With our last bulk of annual leave back in May and Christmas still a good month or so away, my husband and I declared that we were sincerely overdue for some rest and relaxation this month; just an injection of peacefulness to tide us over until the jingling bells of Christmas commence. With this in mind, we decided to book in for a spa break for a one-night stay as a bit of a mini break, with my husband selecting the Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa as our final destination. With its choice of bars and restaurants, our weekend escape was shaping up to be as much about the food as it was the massages and jacuzzi time.
Arriving on Saturday afternoon and departing on Sunday afternoon, we consumed two lunches, a dinner and a breakfast during our brief time at Luton Hoo, and naturally many courses were involved; we are no amateurs when it comes to our spa getaways!
We arrived at Luton Hoo around 1pm on Saturday, and my grumbling stomach was sorely protesting. As our room wasn’t yet ready, we headed away from the main mansion house and instead over to country club, where the majority of the facilities are based. This includes the trendy 19th Bar. Set on staggered levels and with a minimalist white, dove grey and duck egg blue vibe, this bar hit the nail on the head for being trendy yet peaceful; suitable for country club members watching the sport and spa guests in their robes. Tucking ourselves into a corner booth, we eagerly scanned the lunch menu. We only wanted something light so as not to spoil our dinner reservation, so I opted to have a salad of spinach leaves, butternut squash, feta and pumpkin seeds, washed down with a very nice glass of warming, fruity merlot, while Dan chose the coronation chicken wrap, served with crisps and salad. He paired his lunch with a Magners cider.
I absolutely loved my salad; it featured a lot of components I enjoy but don’t often eat as my husband doesn’t like them – namely the butternut squash and the feta cheese. The feta was crumbled into satisfyingly large chunks for a delicious creaminess which added decadence to the leaves of the salad, while the roasted butternut squash provided an autumnal warmth and soft sweetness. This paired perfectly with the cheese. The pumpkin seeds added a good bite of crunch to the whole mixture. Due to the generous amount of cheese and squash, no dressing was needed at all and I have to say this is probably the nicest salad I have ever eaten. It was light enough for lunch but with really decent amounts of squash and feta which makes you feel you are getting value for money, and not just a pile of flavourless leaves.
Dan also enjoyed his wrap; the chunks of chicken were a generous size also and lightly spiced to suit all palates.
Included in our spa package was a three-course dinner at the country club’s main restaurant; Adam’s Brasserie. The barn-like space features high and airy pale wooden beams and black metalwork ceiling lights. The cream walls proudly showcase black and white movie stills, highlighting all of the films that have had scenes shot at Luton Hoo. Dan and I were ushered into a comfortable horseshoe-shaped booth for our meal; these has more than enough room for two and it was nice to not be squashed onto a tiny table for once just because there’s only two of us. I reclined against the high-backed mushroom coloured seat and it was great to take in the relaxed and happy vibe of the restaurant. Everyone seemed very chilled, unwinding and letting their hair down.
To drink, I chose a bottle of French sauvignon blanc, which Dan and I shared. It was deliciously fruity, sweet yet medium-bodied, and it really hit the nail on the head. While happily sipping my wine, I chose the confit rabbit croquettes, served with pickled red cabbage and kale, for my starter. I have to say, although this was tasty, it wasn’t as great as I was anticipating it to be. The whole dish was very dry, and I really needed some sort of sauce or dip to help tie the flavours together and bring the dish to life. The croquettes were cut into thick triangular wedges, with one edge exposed to show the flaky, pale pink rabbit mixture inside. The other sides were coated in a darkly cooked breadcrumb.
This had a lot of crunch, while the soft rabbit flakes inside offered some squish, however both components were still rather dry. The garnishes were also dry; the kale was crispy like the seaweed you would get from a Chinese takeaway, while the pickled cabbage was tart and cut through the other flavours nicely, yet still didn’t add the moisture the dish needed. A creative dish and a great idea, but definitely a type of sauce was needed. Not bad on flavour though, although I wouldn’t say it was hugely game-y. Dan, on the other hand, ordered the salt and pepper squid, which came with a curry-toned mayonnaise. His squid slices were big and lightly battered, as well as surprisingly tender. He did try and share his mayo with me, however he also didn’t have masses of dip for dunking.
For main course, I decided to have the braised venison shoulder, again a meat that I love but definitely don’t have very often. This venison was served like a stew; the small cylinder of venison sat in the middle of a shallow bowl in a pool of finely cubed autumnal vegetables and pearl barley. The venison was lovely. Although it didn’t look like much at all, and certainly wasn’t a natural shape, it was wonderfully tender and simply fell apart as soon as I poked it, shredding into lovely flakes of soft meat. It was flavoursome and juicy and lovely to tuck into because it was so soft and clearly cooked to perfection. The stew was also nice, although it was a little tricky to identify what I was eating. The cubes of vegetables were very small so the flavour from them wasn’t hugely impactful to be honest. I think it was carrot and parsnip if I am judging by colour, and while the flavour probably added to the stew juices and the meat, I wouldn’t say it was anything special if eaten by itself. The pearl barley really gave the dish that stew like feel, especially as it began to soak up the clear stock juices of the meat pooling at the bottom of the bowl. The pearl barley was all mixed with the veg, so this provided a nice, slightly bland base to enable the venison to be the gentle and unassuming star of the show. Eaten all together, it was a tasty dish and I enjoyed it very much. I ordered a side of buttered spinach to have with my meal and I’m glad I did. Although the portion sizes on the whole were very good, I wouldn’t say there was anything massively filling in my main course, so the beautiful and buttery spinach really enhanced my dinner.
Dan also went for a carnivore option, choosing the 10oz ribeye steak, served with a garlic and herb butter and chunky chips. I’m not going to lie, when it came out, I was a wee bit jealous as the meat looked great; a great hulk of a steak. Dan’s feedback however was that there wasn’t enough of the butter served with it; this is saying something as Dan doesn’t actually like a lot of sauces with his food.
After devouring our main courses, it was time to hit the sweet spot. This time, we both opted for the same thing – the milk chocolate mousse, served with salted caramel sauce, chunks of cinder toffee and a scoop of honeycomb and vanilla ice cream. This was pure indulgence on a plate. A cupcake sized thin, solid chocolate case held the milk chocolate mousse, offering a satisfying crunch alongside the silky yet bubbly mousse within. The mousse itself was the ideal milk chocolate flavour and was really light to eat. The cinder toffee on top was basically chunks of honeycomb, again offering a different texture as well as a complimenting flavour the main dessert. The salted caramel sauce was a thick, yet stingy, drizzle on the bottom of the plate. The honeycomb ice cream was more a scoop of vanilla ice cream that had honeycomb pieces threaded through it; it was a gorgeous ice cream and I’m sure I could easily eat an entire tub of the creamy goodness. It was a really lovely dessert; the only downside was the wait. We waited around half an hour for dessert to actually come out; apparently the kitchen had to wait for the mousses to thaw in the centre before they could be served and usually they weren’t as frozen as they happened to be when we ordered them. Granted, a good reason for a long wait, but they could have told us sooner. Wonderful mousse though, it’s nice to have the flavoured centred around milk chocolate for once rather than dark or white.
I also asked for a glass of dessert wine to have with my chocolate mousse. I was given a glass of deep brown coloured liquid, an American black muscat. Smooth, silky and forest fruity, it was really lovely and added a black forest gateaux feel to my afters.
As a heads up, drinks are expensive, albeit delicious. Although our food was all included in our package, our drinks weren’t and we were soon stacking up quite a bill…ok I was stacking up quite a bill. Our bottle of wine with dinner was £29 and the glass of muscat was just under £9. The Aperol spritzes I was happily downing in the fancy drawing room in the manor house post dinner were £15 a pop too. There aren’t many drinks menus lying around to be honest, so you just have to order and hope for the best. Everything is pretty excellent so you do expect it to cost a pretty penny too unfortunately.
I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner on the whole. The food was lovely, the selection on the menu was varied, the presentation was neat and thoughtful and it was all delicious. Yes, there were a few niggles, such as a too-dry starter, however collectively it was a wonderful meal and I left feeling very full and happy. My main complaint would be the service. The waiting staff were all very polite and accommodating, however the service on the whole was very slow and we waited for ages in between courses or for drinks. I appreciate it was a busy Saturday night, but I have no sympathy for venues that fail to plan ahead, especially as our reservation had been in the diary for at least a month, as well as all the other spa inclusive diners. Luckily, we had no reason to rush so we could take our leisurely time with no issue.
The next morning, after I had happily played with the Nespresso machine in our room, we headed down to the acclaimed Wernher restaurant for breakfast. Again, service was polite and functionary, yet snail-like in speed. We were shown to our table and then we sat twiddling our thumbs before anyone deigned to even give us a menu, let alone explain the breakfast set up. Our table was laid up with jams and sugar, ready for the off and once we had our menus, we both settled on the traditional full English breakfast. I decided to have my eggs poached and I swapped my mushroom for a chunky slice of black pudding.
I have to say, it was a decent breakfast flavour wise. The sausages and bacon can make or break a breakfast, but luckily here the sausages were fat and flavourful with a smattering of herbs inside, while the bacon was thick-cut and not too fatty on the edges. The poached eggs were like large, perfectly round pearls of egginess; when popped, they spewed yolk delightfully, which I mopped up with gusto. The beans were served in a side dish, which always annoys me to be honest, the hash brown was pretty much like the frozen ones you can buy and the tomato was standard. The single slice of black pudding was tasty and added a richness to the dish. One oddity was that the waitress dishes out the ketchup rather than giving you a bottle or a side plate. She stands over you, spooning the ketchup from a gravy boat on to your plate so you have no say on how much ketchup you want or where it goes on your plate. I found this very odd and rather disagreeable. All in all though, a lovely brekkie, served with a mix tray of toast. I tried both the granary and the brown bread, having two halves with my eggs and beans, the third with the raspberry jam loitering in the middle of the table. Perfectly toasted in my opinion with no burnt bits. I asked for coffee with my breakfast, which arrived in a large jug, ready to pour into my dainty matching cup and saucer. I didn’t realise items like cappuccinos or flat whites were available, otherwise I would have ordered one most likely, however it wasn’t the end of the world just having a typical filter coffee.
Definitely a lack of explanation on pretty much everything throughout our stay at Luton Hoo. If we didn’t ask the question or at least have a vague idea of what we were doing, we really wouldn’t have had a clue.
After my main breakfast, I needed something to hit my sweet spot, so I opted to check out the continental options. These were really disappointing and lacklustre actually for such a fancy restaurant; it all looked a bit sad shoved on the side. I had a portion of Greek yoghurt topped with granola, however the gleaming star of the continental selection was undoubtedly the amazing muffins. Tall and bursting from the wrappers, Dan and I shared two muffins; one was a banoffee flavour, with the sponge studded with banana chips and a toffee sauce hiding inside the centre of the muffin. The second was a blueberry cheesecake concoction, with a traditional blueberry muffin filled with a creamy filling. These were divine; the sponge was soft, the fillings were unexpected and well executed and they were generally really lovely muffins.
The other best bit of breakfast however was the room itself where we ate. It was sheer regality with crystal style chandeliers hanging elegantly from the ceiling, grey and white swirled marble surfaces edging the room and stunningly large and imposing tapestries filling all of the wall space. I felt like I stepped back in time to enter an Austen novel where I was visiting the very richest family. It was a gorgeous and opulent room that really makes you feel a hundred dollars just for sitting in it.
After a spot of spa-ing, we were ready for lunch. This time, a two-course option was included in our package. We had booked a table for 12.30pm as we had full-body massages due at 2pm. Originally, we had thought an hour and a half would be plenty for a two-course lunch, but our previous experiences were leaving us feeling very doubtful and clock-watching. We were right; the service continued to be slow and we had to chase for our food at least twice. We ended up leaving with five minutes to spare only because we physically left the table to get the bill and pay. This is certainly my main bug bear with Luton Hoo; slow service will put anyone and everyone in a bad mood, even if you aren’t in a rush.
Regardless, lunch was tasty. After spying the beefburgers wafting past me at dinner the night before, I was pleased to see them on the lunch menu. The menu described the 8oz burger as having glazed rarebit, onion rings, French fries and coleslaw. The list seemed to describe the sides here, so I asked to swap my French fries for chunky chips. Definitely the right choice as these fat and neat cuboids were clearly homemade, certainly nice and fat, and much more satisfying to eat and dunk in ketchup. They had a soft centre yet were also pretty soft on the outside too. The coleslaw came in a side dish, placed next to the open burger on a rectangular white plate. The onion rings were resting on the inside of the top of the burger bun, ready to be folded into the burger, which looked and smelt appetising. The burger itself, resting on the bottom of the bun, was smothered in a completely melted layer of cheese, I assume cheddar. It was bubbly and golden. Unfortunately, Dan cannot eat dairy, and we hadn’t made the connection that the glazed rarebit was fancy speak for melted cheese; we assumed cheese would be clearly labelled in today’s allergy-laden landscape! He ended up scraping all of the cheese off his burger and dumping it in mine. I spooned some ketchup over my double cheese layer, put my burger together and got stuck in.
It was a nice burger, but nothing to write home about. It was meaty, beefy and satisfying. The breaded onion rings worked well in there, although the flavour was hidden at times, and the brioche style bun held together well to keep the burger intact throughout. Again, it needed more sauce and was a smidge dry. Luckily, my double cheese layer helped to keep the burger moist and negate my wish for more ketchup, however when I tried some of Dan’s burger sans cheese, it actually tasted really rubbery – it appears the burger really needs the cheese to help enhance the flavour and the texture. Overall a nice meal, but certainly improvements to be made.
We also both chose to have dessert rather than a starter as our other course. We were pleased to spot the same options from the dinner menu the night previous, as Dan was dying to have another chocolate mousse and I was keen to try my second option of a warm data and banana sponge. Despite the descriptions being exactly the same as the dinner menu, even down to the sauces and sides, our desserts were nothing like we expected. Dan’s chocolate mousse for example, was now looking like a brownie cake bar in a cuboid shape, with thick cake layers and a very thick, dark and rich chocolate mousse. Very different indeed.
Part of the reason I chose the date and banana sponge was for the banoffee cream, however there was no cream for me. My pudding was served with a generous scattering of banana chips on top, sat on an equally generous pool of butterscotch sauce, but instead of the unique cream I wanted to try, I was presented with a scoop of boring vanilla ice cream. I know it’s a small thing, but we both felt a bit short-changed bearing in mind the descriptions are identical. My sponge was tasty though; it was like a sticky toffee pudding without any fruit pieces in it, so it was just sponge. The banana was barely a flavour at all, but just the merest waft of a tone in the aftertaste so it was a hint of banana really. So, lunch was nice, but also a bit disappointing.
The food at Luton Hoo is lovely and you can certainly have a decent meal there, as long as you aren’t in any rush and you’ve saved your pocket money. It wasn’t as dreamy as it could have been, although maybe this is just because we went in with high expectations because of the luxurious ambience and opulent manor house vibe (plus Dan spent a bomb, you therefore expect it to be good). I’d still go back and I reckon I’d still enjoy the food just as much, but I think I’d haul back my expectations and enjoy it for what it is; a delicious meal with my wonderful husband.