The best meals are ones full of moments that you’ll never forget. Like the moment my mum asked for a spoon to accompany her main course of ex dairy beef at Hampton Manor‘s Grace and Savour because the sauce was ‘that good’. She’s a wise lady, my mum, and it was an excellent idea.
That said, the excellent idea to gift her the promise of lunch at Grace and Savour as a Christmas present was all mine, so I’ll take the credit for dreaming up the perfect day out way back when and making March rather magnificent.
If you haven’t heard of Hampton Manor, it’s a bit of a dreamland for anyone who loves food. Its reputation has been up there with the best for quite some time now, yet seems to continue to grow. Home to Michelin-starred Peels and a gorgeous manor house and grounds, over the years it has changed and grown.
The Victorian glasshouse and buildings around it is now home to Smoke, which I’ve raved about on this blog before. Peels is now gone, but they opened , and while the two overlapped for some time, they decided to focus on the latter as part of the latest chapter of Hampton Manor’s ever-evolving life.
There are hotel rooms, gardens, grounds, a bakery, foodie staycations, collaborations with top chefs, events and more. It’s the Willy Wonka world for food lovers but without gimmicks and stunts. Just a passion and drive to be like nowhere other. And it’s safe to say, it’s achieved that.
We visit for Mum’s promised treat on a sunny, crisp Saturday. As we walk past Smoke, the bakery is full of people snaffling bread, pastries and guzzling coffee. The grounds are going through that spring awakening that feels late this year but is full of welcome birdsong and blossom.
Grace and Savour is away from the manor house itself, a peaceful enclave on the estate that’s been designed in such a way that inside and outside almost meet. Seats in the bright, airy restaurant are arranged so you look out onto the gardens that will provide much of what you eat at certain times here. When we visit they’re sparse, but you don’t need much imagination to envision how beautiful this could be when they’re in full flow.
As we walk through the walled entrance, we get a sneak peak into the rooms that sit around the courtyard, prompting the inevitable discussion of how lovely it would be to stay. One for another treat.
Grace and Savour isn’t just about posh food but about something deeper. Head chef David and wife Anette are all about sustainability – but somehow manage to do it without it feeling overly worthy. The card on each place setting reminds us that the menu focuses on organic, biodynamic or regeneratively-farmed produce that’s all about restoring the soil across the British Isles yet also all about flavour.
That promise is brought to life immediately with a simple bowl of organic mushroom broth. It’s earthy, savoury, and so full of flavour that you can’t help but smack your lips. It’s seasoned with fermented mushrooms from last year as well as bone marrow, sending that flavour hit around your tongue for longer than it seems could be possible from a simple broth.
A deep-fried Jerusalem artichoke is covered in intricate circles of apple. It’s an exercise in clever textures – with the crunch of the apple giving way to a gentle crispness before letting you at the creamy flesh inside. It’s come around the time I had cynically read someone trying to describe the difference in crispiness and crunchiness and not been convinced of the difference between the two – yet now I am.
The next course has my husband cleaning the rustic dish with his finger, as all great courses should. Pasta filled with organic chicken and served with a Berkswell cheese sauce that he declares he could eat a whole bowl of. Wild garlic adds a tang and the pasta is perfectly cooked.
It’s simple, there’s no weird and wonderful combinations designed to challenge your tastebuds – just great ingredients, carefully-sourced and put together perfectly in a way that can’t help but make you smile. A lot.
It would be a crime to come to Hampton Manor and not try some of the bread from their in-house baker Min, especially after seeing the joy on so many people’s faces as they tucked into it.
The seeded sourdough is the stuff of bread dreams, and the butter it’s served with has been infused with the same grain as the bread, adding to that earthy, wheatiness that reminds you exactly why bread is the food of the gods.
Skate wing is one of the simplest dishes I’ve ever had in a place like this. The fish, prepped and cooked to perfection, served simply in a mussel cream sauce with brown butter. It’s rich. A double richness from the fish and the sauce counterbalanced by pickled strawberry. If anything, we could do with a bit more to balance things out even further.
The next course is the one that has mum asking for a spoon. It’s the Ex dairy beef from Pembrokeshire. It’s one of the best bits of beef I’ve had in a long time. It’s served with cabbage hearts and black garlic and that sauce that my mum refuses to leave even a drop behind. I’m with her. It’s a bloody marvellous dish that I would eat again in a heartbeat. Again, no need for gimmicks or crazy combos – just brilliant beef, cooked right, with the tried and tested accompaniments that we all know just work.
The first of two desserts is rhubarb with toasted hay custard that’s as intricate as that apple-topped Jerusalem artichoke. It’s mum’s dream dessert, and she declares it a triumph.
Next up is the Grace and Savour version of an apple tart – which is somewhat a cut above your average apple tart. A tart case made of rye, filled with apples that taste sweet for this time of year – a welcome taste of summer amid the still-cool weather and slow start of spring. There’s a caramel custard inside and the sorrel on top isn’t just there for decoration, but brings a brightness that reminds us that yes, summer really is coming.
Grace and Savour isn’t just about the food. When is anywhere great just about that? It’s about the ability of the sommelier to accommodate three people with different tastes in wine and who don’t fancy a wine pairing yet somehow want something that will work with the full menu. Yes, the most unusual rose I’ve ever had went down a treat with each and every course, and not only with me but with mum, who doesn’t quaff wine at the same rate as me and is generally more discerning.
It doesn’t stop at the wine either. It’s the personal visit to every table that David makes and his unassuming, humble manner that differs from so many talented chefs out there. It’s the warmth from Annette as you cross the threshold into the place she and her husband have created. It’s the rustic, natural crockery, the sunshine pouring on to your face as you gaze on to the gardens. It’s just a special place.
Many have raved about Grace and Savour. Many more will. And they’ll be right. It’s a place where food and drink is excellent, and all the other bits that make a great dining experience fall in line too. But regardless of all that, it’s the place I celebrated my mum with a wonderful lunch and made the kind of memories that places like this are all about. And for that, Grace and Savour will forever have a special place in my heart.
[Disclosure: We paid in full at Grace and Savour]