Visit Luton Hoo Estate just outside Harpenden and discover their new Woodyard Café

Salad at the Woodyard Café.

Salad at the Woodyard Café. - Credit: Archant

Sadly, I don’t get to go to the Luton Hoo Estate very often. You may think being a food writer is all glamour and fancy dinners, but sadly, that is rarely the case! I am far more likely to head out for a quick lunch to escape my desk before returning to deadlines.

The Woodyard Café in the grounds of Luton Hoo Estate is more my thing. I was intrigued to see that a new cafe had opened there, but without the usual Luton Hoo prices. You do get to drive up the lovely avenue of trees towards the main hotel, keeping an eye out for rabbits and deer, and there is a feeling of escape as you head off down a track, following signs to The Woodyard Café.

Tucked away in a converted barn near the stables, the café hasn't been open very long, but it has a loyal following who know about its great value breakfasts, lunches and cakes. It is only open Monday to Friday, 9am until 4pm, so it misses the weekend walkers, but when we went it was busy with dog walkers, visitors to the stables and I guess people who work on the estate.

There is plenty of parking, especially as the café is quite small, with only about eight tables inside, and the same outside. We liked the terrace, which is framed with boxes containing lavender and herbs, and there are dog bowls if you need them.

The short menu is chalked up on a board behind the counter and I like that it changes with the weather, and has sensible, affordable prices. You will always find something for the meat-eater and the veggie, whether a main course or a soup and a sandwich.

We went for lunch on a blue-sky day and had Greek salad and a mozzarella, avocado and tomato bruschetta. The Greek salad was nicely traditional, with a generous bowl of cucumber, tomato, red onion and Kalamata olives, with a slab of feta on top. They had sprinkled oregano, and olive oil over, which was lovely. Tomatoes are always a bit disappointing here, but they were better for a little heat on the bruschetta. I think for the price, lunch was good value - both dishes were £6.50, and I have been charged a lot more for less in city centre cafés.

Now the weather has turned, I noticed that they are offering heartier dishes, including beef bourgnignon, grilled vegetable and halloumi bruscheta, lamb shwarma and potato gnocchi, with spinach and mushrooms. They have kept the sandwich and toastie menu, which include tuna melt, prawn and smoked salmon, and cheese and tomato. There is always a homemade soup, which for £3.50 is a great price.

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There is a good range of cakes on the counter, including fruit, chocolate, Victoria and coffee and walnut, at around £2-3.50 a slice. My coffee and walnut was delicious, and I tried some of my husband's chocolate cake for research and that was good too. They do flapjacks and rocky road bars, and they had a warm banana bread when we went in too, fresh from the oven.

Teas are by Harpenden company Twist Teas and their hot chocolates looked good; one went past piled with marshmallows.

They have a short breakfast menu which I am sure is a big draw for anyone working hard on the estate or nearby. Hoo's Hungry Breakfast is £8.50 (served until 11.30am) and includes two sausages, two bacon, two eggs, black puddings, tomato, mushrooms, beans and toast and tea or coffee, which makes it good value for the area. If you want something less meaty, they do scrambled egg on toast for £4.50.

It is worth noting that they hire out the café for private parties and afternoon teas, so it's worth checking they are open if you walk over there specially. You can take a look on Facebook for last-minute closures.

I like that they use locally sourced produce where they can and they sometimes have jars of their own estate honey for sale.

When we were there they had a sign outside saying last orders at 3.30pm so don't leave it too late!