Last month I had the pleasure of visiting England’s “second city”, Birmingham, for the UK Barista Championship “superheats” (which I covered for Sprudge with Nico Halliday – read about it here, here, and here). I also had the pleasure of staying in what is possibly Birmingham’s finest hotel: Hotel du Vin. What a name – it conjures an image of luxury already, doesn’t it? The “boutique” hotel chain is anything but your average chain. Each hotel is sui generis, true to the particular history and architecture of its chosen city and location, from Grade II-listed warehouses in Bristol, to a former asylum in Edinburgh, to the former home of a shipping company in Newcastle.
The old Birmingham Eye Hospital on Church Street provides the setting for this branch of Hotel du Vin. The building, opened in 1883, is a gorgeous example of Victorian architecture; thanks to HdV, the exterior is now protected and will remain as a tribute to the history of the location. The inside was renovated (retaining many original features such as the staircase and granite pillars in the foyer) to produce 66 unique rooms, a bistro, two bars, various private dining rooms, a spa, and a gym.
My friend Chloe and I checked into Hotel du Vin after a long day on our feet. As the photographer for the SCAE, I was on my feet from about 9 am til things wrapped up in the late afternoon, with short breaks in between each competitor’s 15-minute presentation. After just one day, my legs were already crying out for mercy. Thank goodness, then, for the supremely comfortable twin beds in our suite (aptly named the Beringer suite in keeping with the vin theme). I dropped my suitcase by the window and draped my tired limbs over the mattress, sinking into the mattress and Egyptian cotton sheets. I could have fallen asleep then and there, which probably would have been the best course of action. But all too soon we had to drag ourselves back out to meet up for dinner and social drinks at Brewdog. Had I known how desperately bad the food would be there (which was a shock, because I thoroughly enjoy the food at London’s Brewdog in Shoreditch) and how good the food was at Hotel du Vin, I would have probably chosen to stay in. I would have taken advantage of the iconic roll-top bath in the bathroom, sipped on the bottle of wine cheekily tucked away into the wardrobe, and perhaps afterwards put on some crap TV, ordered room service, and wallowed in the outrageously comfortable bed for the rest of the evening until sleep stole me away. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I indulged in some beer paddles at Brewdog – their food may have been cold and unappetizing but you can’t fault Brewdog for the quality of their beer… unless you want to fault them for having such delicious beer that I was perhaps led to overindulge slightly. Chloe, not one for beer (even delicious craft beers) indulged in some wine, though sadly not the wine at the hotel, so I can’t speak to whether it was good or not.
We awoke the next morning in the kind of desperate, hungry, hungover fug that can only be cured by one thing: breakfast, and lots of it. Before gracing the dining room with our bedraggled selves, I hopped into the magnificent (it’s the only word for it) monsoon shower, which seemed to be roughly half the size of my flat in London. I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing my own shower products with me to hotels because most of them provide products that dry out your skin and wreck your hair. It was a very pleasant surprise to see that Hotel du Vin not only provided lovely smelling, skin- and hair-friendly products, but even conditioner, which for some reason seems to be beyond the hospitable reach of most hotels. Feeling slightly more human, we crept downstairs to the Bistro du Vin, a cavernous yet somehow cozy affair with distressed wood flooring and walls covered with paintings following the general theme of wine, chefs, and bistros. We scanned the menu and knew almost immediately what we wanted. Being the perpetual eggs Benedict fiend that I am, I ordered that topped with smoked bacon (the other two choices being smoked salmon or mushrooms), while Chloe was drawn to the delicious-sounding brioche French toast, served with smoked bacon and maple syrup.
Shortly after ordering, toast with jam and butter appeared on the table along with a cafetiere full of coffee. We two coffee snobs fell upon it like it was the finest brew ever produced, and the toast disappeared as though locusts had got hold of it. The mains arrived promptly, and I wish I could say we savoured them, because they were absolutely delicious. My egg was perfectly poached, spilling a deliciously golden, runny yolk when prompted; the bacon was nice and crisp, not the soggy mess you too often see draped over your breakfast; and the hollandaise sauce was buttery and smooth, if not quite tart enough for my liking. No matter: it disappeared within minutes. From her closed eyes and appreciative mumbles, I assumed that Chloe was enjoying her French toast just as much.
When the dust settled and the last bits of coffee were sipped from the cups, it was time to head off to Millennium Point for another day of photographing. Given my delicate state, I’m pretty certain that anything less than the wonderful decadence of Hotel du Vin would have set me up for a pretty horrible day. But I would say it would be very difficult indeed, under any circumstances, to have a bad day following a night and breakfast there. We checked out with heavy, reluctant feet and some sadness at the thought of the tiny box room we were heading back to that night. I’m glad we did get the chance to stay at Hotel du Vin, and the next time I head to a city that HdV has graced with their presence, I’ll be looking forward to seeing exactly how good that bottle of wardrobe wine tastes while lounging in a roll-top bath.
Visit the Hotel du Vin website for rates and offers in 15 cities across the UK. I was kindly given a media rate on my stay (one night + breakfast) at Hotel du Vin Birmingham, but all opinions remain my own. I take eggs Benedict VERY seriously and would never lie about the quality of my breakfast food.