Such has been the last twelve months that the idea of eating a Michelin starred meal inside the confines of a greenhouse doesn’t feel that strange. And here we are, tucked away in the garden of Hampton Manor in a working one, sat by the eucalyptus plant and being offered blankets with our welcoming glasses of Nyetimber, whilst the heaters above us warm the air that passes its way out of the ventilation points on all four sides. A menu rests on the table in front of us, rolled and tied with a little string so only the words ‘PEELS IN THE GARDEN’ is visible. We are here: Spring has sprung, and only a slight frost from the last lockdown remains. The glug of the Nyetimber is a long one as I immerse myself in the terroir. The first night of freedom never felt so good.

The idea of upping the formal setting of Peel’s and moving it to the garden for four weeks is a bold one that pays off instantly. The cuisine has always been led by what comes out of the ground that week, and here it feels more attached to its surroundings than ever. A buxom mousse of Jerusalem artichoke has crisps of the same veg, a dusting of yeast, and is a two spoon wonder of earthiness. A dainty tart of liver parfait with chicken skin is all solid technique and umami. Wild garlic soup, chlorophyll green in colour and taste, is poured on a potato salad not unlike you’d make at home except with the tang of – I think – buttermilk. “They always have the best potato dishes here” my other half comments whilst comparing it to its forefathers like they have passed and had memorials built in their honour.

A course of local asparagus follows, the green and white spears a platform for the mother and daughter combination of cured duck yolk and sweet flesh, with a sauce of Berkswell sauce which stays the wedding disco side of right amount of cheesy. Then barbecued leek a touch stringy with an XO sauce with the teeniest of shrimp that tastes like the floor of the ocean. Lamb as both fillet and rolled shoulder is Easter lunch elevated with broccoli thrice-ways and a sauce cut with Sherry vinegar gastrique that we flood the plate with, mop up with the last of the bread and then our fingers; sanitised, naturally. The food transcends its environment, and if I could I would have the memory etched on my skin like a less twitchy version of Memento.

The final course of almond cake with rhubarb jelly feels almost too small in stature given the huge flavours served prior, before we are moved to the outside fire pit to make our own s’mores on the roaring heat. With this we have an all natural selection of paired wines, with homemade liquors, and then a bit more of that natural wine. We never wanted to leave. It’s all change at Hampton; Peels have a new Head Chef in Darren Meacham, a new bakery is afoot, and those who choose to venture into the garden will see the bones of a very ambitious project in the works. But for now — for the next few weeks — they have the most incredible experience under the stars in their garden. It’s a cause for celebration. Normality is almost here.


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