Saturday, 22 April 2017

Hampton Manor, near Solihull, England

What's better than a fairytale-like manor house on a beautiful spring day in England? Actually getting to stay the weekend in it, during which you'll discover the beds are soft as clouds, that every modern convenience has been discreetly installed and that they all operate at 21st-century levels (I'm talking fast wi-fi, endless hot water, double glazing, flatscreen TVs, etc) without so much as detracting a millimetre from the charm and ambience of the house.

What's more, the restaurant holds an entirely unsurprising Michelin star (this is the sort of place where starters include cauliflower with local Berkswell cheese and truffle shavings with a cauliflower consommé poured over; monkfish served with cubes of kohlrabi, coriander and samphire, followed by a pre-dessert, a dessert and then petits fours. And no, you won't have room for them all...) and where the staff have been awarded the very first Michelin star based on service alone. Again, not really a shock, since everyone who works here seems to have been hired for their easy, friendly manner and detailed knowledge of the food and history of the estate.

In short, Hampton Manor is the sort of place where you quickly start behaving as if you're the favourite grandchild of the family who own the place. That is to say, you'll be relaxed, very comfortable and maybe just a tiny bit smug. Why, yes, of course you're going in the library to drink a glass of the English fizz Nyetimber that's giving the French something to fret about. Now? Why, you're going for a wander around the grounds, because you want to gaze at the ponies in the field, look for the walled garden and see how many of the flowering shrubs you can name.

You might also cheekily think up faux personalities you could take on, if you were to crash the wedding that's taking place here in the afternoon, but know you'll end up visiting local town Knowle to check out the local producers instead and then probably head into Birmingham to find out why everyone says you should experience city-centre Brindleyplace, from where you'll probably take one of the canal cruises and learn the history of the area from the commentary.

All before returning to this magical corner of some green and pleasant land.

Hampton Manor

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