Chocolate brownies. Rocky road chocolate brownies, to be exact. I had a great time at the Days Hotel in Luton last week, but even if I hadn’t – if the lovely staff had been horrible, and the plush rooms had been bare – I’d still go back so I could have dessert again. Call me a glutton, but the way to the airport hotel is definitely through my stomach.
This is the first time I’ve stayed in one of my airport hotels, though I’ve visited quite a few, so it’s a chance to experience the facilities first-hand as well as take some photos and video footage. And make sure everything is correct – like the directions I’ve so painstakingly written, which send the boyfriend and me down a road that doesn’t exist. “It definitely can’t be straight on,” he assures me when I protest. “There’s a huge building ten feet in front of us.”
Fortunately, the hotel is a five-floor building in the town centre and has a large Days Hotel sign on, so despite my directions, we’re there a couple of minutes later. The outside gives nothing away. We park in the multi-storey next door – this is where you leave your car overnight if you don’t want to take it to Airparks until the morning – grab our bags and cameras and head inside.
The foyer is clean, light and bright, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and pale, neutral colours. The company’s sunshine logo beams at me from behind reception, where the friendly, enormously tall man on duty turns out to be Stuart Clay, the manager. I’ve spoken to this guy once on the phone, but the warm welcome he gives me makes me feel like an old friend. I know before I’ve even seen my room that this is a nice hotel.
He gives us the key to our room, which is on the fourth floor. We take the lift – for added security, you need your room key to work it, so no-one can get to the bedrooms unless they’re staying in the hotel. This is very easy, but I’m already mentally exhausted from having to follow my own directions, and stand there confused until the boyfriend steps in.
I was expecting a clean and comfortable room, but this is lovely. It’s bright and colourful, with a queen-size bed and a spotless bathroom with plenty of soap. We have a hairdryer, an iron and ironing board, reading lights above the bed, a full-length mirror and not one but two desks. But it’s the TV, which has Sky, radio and internet, which charms me. Not because of the programmes on offer – I don’t care much – but because it’s displaying a welcome message! With my name! The boyfriend looks only mildly impressed – probably because it didn’t mention his name – but I’m now feeling like a VIP. Even the TV cares whether I enjoy my stay.
We go downstairs and Stuart shows us round the rest of the hotel. The bar and restaurant, on the ground floor, lead off the reception area and share its light, open, calm look and feel. The bar has a plasma TV with Sky Sports and free wireless internet access, so you can sit and work if you need to – it’s certainly quiet enough. The restaurant, which I’ll sample later, has a similarly low-key feel – you order at the bar – and a special ‘credit crunch’ menu designed to be affordable. Prices for main courses start from £7.95 – though if you think the quality of the food has been credit crunched too, I can tell you it hasn’t.
Guests also get discounted access to Bannatyne’s health club two doors down, as there are no leisure facilities in the hotel. The enormous gym is filled with rows and rows of exercise bikes, running machines, cross trainers and other contraptions whose purpose I don’t know and don’t want to. There’s also a pool with a jacuzzi, a sauna and a steam room. The boyfriend is definitely impressed, though I break out into a cold sweat at the thought of all that exercise.
Back at the hotel, over a drink, I chat to Stuart a bit more and discover that he runs ‘meet the manager’ nights every week or two to find out what his guests like and don’t like, and what ideas they have for improving the hotel. Suggestions have ranged from new breakfast items to the sheltered smoking area outside the front of the hotel, which has tables, chairs, plants and wireless internet access. “We also give them feedback on changes we’re making at the hotel,” he tells me. I realise Stuart isn’t the kind of manager who sits behind a desk; he mans reception, he works the bar, he meets the guests and he really does care about making their stay as enjoyable as possible. And all the staff, from smiley Tracy, his deputy, to the other smiley Tracy who’s working in the restaurant that evening, seem to share his attitude. I believe I had a lovely stay not because of where I work, but because that’s how they treat all their guests.
We go up to our room to review the video and photos, I take a shower – the water is both abundant and hot – and then it’s time for dinner. It’s 7pm, but there’s no-one in the restaurant. We sit down and peruse the long menu, which includes steak, meat dishes, curries, fish and chips, pasta dishes and vegetarian options. I plump for the salmon pasta bake, while the boyfriend opts for ginger chicken skewers to start, followed by New Yorker chicken for his main course.
Two minutes later, the waitress comes to tell me they don’t have the salmon pasta bake. I always find this quite annoying – what’s it doing on the menu if I can’t have it? – but I choose Moroccan chicken instead. I realise we’ve ordered chicken, followed by chicken and chicken. Let’s hope poultry is their strong point.
When the boyfriend’s starter arrives, I take a bite. It’s delicious – perfectly cooked, with a crumby coating and tasty sauce. As I make inroads into his food, I’m no longer in an airport hotel, I’m in a posh restaurant. I wonder what the rest of the hotel guests are playing at. Why isn’t there a feeding frenzy?
The main courses are just as much of a hit. My chicken with rice, lovely vegetables and sauce is very tasty and not too spicy. The boyfriend’s chicken with cheese and bacon is also very nice, if slightly dry. Then it’s pudding time. When I get a big chunk of gooey dessert, with layers of brownie, mousse and biscuit, plus ice cream and strawberry sauce, I’m in chocolate heaven. This is one of the nicest desserts I’ve had for months. I want the chef’s number. Although the restaurant is starting to fill up now, I have to resist the urge to run around the hotel, drag the remaining guests out of their rooms and scream, ‘Go and have dinner!’
The buffet breakfast in the morning is also impressive, though similar to what’s on offer at other three-star hotels I’ve stayed in. There’s an array of cereals, pastries, toast, rolls, fresh fruit and yogurt, and the boyfriend goes back for second helpings of the cooked stuff. What really makes me happy is the unexpected presence of hot chocolate – which is wonderfully creamy and frothy, and much nicer than the milky mediocrity peddled by several big coffee shop chains.
When I ask Stuart what sets this hotel apart, he mentions the location – it’s two minutes’ walk from Luton town centre, and just over two miles from the airport – and the great value food. But that’s not why I’d stay here again. The room was beautiful and the food was amazing, but it’s the atmosphere that would bring me back. Every single member of staff I dealt with, from the cleaners to the manager, was smiling and friendly; I felt that everyone genuinely cared whether I had a good stay and would have rushed to put right anything that was wrong. Not because of who I work for, but because I was their guest. There’s only one thing that was missing – I want the recipe for those brownies …