It’s easy to be suspicious of restaurants that inhabit buildings with a past, especially those that use it as a theme. Former banks, embassies and even car showrooms have proudly displayed elements of their previous lives in the rush to find kitsch spaces for the entertainment industry of the zeitgeist.
Under 40s will find it hard to believe, but dining out has not always been so in vogue. My childhood caught the end of the movie-going era. Any self respecting date was played out in the back row while some Woody Allen film droned on in the background. Nowadays, sharing a rib of beef and some polite chatter has replaced a silent and clumsy fumble in the dark. How times have changed.
So, if silver service is the new silver screen, why not turn a former cinema into a temple to new hedonism? The Daffodil, in the trendy Montpellier suburb of Cheltenham, has carefully, and extremely cleverly, avoided both kitsch and cliché in a fabulous piece of interior design that has retained the art deco character and soul of a local picture house, and yet made it a very pleasant space in which to dine.
The balcony has become a bar whose discreet booths overlook the stalls, which are now the dining floor. Focus is directed to the main event, the former screen, which has been opened up to reveal the pass.
There is also a small stage at the front which, on the Saturday we had lunch, was used to present a live jazz trio. A relaxed soundtrack to a silent but impressive matinée from the kitchen.
As good as the interior design is, and there is something new to appreciate every time you look up, like the chairs with half leather backs that brought traditional stalls seating to mind, it is not there to distract from the food. Dish of the day for me was a bang-in-season rhubarb trifle. But I could have picked the creamy spicy soup, the home made bread, or juicy pink lamb.
The wine list was pretty interesting. I’m a big fan of Michel Chapoutier and when his Crozes-Hermitage La Petite Ruche arrived too warm, the waiter plucked one directly from the cellar at exactly 16 degrees. It is a definite trend that UK restaurants are finally starting to pick up on the importance of wine temperature, despite blissful public ignorance. At £40 the multiple is a pretty steep 230% against an average retail price of around £12. And whilst I am wheeling out my wine markup bandwagon, with dessert, I ordered a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, only £3, but served in a 50ml measure – some people I know call that an eye-glass. But this is the only complaint I can find in an otherwise perfect easy afternoon scram. In any case, the Chapoutier is highly recommended with lamb, and the rich Syrah grape combined with a smooth vanilla finish was a perfect match for a parsnip soup combining the same creamy turmeric flavours. Made in the Rhone Valley at 13% ABV, its merits are not only spiciness but delicate and fragrant undertones. About as far from its cousin, the Aussie Shiraz blockbuster, as it is possible to travel.
The bill for two came to £121, which included three courses with a glass of champagne, a double Armagnac, a glass of dessert wine (smaller than the Armagnac), teas/coffees, the wine and service. Taken as a whole this is good value for one of the most pleasant afternoons I have spent in a long time.