The cobbled little lane of Thistle Street is fast becoming a treasure trove of hidden gems. The dingy Old World pub has been polished up a treat, transforming it into a sparkling new champagne bar: The Bon Vivant.
The Bon Vivant is nestled on the strip of Thistle Street between Hanover Street and Frederick Street. It is far enough removed from the designer clothed melee of George Street, that you feel as if you have stumbled on a well kept secret.
The dark blue and wood interior has only been marginally tweaked, but with great results. The karaoke machine and flags have been thankfully removed and replaced with atmospheric lighting, candles, marble top tables, enormous art deco nuances, champagne adverts and a chic mish mash of retro furniture. Chilled beats emanate at a well judged volume and DJ sets are advertised, although not always apparent at the advertised times. The decidedly Gallic ambience does make you want to spark up a Gauloises and nonchalantly tip your beret to an even more aloof angle.
The proprietor’s choice of waitresses seems to suggest that he has a penchant for tall, well-spoken blondes. Coincidence or not, they’re very good at their jobs.
The clientele obviously enjoy the finer things in life, i.e. food, wine and relaxation. Although the majority of patrons are pretty normal ‘Burghers, there is a decided whiff of money here. As an example it may not be unusual on a single visit to overhear two quite separate conversations from parents who let their young sons sail the yacht while on holiday. Of course, not everyone present has such luxuries to bestow on their kin.
Real thought has gone into the menu. The option of £1 a pop bites are an excellent idea allowing you to have a little nibble as and when you feel like it. The bites include such treats of arancini, crispy little deep fried risotto balls each filled with a gooey cheese fondue centre, gamey black pudding with a sweet red pepper chutney and stinky wild garlic bruschetta.
The menu changes regularly, so you can’t guarantee what you’ll find on any given day. Mains may include a duck and chorizo cassoulet (£8) with delicious smoky flavours, hearty chunks of meat and an exquisite medley of beans. The thick slice of bread is great for mopping up, however a tranche of baguette may be more appropriate and the slightly watery consistency gives a feeling more of a soup than slow cooked casserole. Wild ragout (£6) is almost heart-stoppingly good, not only for the rich flavours but also for the no nonsense fat content.
Puddings continue the strong culinary expertise. A rhubarb crumble (£1 bite/£3 full portion) is gorgeously tart but unfortunately lacks custard. An option to have £1-bite puddings is wonderful for the indecisive among us, allowing you to sample tasters of a fantastically gloopy lemon posset, a dense and bitter chocolate torte and a rich but moist ginger sponge. The food is all made to an excellent standard and shows real potential, so fingers crossed that a rumoured change of chef will not result in a reduction in quality.
The Bon Vivant has a good range of non vintage champagnes (ranging from £7 a glass for Pol Roger to £19 a glass for Krug). Unfortunately the number of vintage champagnes is limited and a request for a demi-sec is greeted with blank expressions.
Tea in a sweet china cup will set you back £1.80, and there is a good wine list with treats such as a rich Nero d’Avola (£4.25) or a full on and fruity Chardonnay from Vina Leyda (£5). Fresh pints of Kronenberg (£3.50) arrive in frozen but very British dimple pint glasses and a clear passion for gin and malts are also displayed.
The Last Word
An excellent blend of old school and innovation, British and French, formality and smooth relaxation - Bon Vivant lives up to its name. This is indeed good living.