Michael Edwards reviews Hampton Manor’s new Country House Party concept.
Pay attention. There are rules for a house party stay at Hampton Manor. Make yourself right at home. Ditch the stiff upper lip. Don’t act your age. There is a dress code too: wear what makes you happy.
Appropriately, Hampton Manor sits in 45 acres in a green swathe of woodland that was William Shakespeare’s inspiration for the magical, mystical forests of his comedies.
Over lockdown, the Hill family who own and run 15 room Hampton Manor had a chance to rethink this Victorian neo-Gothic mansion. The land was bought by Sir Robert Peel, once British Prime Minister. But he fell from his horse, died and it was left to his Frederick, his son, to build the house.
Now the Hill family have recreated the country house escape. The hand-held coffee grinder provided in every room is a metaphor for Hampton Manor’s desire for slowing down, returning to authenticity. And then, the cascara, the husks of the coffee beans, are distilled to create Hampton Manor’s very own gin – Wasted.
In Peel’s, the Michelin starred restaurant, the long Maker’s Table, tells the story of the Hills’ desire to gather people together to enjoy food and wine. Visiting a carpenter, James Hill found a slab of oak that had been waiting for 80 years for its destiny. With traditional craft, the carpenter hand-planed the oak and created the long, long table.
“Let’s turn the greenhouse into a restaurant.” Few of the Hill family would have anticipated hearing that left-field suggestion at one of their board meetings. Covid – 19 has led to some creative thinking to deal with the issue of implementing social distancing in the restaurant.
“We’ve looked beyond the house to the estate,” says Frazer Hill. So Smoke is now a restaurant. Where the furnace once heated water for the greenhouse, there now stands a kitchen. And the greenhouse is a restaurant. Though, gardener Steve was not over-impressed. He had already bought 60 tomato plants for the summer.
A single row of tomato plants still runs through the centre of the greenhouse. A three-course set menu is served with separate options for vegans or those on a chicken/fish diet. After the meal, guests gather round the fire pit to toast marshmallows.
Bordering the walled garden, the menu points out Hampton Manor’s future. As it has been a bumper year for carrots, we begin with a rich carrot soup. But there’s a twist with a carrot-top pesto. In James Hill’s vision of organic and regenerative farming waste is minimised.
Chef Rob Palmer looks to the past for heritage varieties. The Dijon potato, served with neck of lamb, is created from two almost forgotten species, Violeta and Pink Fir. Palmer is willing to experiment too. Artichoke ice cream moderating the heat of a ginger sponge. After the meal, guests gather round the fire pit to toast marshmallows. Then guests can return to the main house, possibly opting to join Frazer Hill, something of a whisky authority, for tastings from his collection of around 15 bottles.
A five-course tasting menu is served in Pell’s restaurant for the second night of guests’ stay. Again, the principle of “nothing added, nothing taken away” is apparent with the high-quality seasonal sourcing: epitomised by the first course of beetroot, Driftwood goats cheese, pear and sorrel.
The key issue for diners, for the third course, is a choice between turbot or wild duck. The duck comes with herby slices of sausage and a rich brown sauce. Served with a champagne source, Jerusalem artichoke and leek, there is a touch of decadence to the turbot.
Reborn as the Foodie Estate, food and wine can take centre stage over the weekend if guests wish. Once parked, most guests stay put, opting for the bread-making morning with Dom, the wine-tasting with James Hill and a tour of the walled garden with Fjona Hill. Maybe taking a short walk through the grounds and village, using the map and lanyard that Fjona provides for every room.
Just as the decor blends William Morris wallpapers from the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement with contemporary touches, so Hampton Manor dips into past and present. There’s undoubtedly a sense of bygone country house parties with guests becoming friends as they chat over drinks in the parlour, roasting marshmallows, tasting whiskies and kneading bread. It is a wonderfully relaxing experience.
“We won’t be going back to the way things were,” says Fjona confidently.
Tell Me More About Hampton Manor
Hampton Manor, Shadowbrook Lane, Hampton-in-Arden, Solihull B92 0EN
Currently, Hampton Manor offers a two-night Staycation package from £365 per person.
This includes a three-course dinner in Smoke, a tasting menu in Peel’s Restaurant and breakfast on both mornings.