juicy, prawny head!”, “My head’s bigger than yours Mr Prawn! Arghhh don’t rip off my giant head!”. At this point my husband is insisting that I include his commentary as I was trying to take a photo which did justice to the beautiful presentation of this dish… “If I eat a second prawn is it prawn again? If you take a photo of a prawn is it prawnography?”. I'm so sorry.
A large space had to be cleared on the table ahead of our main course’s arrival, which was ceremoniously presented to us by the lovely Bistro assistant manager Christine (all the staff by the way were gorgeously attentive and friendly). Chateaubriand is a staple on the Hotel Du Vin menu, AMEN as it is something that I need in my life again before too long. It was divine and yes it did ‘melt in the mouth blahhhhhhh’, which is the biggest steak cliche but IT DID which is nuts because how does anyone make meat melt who isn’t an actual wizard? Olives, sundried tomatoes, green beans, salty, crispy, chips and a buttery Béarnaise served in a baby copper pan that Nigella would be proud of, all accentuated the dish beautifully. As long as there is such expertly cooked beef as this, romance will never be dead.
Lastly for dessert we were served a wonderfully retro Knickerbocker Glory to share, crammed with fresh pineapple, strawberry and pistachio ice cream, and strawberry coulis, topped with an immaculate swirl of smooth Italian meringue. I had considered whether there was an analogy here for relationships too, starting with an eager and clumsy clamour to jump in followed by the slower more reserved enjoyment of what had been lovingly put together. However I soon realised that it was better not to think about this for too long because all the while my husband was stuffing his face. Thank goodness all of the portions served to us were big enough to ensure we played nicely. It left me smiling though, knowing that if my husband and I could share a Knickerbocker Glory in a civilised fashion, then I’m fairly certain we could survive anything. I even relented the last third, so love must truly have been in the air.
Hotel Du Vin’s “Share The Love” menu is £100 for two people and available until 18th February. It also features a Champagne Afternoon Tea for £50 for two.
Hotel Du Vin | Magdalen Road | Exeter | Devon | EX2 4HY
T 01392 790 120
*Disclaimer: I was invited by Hotel Du Vin Exeter to sample their Valentine's Menu in exchange for sharing my experience on social media. All opinions are mine, and any prawn puppetry should always be undertaken at the risk of your own reputation.