We will undoubtedly all be desperate to escape the confines of our homes once the national lockdown lifts this week. Though there is light at the end of the tunnel for international holidays with the recent change to quarantine rules, UK staycations have enjoyed a resurgence like never before this year as we were all forced to rediscover some of the incredible locations on our doorsteps, oft overlooked in favour of cheap flights to sunny beaches.
With thoughts turning to indulgent escapes in the run up to Christmas and beyond, I can guarantee there’s no more pleasurable a weekend break than the foodie escape meticulously curated by the team at Hampton Manor. While they’ve been working tirelessly behind the scenes during this latest lockdown to ensure guests can be welcomed back safely this December, if you’re in a position that you’re able to get away, this is one recommendation that really doesn’t come highly enough. Trust me.
The imposing Victorian manor house, shrouded by 45 acres of estate and forest, has been transformed into a glutton’s playground with the launch if its latest endeavour earlier this year, an indulgent weekend package which must surely be the ultimate getaway for any hedonistic foodie. Their two-night escape encompasses wood-fired feasts, hearty breakfasts, wine tastings and workshops with a Michelin Star finale.
The 15 rooms are stunningly decorated to embrace the manor’s arts and crafts history, with William Morris wallpapers, art and textiles from local British artisans and armchairs begging to be curled up in. Every tiny detail has been meticulously thought out to create a real home from home; from the Manor Journal left at the end of the bed detailing the ‘House Rules’, the weekend’s schedule and thoughtful bios of the team that make it all happen, to the heavenly scented full-size toiletries from 100 Acres, chosen for their sustainability and British credentials. Each room is given a Field Guide of walking routes around the grounds and surrounding village and field, as well as a jar of freshly baked cookies and coffee beans ready to grind in the morning. It really does feel like escaping to stay with friends for the weekend, particularly when combined with the hearty welcome provided by the team and our host for the weekend, Fraser.
We arrived fairly late on the Friday evening after a hectic week, meaning we’d missed the early evening cocktails and vinyl session in the parlour, where guests are encouraged to bring their own vinyl, but stumbled into a vibrant whisky tasting session in the main lobby. After dropping our bags in the room we were whisked down to supper at Smoke, a rustic smokehouse with fire-pits and candle-lit greenhouses. Arriving late meant we had the place to ourselves and ended up spending half our meal chatting wine with the sommelier; a recurring theme throughout the weekend, as the Hampton Manor family (it feels wrong to call them staff when they really are all so much more) are so deeply passionate and knowledgeable about their work it’s impossible not to.
The small plates restaurants is nestled on the edge of the Walle Garden, built in 1891. Dishes celebrating seasonal homegrown produce and local farms are cooked in the wood fire, with each course of our heart menu accompanied by an expertly picked wine flight. It began with beetroot with goat’s cheese, potatoes, beetroot leafing garden salad, accompanied with warm fresh-baked sourdough. and cultured butter, followed with a mouth-wateringly tender blade of beef with Dijon potatotes, mushrooms, black garlic spring onions and peppercorn sauce, accompanied with a beautiful Argentinian Malbec. A buttermilk and ginger panna cotta with caramelised chocolate and rhubarb was the perfect pudding, devoured before cosying up around the outdoor fire pit to roast our own S’mores before heading back to the house to join the fray of the aforementioned whisky tasting. We ended up staying up way past our bedtime, alternating rounds of pool in Fred’s bar with popping back next door for a whisky top up, before later settling around the bar to share stories with other guests while being kept thoughtfully topped up with some of the latest gin arrivals. What a way to kick off the weeken
Saturday morning dawned and after a hearty breakfast in the beautiful Nyetimber Courtyard we stomped off with our Field Guide in a vague attempt to try and burn off one or two calories and ensure we had room for lunch. Located in the Midlands village of Hampton-in-Arden (a short walk from the local station if you don’t drive), Hampton Manor is surrounded by fields and made for a lovely morning walk down to the local lake, scrumping blackberries en route (as if we’d not already eaten enough…).
Another lovely aspect of the weekend is the programme of guests invited in for demonstrations and workshops; during the day we were there, Smoke played host to pottery Sytch Farm Studios, with live demonstrations throughout the day and a chance to buy their handcrafted wares, found in Peel’s restaurant.
Lunch could either be enjoyed in the Nyetimber Courtyard or ordered to go, picking up a picnic basket and blanket to find a private spot in the grounds – weather dependent – to enjoy a feast of handmade sausage rolls, scones, brownies and strawberry tarts, accompanied with a crisp glass of Nyetimber. It was at this point of the weekend that I started wondering if I would ever need to eat again…and if I did whether there was any point as I’d be hard-pushed to find meals as satisfying as those consumed over this weekend.
The home-from-home thinking is what makes this place stand out from the rest. A lazy Saturday afternoon was spent playing board games and chess in the parlour, reading the papers, poring through the vast collection of books in the library and generally wishing I was there for longer than just a weekend. After a wine tasting in Smoke’s greenhouse and a rather wonderful massage in the Pamper Rooms, I admit to a little lie down in anticipation of what was to come with Saturday night’s Michelin Star feast at Peel’s.
The Manor’s dining room hosted its first feast in 1855 and now, 165 years laters, it’s serving up invention tasting menus inspired by the Victorian walled garden and paired with wines from their award-winning list. Winner of the AA Wine List of the Year for the United Kingdom in 2019, they champion small production winemakers who handcraft their product.
The food is nothing short of exquisite. Heritage tomatoes with smoked turbot rose, sourdough crumb, tomato consommé and wild flowers. The most unbelievably delicious crisp potato with XO sauce. Grouse with girolles and pearl barley. Monkfish with garden greens, crispy chicken skin and chicken bone sauce. Basil-infused raspberry granita. You get the idea, each perfectly paired with an accompanying wine. While I’m not particularly au fait with Michelin dining I have had one or two experiences, but after this meal I’d risk stating it was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Floating into the parlour for a post-prandial cocktail, we found ourselves once more whiling away the rest of the night with a battle for the record player and a particularly raucous Articulate! tournament with the other guests. It was 2am before we knew it, such was the ease with which everyone’s company was enjoyed. While it remains to be seen how these convivial shared experiences may fare with the current restrictions in place, one could undoubtedly have a whale of a time even if having to stick to not merging with others.
Rarely has a Sunday morning been met with such disappointment, yet that was the feeling upon realising our time at Hampton Manor had come to an end. We managed to force down another epic breakfast before sadly waving off our cosy room and wonderful rain shower to head home.
Hampton Manor has big plans for 2021, with work continuing through lockdown on the delayed build of a new restaurant and rooms which will once again elevate the guest experience into something even more spectacular. In case you hadn’t realised, we already think it’s pretty spectacular, so we’ll be first on the booking list when we get word its latest incarnation is open.
We completely appreciate not everyone will be comfortable booking weekends away just yet, but if not we’d urge you to get a Hampton Manor food getaway in the diary for 2021. The whole experience was nothing short of exceptional; suffice to say we were dreaming of those meals for days afterwards.
A two night foodie getaway starts from £365 per person, with bookings currently open until March 2021. For more information and to book visit www.hamptonmanor.com.