Short stay: Hampton Manor, Hampton-in-Arden, West Midlands, UK

The country house party is stylishly back at the foodie estate of Hampton Manor. In the parlour, lavish books and board games sit invitingly on coffee tables. Wellies are ready for country rambles. The croquet lawn awaits. Guests gather for pre-dinner cocktails, gins or wine. After dinner Frazer guides guests through a tour of whiskies.

History’s hand has always shaped Hampton Manor. Sir Robert Peel, a Victorian Prime Minister, bought the land. But after he fell from his horse and died in 1850, his son took on the task of designing the Neo Gothic pile.

Now, lockdown has given the Hill family, who own and run the property, time to reinvent Hampton Manor. Twice a week, the family host a three day, two night foodie break.

The welcome

You’re welcomed like old friends arriving for a stay with the family. Immediately, there’s a tour of the property.

Your host takes you to Peel’s restaurant, points out Fred’s Bar and introduces you to the light-filled Courtyard atrium where breakfast is served, light lunches enjoyed, afternoon tea taken.

The room

The high-ceilinged Lord Mowbray room, at the top of the stately oak-panelled staircase, beings a light contemporary touch to the Arts and Crafts theme. Brer Rabbit wallpaper, from a William Morris design, is lit by a vast modernist cylinder of light. This may be a Victorian mansion but there is also quietly effective air-conditioning.

Hampton Manor takes coffee seriously providing a hand-grinder and beans. An upmarket beverage point offers home made cookies. Fresh milk is in the mini fridge.

The bathroom

Abundant 100 Acres toiletries are provided for a large bathroom with wide bath and separate walk-in power shower.

Grey tiles contrast with a colour burst of three vibrant African portraits. Again there’s a restrained feature wall of designer wallpaper.

Facilities

One evening guests dine at Smoke. Steve, the gardener, had 60 tomato plants ready to plant when the decision was taken, during lockdown, to convert the greenhouse into a restaurant. Now a solitary row of tomato plants run through a magical dining space.

Cooks prepare food in what was once the furnace house heating the greenhouse. For us, it was a set three course menu beginning with a carrot soup poured over a sour dough bread crumb and carrot-top pesto. Two rare potato varieties, Violeta and Pink Fir, served as Dijon potatoes, paired well with neck of lamb. Vegan and chicken/fish options are available too. For dessert, Artichoke ice-cream seems an eclectic, almost Heston Blumenthal choice until you taste it’s spectacular marriage with ginger sponge.

On the second evening a five course tasting menu is served in the Michelin starred Peel Restaurant. Though, if you wish, you could make it nine courses with additional dessert selections and finishing with an English cheeseboard served back in the parlour.

Chef Rob Palmer focuses on high quality seasonal sourcing, appropriately beginning with beetroot, Driftwood goats cheese, pear and sorrel.

For the second course “Potato” seems a bland offering until you pour over the rich XO seafood sauce. With every course, the recommended wine pairing enhances the dish. At the heart of the menu there is a choice between wild duck or turbot. Slices of rich sausage and brown sauce work well with the duck whilst a kingly turbot is decadently served with leek, Jerusalem artichoke and champagne.

Breakfast is served in the Courtyard, seasonally decorated with hops and wheat. Throughout the day drinks, light dishes and afternoon tea are available there.

Within the grounds, Hampton Clinic and pamper rooms run by Dr Lorraine Hill, offer anti-ageing and weight reduction treatments as well as prescription based skincare.

Location

With easy access from the M42, Hampton Manor is well-placed for Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Guests are offered use of a Lexus car to drive round local attractions.

Other nice touches

Fjona Hill has created an illustrated field guide to local walks complete with protective lanyard.

Pre-dinner guests are invited to the parlour for drinks. Hampton Manor have designed their own gin – Wasted. Eco consciously, it is distilled from the cascara waste of ground coffee beans, with an alluring taste lingering somewhere between between a classy black tea and a hint of Kahlúa.

Also in the parlour an old-fashioned record player is ready for the neighbouring vinyl collection or any LPs that guests bring. Soulful Amy Winehouse seemed to hit the right notes for the clientele.

Dom, who really ought to have his own TV baking show, runs a morning’s bread making course.

Later, James Hill and sommelier Ross, run a wine-tasting session, favouring wines where “nothing is added and nothing is taken away”. Increasingly, Hampton Manor is looking towards sourcing from organic and regenerative farming.

As a farewell gift guests are given are given a pack of the cookie dough to recreate the gourmet cookies provided in the rooms.

The cost

Two nights with meals at this foodie heaven begin from £365 per person.

The best bit

It’s a relaxed country house weekend where you drift from breakfast to bread making to lunch to wine-tasting to cocktails to dinner. And then, if you wish, whisky tasting.

Hand-grinding your coffee beans, talking to gardener Steve about the organic development of the walled garden, toasting marshmallows over the fire pit – the world slows down. It’s an idyllic escape from everyday frenetic.

The final verdict

Hampton Manor has a sense of place, it’s roots running through the heart of England. After all, this is Shakespeare’s mystical, magical Forest of Arden. The Hills champion the slow movement: celebrating artists, carpenters, chefs, gardeners and sommeliers who take time to master their craft.

An oak slab had sat in the carpenter’s workshop for 80 years before James Hill commissioned the carpenter to hand-plane the Maker’s Table which sits at the heart of Peel’s Restaurant. For the Hill family, Hampton Manor is a contemporary take on the original Arts and Crafts movement’s reaction against soulless mass production.

As Frazer Hill says, “We take a long term view knowing we need to help forge a different kind of future for our children.”

Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Hampton Manor.