The Intrepid Creagh/Carr Review team are turning their talents to restaurants . . . and what more fitting starter than celebrated Luton Hoo Hotel and its festive dining menu.
CREAGH SAYS ... Nothing lifts the spirits more than a slap up meal in a five star hotel.
And Luton Hoo didn’t disappoint – from entering the beautiful grounds via the impressive wrought iron gates, tastefully bedecked with twinkling stars, to being seated in the sumptuous Wernher Restaurant and warmly welcomed by its charming staff.
But then I’m a sucker for all that fine dining fabulousness, having my napkin ceremoniously placed on my lap and the menu presented with a flourish.
And it’s always a good sign when said menu contains so many dishes I like.
Starters included roast butternut squash veloute, charred goat’s cheese crotin and a pressing of rabbit and hamhock. But I opted for potted pink shrimp and crayfish.
First we were served complimentary canapes – a trio of blue cheese mousse with walnuts (utterly creamy and delicious), black pudding bonbons (not a fan of this alleged northern delicacy so gave mine to Stewart) and smoked salmon and beetroot on rye (I felt the rye overpowered the delicate flavour of the other two ingredients).
But back to the potted shrimp and crayfish – heaven on a plate. It looked rather like a giant sushi but was bursting with fresh flavour, expertly enhanced by the accompanying lemon emulsion and avocado puree.
Next up an amuse bouche – and one of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted: a wild mushroom cream with Jerusalem artichokes and white winter truffles. Utterly wonderful. More please.
Italian sommelier Andrea suggested a New Zealand sauvignon blanc with the starter and a more powerful Trebiano with the main – traditional roast turkey.
Again I love someone recommending different wines with different courses, instead of simply ordering the house white and something more exciting on special occasions.
We were served an ‘interlude’ – a lime sorbet which we both found a little too tart.
I would love to have tried the wild mushroom, spinach and sweet potato rotollo served with creamed leeks but decided on the turkey because this was, after all, the restaurant’s festive menu.
And when our main meals came, they were topped with silver cloches and whipped off together with suitable panache.
I asked for and was served dark meat, together with chipolata wrapped in pancetta, sage and onion chutney (which looked just like a round plug of stuffing), Chateau potatoes (all identical shapes and sizes but would have preferred crunchy roasties) and seasonal veg - carrots , Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Love my vegees al dente but the carrots and sprouts could have done with a couple more minutes in the pan.
We awarded ourselves another interlude – this time to allow our food to digest before dessert.
Neither of us like Christmas pudding (served here with brandy sauce AND clotted cream) so I went for the date and pistachio frangipane tart with caramelised lemon ice cream. Must admit I was slightly surprised when it arrived looking like a rectangular slice of cake and not a tart at all, with two white chocolate ‘pick up sticks’ across the top. Not too sweet and highly recommended.
And a nice cup of (English breakfast) tea to round it all off.
The service was impeccable - head waiters Joynul and Piers couldn’t be faulted – discreet, but ready to enter into jolly banter and very knowledgeable about the grand old mansion house hotel.
10/10 in my book - a real Christmas treat.
CARR SAYS ... Whatever mood you’re in, the ambience of lighted candles and glistening chandeliers in a stately home can’t help but tick a few boxes.
And the Wernher restaurant - so called after one of Luton Hoo’s most illustrious owners - still retains the charm of a faded yesteryear. Sitting among its marble grandeur and hanging tapestries, it’s an imaginary trip back to the days of the manor house, all of this while attended by waiters oozing fine etiquette.
But before I get drunk on our surroundings, the offer of some real inebriation comes courtesy of Italian sommelier Andrea - whose odes to fine wine made an entertaining listen throughout our evening.
Andrea recommended I drink a French beaujolais wine, Chateau Gaillard (Morgon) - a delicious red bursting with fruitful flavours - to accompany my starter of rabbit and ham hock. This is a real meat lover’s delight, and in spite of its small appearance I found slicing through its pink chunks was more than satisfying.
I must add that we had tasted canapes beforehand, including blue cheese mousse with walnuts (not being a cheese lover, I actually found it quite mild), black pudding bonbons (I love black pudding) and smoked salmon and beetroot on rye (a lot of competing flavours).
Our amuse bouche - wild mushroom cream with Jerusalem artichokes - sent both of our tastebuds tingling, possibly the culinary highlight of the evening and totally unexpected! For my main course, head waiter Joynul suggested the pan fried loin of venison. It sounded irresistable and it didn’t disappoint. Fried around the edges and tenderly pink on the inside, the venison was cooked perfectly and a marvel look at.
To accompany this, I drank another red - Chateau Cissac from Bordeaux - a strong, full-bodied wine that complimented the venison, although I have to confess to secretly preferring the beaujolais.
After our mains, a very strong lime sorbet was then served. The lime flavour was way too sharp for me to manage any more than a few spoonfuls, but it certainly did the job of refreshing our palates.
For desert, Bev and I did consider sampling christmas pudding (this being a review after all) but after agreeing that neither of us were fans and our views would be biased - we went with our perferred choices.
Being a big kid at heart, it was the taste of chocolate I had to select. Dollops of chocolate ice cream served with a sprinkling of chocolate sauce and a fun chocolate spiral, its presentation made me smile before I tucked in.
The Wernher restaurant is undoubtedly high end, but more than just fine dining it offers a charming and perfectly relaxing evening set in stunning surroundings. Now that’s an experience. 9/10.
For more information, visit http://www.lutonhoo.co.uk/luton-restaurants.