A Foodie’s Country Retreat
With Michelin starred food a stone’s throw from Birmingham, Hampton Manor offers an indulgent weekend away
Review by Rupert Watkins
Barely a 10 minute taxi ride away from the bustle and concrete of Birmingham International and the NEC lies the quiet village of Hampton-in-Arden. Perching on the edge of the village is an oasis of relaxation and calm, Hampton Manor. A late Victorian rather Gothic building, the manor has been tastefully and nattily done up to offer funky, chilled rooms and truly excellent Michelin starred food. This is not a hotel per se, but defines itself as a restaurant with rooms. Food is at the heart of the Hampton Manor experience.
Entering into the main hall, traditional wooden panelling, Victorian stonework and traditional flocked wallpaper sits alongside vibrant carpets and sleek, more minimalist furnishings; the overarching result initially odd on the eye but it does actually work rather well. Being led up to our room, the original staircase is juxtaposed alongside a modern, fabric chandelier. Individually named rather than numbered, the 15 rooms are all large, high ceilinged and quirkily furnished with original features such as fireplaces and cornicing enlivened with modern colour palettes, 20th century vintage furniture and modern art. Some of the largest rooms have four poster beds.
Our bathroom was stunning with more than enough room to swing this magazine’s doggy HR director cum mascot and not damage anything; there was plenty of natural light, a deep antique bath and large walk in shower. Large proper bottles of 100 Acres Apothecary toiletries are in the bathrooms – a thoughtful touch meaning no eking out the bottom of miniatures. Those who like the fragrances can either take their bottles home (added to bill) or procure fresh ones for home use.
After a lazy walk in the sun round the beautiful grounds, a restorative cup of Earl Grey and a bath, we were ready to commence with the serious task of eating. Pre diner drinks and canapes are served in the airy and slickly furnished parlour. Our drinks (a crisp glass of Spanish Rueda Verdejo and a well-made Copperhead gin G’nT) were accompanied by a selection of salmon and venison canapes which only served to heighten expectation at our table.
Wandering through to Peel’s restaurant we were confronted with a small, intimate wooden panelled dining room. We had both opted for the four course tasting menu with matched wines. The first course was Asparagus with chicken, burrito and egg yolk. The asparagus was fresh and beautifully cooked with the accompanying chicken offering a slightly sweet counterpoint having been done in brown sugar as well as being almost melt in the mouth. The accompanying wine was a crisp and minerally Gavi di Terreollo from Piemonte, the slight tartness working well with the asparagus.
Moving to the fish course, mackerel with Granny Smith apple, sorrel and horseradish was placed before us. This was the evening’s most unusual and experimental dish. The hot mackerel was wrapped in sorrel with the horseradish served as a frozen accompanying mouse. The tartness of the apple worked well with the fish and, when thawed, the horseradish did meld with the fish though the consistency never quite settled for me. Served with a glass of Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Charles Smith, Washington State the fuller and slighter fruity nature of this white sat very well against the fish.
Our main course was broken down into two parts. Wagyu beef was served in steak form with carrot and prune and as a small deep fried block on its own. Beautifully cooked, the meat fell apart when cut – the stippled veins of fat running through the beef giving a lovely rich edge. The earthy prune proved an excellent accompaniment for it whilst the carrots provided a light touch to the dish. With a full bodied and rich Argentinian MAAL Biutiful Malbec sitting very decently alongside this dish, despite the small size of the courses we were both starting to feel pleasantly stuffed.
With this practicality in mind, we opted to skip the admittedly delicious sounding cheese platter and head to the final furlong of desert which was Blood Orange sorbet with white Aero and star anise. A light, refreshing dish the orange and white chocolate worked well together – offering both a hint of richness and palate cleansing sharpness. Rather than offering a rich and probably over heavy desert wine, the restaurant, in consultation with the hotel’s bar, have very sensibly created a cocktail to sit alongside this desert. Loic’s cocktail with gin, lemon, anise and cardamom was refreshing with the lemon and anise picking up on the flavours of the dish whilst being cool and not as cloying as a Sauterne type wine would have been.
Retiring to the small wood panelled bar, we enjoyed a final post prandial glass of Auchentoshan before retiring. Breakfast is served in Peel’s Restaurant as well. A comprehensive array of pastries, fruit and cereals is available whilst those who desire more of a treat are well served by the hot plates. My guest’s French Toast was light and a slight sugary hit whilst my English breakfast was just the right size, the sausage and bacon locally sourced and delicious. One area though that some may find grating was the presence of piped musak during both meals – an evening meal of the quality we enjoyed perhaps doesn’t need a soundtrack and a lazy Sunday breakfast likewise does not feel improved by it.
Those visiting be aware the proximity to Birmingham International airport. The rooms are well soundproofed and the tail off of flights out on the Saturday evening meant our main meal was undisrupted. It was more noticeable at breakfast and those who stay during the week may find more appreciable noise.
As well as comfortable rooms and high grade restaurant, Hampton Manor also offers a small beauty clinic. It is not a spa with steam rooms and pools but focuses on a range a high grade treatments including hydrafacials, massage and more unusual options such as dermal filling and hyperhidrosis. The clinic – under Dr Lorraine Hill – specialises in facial rejuvenation and is separate from the manor housed in a discrete outhouse.
Given its location Hampton Manor offers a wonderful spot to escape to leave the world at the door to enjoy a decadent break. The Manor offers private dining and is a popular wedding location; likewise the afternoon teas in the parlour draw much local custom. Those looking to unwind can opt to enjoy their room with plenty of books left in each of them and even board games on request for those who simply wish to curl up in their bathrobe. The restaurant though offers a focal point to the manor and certainly head chef Rob Palmer’s precisely served and innovatively prepared menus are not to be missed.
Enquiries: Hampton Manor, Shadowbrook Lane, Hampton-in-Arden, Solihull B92 0EN / 01675 446080 / http://hamptonmanor.com/