La Brasserie Sofitel,Gatwick Airport West Sussex RH6 0PH

There’s something rather decadent about an airport hotel; my usual style of traveling involves stretching out over several chairs to get a few hours kip: handbag clasped to chest, one eye roving for danger, I awaken with rigor mortis and interesting ridges.

The Sofitel Hotel Gatwick is connected to the North Terminal via a cream-coloured corridor; bright lighting and mood music suggests that you’re being transported somewhere sophisticated, away from airport limbo and the chain shops that seem to have had the soul sucked out of them.

I’ve booked my overnight stay through Holiday Extras, a website that handles bookings for airport hotels and lounges. The Sofitel is designed round a central atrium that reaches the full height of the hotel’s eight floors; ambient features such as the glass’wall’ of running water and the open plan café create a relaxed atmosphere  that reminds me of an of an indoor park.

My room is suitably muted in shades of cream and brown. It’s so quiet from the triple glazing that I forget I’m at an airport; it’s only when I look out of the window at the expanse of runway and the Boeing jets landing and taking off just a few metres away that I’m reminded. It’s quite cool actually, and I spent a little while with my nose pressed against the glass watching the planes and the little baggage buggies zooming across the tarmac.

The Gatwick Sofitel has several dining options including a restaurant specialising in oriental cuisine and a continental style café. I ate at La Brasserie where head chef David Wood and his team cook up classical French-European dishes that have earned them one AA Rosette and put them in the running for a second. There are two menus to choose from, one offering a fixed price two or three courses, and the a la carte option. I was informed that it’s common practice for the kitchen to order a whole lamb or a batch of spanking fresh lobsters and let the customer choose how they’d like it cooked. That particular week the kitchen appeared to have taken order of a whole cow and the menu featured matured rib eye steak.

A shooter of russet veloute was rich with the flavour of crab and well-seasoned, but still perfectly natural tasting; I could have finished a bowlful. Next, goat’s cheese and beetroot came as dainty little rounds of crumbed cheese sandwiched together with red onion jam; vaguely reminiscent of the popular 70’s starter of deep fried brie, it was never the less a very light and refined version dressed with a micro-salad and little cubes of beet.

The menu is full of classical favourites – belly pork, sticky toffee pudding, confit duck, but there are touches of innovation such as an avocado ice-cream to accompany a lemon tart. Rather than challenging your taste-buds with the latest food fad, La Brasserie obviously understands the traveller’s desire for comfort food prepared to fine dining standards.

Pan fried hake came with a fricassee of peas and pancetta; the delicate but firm hake was cooked just right and balanced by the sweetness of the peas and the salty, smoky pancetta with a good hit of mint running through; a very successful dish that made the most of this fashionable fish of the moment.  I accompanied this with a deliciously peachy South African Sauvignon. Pudding was a ginger crème brulee accompanied by a ginger-rhubarb sorbet and some rhubarb stewed with orange, the whole dish successfully balancing sweet and tart although I prefer my brulee served a little warmer.

With faultless service and a menu full of things you want to eat, La Brasserie brings a whole new level to airport dining. Although the menu favours the tried and tested over the experimental it matches top city restaurants for quality and finesse, while the Sofitel provides a thoroughly relaxing experience to boot.