When we hear the phrase "immersive dining", it puts us off our supper. Multi-course menus weaving a half-developed gastronomic narrative, hushed dining rooms piped full of pretension, and puff-chested chefs telling us they're changing dining? No, thanks.
But then something came along that convinced us otherwise. Grace & Savour, a new five-bed restaurant with rooms nestled beside the walled garden of the Hampton Manor estate, opened earlier this year with minimal fanfare. There are no white tablecloths or haughty waiters explaining the impossible intricacies of a precision-cooked morsel here. Helmed by chef David Taylor and his co-host (and wife) Anette, this achingly cool venue makes no play to redefine fine dining. Instead, it's cutting back the fluff to offer a pared-back - but studiously well-done - night of good eating.
Okay, there are 15 courses for dinner (many, just a bite), but the story Taylor tries to tell is a simple one, about the produce on the plate. Thanks to the restaurant's focus on growing relationships with farmers who reject intensive industrial farming, as well as with small-boat fisheries and regenerative producers, the menu is a celebration of food grown well. The same ethos is behind the five elegant bedrooms, which were furnished by a team of crafters and artisans from across the UK. Having spent time working in Oslo, the couple have brought the Norwegian city's sultry sophistication to Solihull's rural outskirts.
The drawing room, left, and malt crackers with wild greens.
Upon arrival, you'll be taken for a garden tour by the chef himself, wandering beneath sky-high hollyhock flowers and nodding nasturtiums, the soil-dusted caps of early beets at your feet, as Taylor explains the complexities of trying to grow your own. This is England and you can't feed a restaurant with spuds throughout the winter. Already, the marigolds that have been prettifying dishes all summer are gone, struck off by the recent heatwave. Under the guidance of Hampton Manor's resident health guru, Dr Sally Bell, the team also works with trusted producers to source what they can't grow. Taylor tells us it's about balance; finding a path that offers the best produce, but also the best outcome for the farmers they work with. An impressive 95 per cent of what they serve is organic. The rest? Taylor says that sometimes the certified-organic route isn't economically viable for farmers, so if growers minimise intervention, the restaurant is happy to buy from them. Sustainability is a challenge - and one they don't always meet - but this is about progress, not perfection.
Hidden away on the edges of Solihull, this restaurant with rooms made us pause; it felt like a breath of fresh air among the loudest shouters of sustainability. Honest, edgy and endlessly hospitable, it's what immersive experiences should be.
Five rooms ring a central courtyard planted with lazily nodding lilac verbena and black-eyed Susan. From our moss-hued sofa, nestled behind large Crittall windows, we could peer out into the swaying green. Inside, an earthy colour palette matches the kitchen team's sage-green aprons and Anette's effortlessly cool Scandi-girl wardrobe. Interiors are the kind that you want to touch - side tables made from tree trunks, terracotta tiling underfoot and pleasingly textured surfaces at every turn. Our room, The Whittler, was dominated by wooden accents, from large ceiling beams to a playfully scalloped headboard specially crafted for the room by wood craftsman Alex Walshaw. Fjona Hill, Hampton Manor's interiors mastermind, worked with local woodworkers in each room to produce unique sculptural coffee tables and tree trunk-like side consoles. Bathrooms are green-tiled, with walk-in rainfall showers. The bespoke concrete baths are a highlight - vast, trough-like vessels in the bedrooms, perfect for pre-dinner preening.
Details are on point throughout. We arrived to fresh cherries sitting in a Cara Guthrie ceramic bowl, a pinch pot of bath salts beside the tub (alongside a handwritten recommended "ritual" for enjoying them) and, beside the earthy-smelling vetiver root and lemon peel-infused toiletries, additional Afrocenchix shampoo and conditioner for curly-haired guests.
An elegant suite corner, left, and an ensuite.
What's for dinner?
Brace yourselves. Take a seat in the 26-seater restaurant (window tables overlook the walled garden) and prepare to feast.
Chef David Taylor has worked under Jason Atherton and Glynn Purnell, but it's clear that a core influence was his time spent tending the pass at Oslo's Maaemo. The 15-course meal is a celebration of seasonality, and the relationship between farmer and chef. We'll spare you the full run-down (which changes with whatever's coming out of the garden, anyway) but highlights from a cornucopia of delights included a crispy bite of fried sourdough starter topped with sweet beetroot and sharp pickled wild garlic capers, a tender Cornish lobster tail washed in a warm sauce of roasted shells, buckwheat and soppressata, and soft, smoky leeks hidden beneath a seductive butter and beef garum emulsion. Our favourite dish? The tart scoop of sheep's milk sorbet paired with a redcurrant compote and salty, caramelised whey. That, or the really, really good butter (the kind you find yourself cutting small cubes off and eating sans bread). Dishes are exciting, unusual and beautifully presented. It's easy to slide this kind of dining under the umbrella of Noma's New Nordic approach, but there was something fresh about Taylor's dishes - and distinctly English.
We'd recommend opting in for the drinks flight, which marries dinner courses with everything from natural bins and funky pet nats to malty German beers. The list is curated by Maxwell, the so-called "wine wizard", who's also the brains behind the restaurant's beats - a sophisticated soundtrack of modern music. Our dining partner was thumbing Shazam throughout the meal to save down songs by Thundercat and more.
The dining area, left, and an elderflower mackerel dish.
When Taylor told us he'd see us in the morning for a five-course breakfast, we thought he was joking. Turns out, he wasn't. Cheese and charcuterie preceded a trio of morning dishes. Our favourite was the juicy sausage served beside a thick slice of toast. The cinnamon roll made by the estate's resident baker, Min Go, had us rolling out for a post-prandial stroll to the bakery at the top of the walled garden in search of further sweet bakes to take home.
Is there a bar?
No, but you can order from the drinks menu throughout your stay. Upon arrival, we were offered a refreshing iced Japanese green tea and a tart vermouth (made especially for the restaurant at Worcestershire's Astley Hall) with garden tonic, plus a snack of butter-yellow Jersey Royals topped with pickled magnolia, red runner bean flowers and a grating of cured egg yolk.
Little extras are taken seriously around here. Beside the kettle in our room, we found a tin of Hasbean coffee beans, plus a hand-powered grinder and a French press for making our morning brew. Fresh milk is supplied in the mini fridge.
Rooms have radios with Bluetooth pairing, too.
What are the eco-credentials like?
Apart from the gardening efforts and sustainable sourcing of regeneratively farmed produce, UK artisans were used where possible in interiors, to support heritage craft. The toiletries (full-size) are from Birmingham-based organic skincare brand Harvest.
What about accessibility?
Everything - from rooms to restaurants - is on one level. Just note that the paths in the walled garden are slightly sloped and rough underfoot.
What's the crowd?
Couples with an appetite.
Within a short walk I can find…
Hampton Manor's cornucopia of projects. Everything sits on one site, so you'll find the Michelin-starred Peel's restaurant tucked into the mid-19th-century-built stately home and a wood-fired eatery, Smoke, housed in the black-painted shed beside the greenhouses. Come Sunday, this transforms into a bakery and coffee shop (where you can pick up a bag of Hasbean coffee to take home). The estate grounds are open to explore, too.
Things I should know…
You won't regret chatting with David and Anette. Warm, knowledgeable and welcoming, they're the lifeblood of the stay. Oh, and don't bother with lunch before you go - this one requires a growling stomach.