Dinner At: Luton Hoo hotel, near Harpenden
PUBLISHED: 11:46 27 January 2015 | UPDATED: 11:46 27 January 2015
2014 Tim James-Hammond
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne explores the Wernher wow factor at Luton Hoo
Proving that fortune favours foodies at least occasionally and just in time for the festive season, the Hertfordshire Life roulette wheel of eateries to be reviewed rolled around last month to Luton Hoo and specifically the Wernher Restaurant. Given my contention that food is only part of the dining-out experience, the others being the surroundings and level of service, this meant a third of my jottings was already taken care of thanks to the splendour of the two rooms that make up the place. The idea of dining there was also enough to persuade Herts Life’s editor to join me for the evening in place of one of my usual fellow-critics.
Luton Hoo’s website pulls no punches in its loving descriptions of the full-length marble panels on the walls, the chandeliers and lush curtains at the picture windows, not to mention the views of the grounds that guests can enjoy when not studying the menu or eating and drinking. The restaurant, which has two AA Rosettes, is named for Sir Julius Wernher, one of Britain’s richest men when he bought Luton Hoo in 1903, and it is claimed he spent half of a lavish refurbishment budget for the mansion and estate on what is now one of the area’s most popular places to go for a meal. All you can say now is that it shows.
Matching the food offer to the room is a big ask but one which Luton Hoo’s executive chef, Kevin Clark, has risen to, most recently with a revamped ‘Speciality Menu’ which all but replaces the usual a la carte list, although a version of that is also available with an acceptable selection of everyday dishes. The website, however, edges potential clients towards the specials and that’s where we chose to go, lured by some inventive accoutrements to the main dishes. It is a fixed-price menu at £47.50 per person for two courses and £52.50 for three.
Options among the starters included a rabbit and grouse pithivier with a Medjool date purée, roast parsnips and a game and ale jus; or foie gras ballotine with orange gel, celeriac remoulade, toasted gingerbread and brioche crumb. They sounded good but came second to wild mushroom, ricotta and tarragon tortellini with cèpe espuma, wilted rocket and a sesame and poppy seed tuille for me, while No 2 reviewer chose ever-popular pan -fried scallops, served this time with cauliflower and grain mustard purée, chestnut bubble and squeak, compressed apple and Granny Smith foam. Both dishes were attractively plated, as was the whole meal, and satisfied a thirst for knowledge about the mushroom foam on one hand and chestnut bubble and squeak on the other.
Main-course choices ranged from poached turbot on squid ink linguini with a shellfish and spinach cream, or whole grilled Dover sole, to Gressingham duck breast with slow-cooked leg and haggis faggot, baked celeriac and a redcurrant and blackberry jus. The duck-plus-haggis was tempting but didn’t quite match up to a rack of English lamb with a sweetbread and shoulder steamed pudding, shallot pomme purée, roasted baby beetroot and rosemary jus for me, while my friend chose pan-fried halibut with braised ham hock, artichoke barigoule, salsify chips, sautéed kale and a chicken jus. This brought the only real criticism of the meal, the fish being drier than it was meant to be, while quantities were adequate rather than substantial – but that’s fine dining for you.
The good news was that we had room for dessert and between us dealt satisfactorily with a prune dish featuring a fruit and Armagnac fondant, confit orange, milk purée and chocolate ice-cream; and a plum creation with Snowhill honey iced parfait, roasted fruit, walnut crumble and Madeira sorbet. For especially sweet tooths, other choices included a chocolate dessert of white chocolate semi-sphere and cake, rich chocolate mousse, caramelised banana and chocolate ice-cream.
Befitting the sort of place the Wernher Restaurant is, our meal was accompanied by a set of amuse-bouche - including a notable lemon sole roulade stuffed with salmon and crayfish, salsify and chervil espuma - and palate-cleansing sorbets between courses. Service was politely efficient but careful rather than enthusiastic. The restaurant is open from Wednesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner and there is an all-day Sunday lunch from 1pm-9pm at £35 or £16 for those under 14. Another option is a five-course tasting menu at £62.50 per person or £95 with wine pairing
The cost of this meal for two with two large glasses of wine was £128.95. Service was extra.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
BOOK A TABLE
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa
The Mansion House, Luton LU1 3TQ