Hoo Do You Think You Are?

And so the journey "proper" is under way... And so far, it's been all I hoped it would be.

The car itself is a beast albeit in a good way. Clarkson would no doubt have lots to say - and a Sat Nav system that doesn't let you put in a whole postcode does seem pretty bloody daft - but, for this performance car virgin, I've got to say I'm impressed. It's slick, sleek, goes like the proverbial ploppies off a trowel, and packs some surprising economy under its alarmingly long bonnet. The gadgets are a lot of fun too. For someone who hasn't driven a new car for 14 years, it's amazing how far they've moved on. Quite frankly, an ejector seat and surface-to-air missles are about the only things left to add.

As I think I mentioned before, the feature I'm "working" on - and I mean that in the loosest, most calorific, oh-go-on-then-just-another-glass-of-red sense of the word - is a combination of BMW review and a review of the BMW lifestyle. It might seem unlikely then that the first stop was Luton. Yes. THAT Luton.

Say "food" and "Luton" to most people and they'll assume you're talking Subway or Nando's. However, not far from the airport (indeed, you can see it from the grounds) Luton Hoo is a spectacular stately home that's been converted to a hotel, restaurant and leisure complex. Having eaten in the brasserie last year - thank you again, Pam & Kieran - I was eager to experience the main house and, frankly, the rest of the hotels are going to have to go some to beat it.

The suite was amazing (those who know it, think the size of our flat, double it, add a bit and stuff it with antique furniture) and, once I'd finished running around it making "whoop" noises, it was time for a very, very fine dinner. In a suitably stately setting - check out the amount of crystal on the table - the food was spot-on.

The veloute of white bean and truffle oil may have overcome Mrs L's aversion to this overused kitchen condiment, while the Ten Hour Gloucester Old Spot married melting flesh and golden crackling to deeply satisfying effect. Milk-fed veal and slow poached salmon kept the mood going, a shared chocolate pud with mascerated raspberry fool made us very happy, and the cheese plate, while hardly a cutting-edge collection, was a well-sourced and well kept range of aged milk products. The extras were lovely too: a pear jelly and Roquefort foam was like upmarket baby food (and I mean that in the best possible way) and a Rhubarb and Lime sorbet refreshed the palate deliciously. It's not what you'd call Michelin-starred cooking but, judging by the fare at The Montagu Arms, it might not be far off. In the meantime though, enjoy this hugely appealing food for what it is: unfussy and honest dining of the sort I hope to repeat many times this week. Breakfast - some healthy fruit - was good too.


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