Fast forward to the end of the first night of the staycation at Hampton Manor and we’re sat in the bar, whisky in hand whilst Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ hums away in the background. I’m on whisky number five, maybe six, each handpicked by Fraser’s impeccable taste based on my preferences. Salty, smoky numbers, I’m introduced to distilleries I never knew existed. In all we’ve had a great night; pre-drinks before dinner in their more casual offering, Smoke, then this. The food was tremendous, the setting even better as we found ourselves alone in the dimly lit vine house whilst others dined in the greenhouse and the bare-bricked Smoke to keep us socially distanced. Beetroot and goats cheese, then the softest shoulder of lamb with Dijon potatoes and hispi cabbage; all cooked in the wood fired oven which punctures the wall. Then, to finish, apple pie and custard, a bit like the one you get from the Golden Arches, only better. Washed down with paired wines of real interest. A pokey Pet Nat, a Malbec, then an iced cider. We turn down the chance to toast marshmallows over the open fire: I have whisky to drink, and drink whisky I do. At 9.50pm they give me a large measure of Lagavulin to take to bed with me. It turns out the whisky is included in the package, they just don’t make a song and dance of it. I love this place.
Rewind eight hours and we’re checking in for the long weekend. There is sanitiser and face masks for plebs like us who have left theirs at home, and a warm welcome from a team who all have hospitality at heart. A quick drop off of the bags to the room and we’re back down the stairs for Afternoon Tea in the beautiful Nyetimber summer house. It’s here we have the sausage roll of all sausage rolls, fat scones topped with jam then cream (don’t @ me), delicate strawberry tarts flavoured lightly with basil, and chocolate brownies that we take home because I don’t want to ruin dinner. We wash it down with Nyetimber. Glorious Nyetimber. When in Rome and all that.
Saturday day is when the fun really starts. My whisky head wakes me up just in time for breakfast: eggs benedict and strong black coffee for me, full English and tea for the lady. They are both perfect in a way that hotel breakfasts never are. We plod back towards the walled garden in Smoke for a masterclass in chocolate with WNDR. Ninety minutes later of chuckles and intense nodding and I’ve made my own chocolate bar. Take that, Wonka. Then back to the room, pick up map and walk around the grounds, discuss moving to Hampton in Arden, decide it’s too far away from Couch, then back to Smoke for wine tasting. James’s love of natural wine is infectious, I’ve been drawn into it before, and I’ll never tire of it. We drink a white, something more adventurous, and a red. I still know nothing because I’m drawn into a room filled with people who are keen to try something different and learn at the same time. Absolutely WNDRful. Back to the room, I need a sleep but there’s no time; we have a Michelin starred dinner. Claire gets in the bath, orders Nyetimber. Maybe there is time.
This is the third occasion I’ve eaten in Peels and my favourite so far. Rob Palmer’s food now feels like it’s entirely his; the bits of other people’s styles you could see two years back replaced by his style which feels so heavily placed within the garden walls it could be a late Monet. Four courses upgraded to the maximum seven; paired wines with each because we don’t mess around. Nibbles include the best take on a cheese and pickle sandwich I’ve tried, then a first course of cabbage five ways with caviar, followed by the potato terrine with xo butter that I’ve raved about before. That potato dish is in my top ten dishes of the year. No question.
Wagyu tartare is diced a fraction too big for my liking and is a little lost in the onion broth, but this is me nit picking. No problems at all with the grouse which is a step away from the finesse and a big slap in the face of game, as it absolutely should be. The ragout of offal interwoven with barley will live long in the memory. Then the cheese course – a different one to the menu which I’d pre-ordered because I’m an arse – which is Colston Bassett on toast and every bit as good as I’d been told (thanks Fraser). Two desserts finish us off; nitrogen frozen raspberries with cream and basil lay-up for the slam dunk that is chocolate, Sherry, and vanilla. A version of this dish was on the menu when we first ate here. This version should never leave. Three hours of solid one star cooking. I order more wine.
We check out Sunday, after the repeat breakfast and another walk around the grounds. At a starting price of £390 per person excluding drinks this isn’t cheap, but it is the most fun I’ve had all year. Hampton Manor is far more than a one star restaurant. It’s the most polished luxury hotel experience, in the most beautiful grounds, from the most hospitable of people. It’s the chance to unwind and learn, whilst eating and drinking until the bed calls. It’s a little piece of paradise. If this awful year has any positives, one must surely be that the spotlight is on our green and pleasant land. Very few places personify that in the way that Hampton do.
Pictures by the very talented and okay company Claire