A Michelin-star and boutique hotel feel immediately jumped out at us when we were offered the chance to review Hampton Manor in Hampton-in- Arden, just outside Birmingham.
Run by husband-and-wife team James and Fjona Hill, all our Googling pointed to a young, enthusiastic team of experts behind the offering. As we arrived late on a Friday, thanks to a mad dash down the M6, we were met with the predicted enthusiastic welcome by our tweed- bedecked receptionist. Swept away by the Arts and Crafts building and interiors – some I had seen in my beloved Elle Deco – along with new twists, my questions were met with knowledge and interest.
My husband’s focus was clearly on the dining experience; however I shall satisfy a little of my interior designer geek-dom first. The Manor was realised by Sir Frederick Peel, son of Sir Robert Peel (of Peelers and Bobbies fame), after his father passed away and he began building a mirror image of the family home in Drayton, designed to host the finest occasions of high society’s social calendar. It had only been in the hands of two other families until the Hills acquired the estate in March 2008. Jan and Derrick Hill have been successful hoteliers for over 25 years, but Hampton Manor is the result of their son James and his wife Fjona’s creativeness.
You can imagine the society feet that have passed through the hallways, the grandness of the welcome and the first impression. While this sense of occasion remains, there is an intimacy and warmth as we are shown to our room. There are 15 bedrooms and we are staying in George Fentham, overlooking the formal gardens through a significant bay window draped in luxurious crimson velvet curtains. Sympathetic to the history of the home with its high ceilings, I am in my element -– a perfect blend of tradition and contemporary, surrounds us. Changed and refreshed, we are ready for dinner, via The Parlour for a lavender-infused gin and tonic and more enthusing on the interior décor.
The team is warm but very efficient, picking up on my enthusiasm, but aware of my husband’s desire to eat, and so we are soon shown through to our table at Peel’s. In the wooden-panelled dining room, there is a warmth from the banquet seating to the lighting, and the greeting from the sommelier, Rob. We have chosen the seven-course tasting menu and wine flight, but there is also a four-course and à la carte option. There is a hushed excitement amongst our fellow diners as we eye up each other’s dishes and share our love of food.
The menu is seasonal and takes on an autumnal feel with grouse, turnip and damson, duck liver with blackberries and statement cheese on toast. All is presented in earthenware crockery yet with the finesse you would expect from a Michelin-star eatery. The dishes which leave head chef Rob Palmer’s kitchen are classical but modern, focusing on three key flavours per dish. This, to me, is what fine dining is all about. I am not a fan of the harshness and starch associated with some, though each has its place, of course. Forgive me Rob, I cannot recall all the wines, but each went hand-in-hand with its dish and often surprised us – as did the décor, the team and the surroundings.
To make your trip extra special, there is Frederick Peel’s study or chef’s table and, for pampering, Hampton Clinic for treatments and relaxation