We’re standing in a fruit and vegetable garden and chef David Taylor is explaining which plant he might poison us with. Specifically, rhubarb: a lethal toxin called oxalic acid lives in its leaves and roots, the latter of which he’ll be serving to us that evening. “I promise it won’t kill you,” he says reassuringly. “If it does, well, it will be too late.” 

The weather is also teasing us, simultaneously spitting and misting rain — precipitation that is native to Britain. It’s certainly appropriate. Everything here is British, from the rhubarb to the rainfall. At this moment, I may be the only organism around these plots that is not.

David, alongside his wife Anette, helms Grace & Savour, a destination restaurant with rooms with a mission to celebrate British ingredients, sustainability and craftsmanship. It’s set in the historic walled garden of Hampton Manor, a 45-acre estate near the town of Solihull (about 1.5 hours by train from London) that has been designed for epicurean escapes, with two restaurants (Grace & Savour and Smoke), a bakery, and plans to add cookery classes.

A bowl of cod with mussel cream sauce, pickled mustard seeds and herb stems at Grace & Savour
Dishes at Grace & Savour — which focus on peak British ingredients — might include line-caught cod with mussel cream sauce, pickled mustard seeds and herb stems © Fjona hill
David and Anette Taylor of Grace & Savour
David and Anette Taylor are at the helm of Grace & Savour © Fjona Hill

Grace & Savour’s menu is created around peak British ingredients available at the time of serving, centred on produce that is organic, biodynamic and regeneratively farmed (chemical-free practices that emphasise soil health through compost, crop and grazing rotation). The underlying belief is that these methods result in more nutrient-rich food — and greater flavour on the plate. It’s all the better yet in the skilled hands of David and his team. The food here is exquisite.

Rows of edible plants in the walled garden at Hampton Manor
Much of the produce at Hampton Manor is grown in its walled garden © Fjona Hill
A basked of nasturtium leaves surrounded by nasturtium flowers in the walled garden
Nasturtiums from the walled garden, which the estate’s restaurants use in some of their dishes © Fjona Hill

Guests at Grace & Savour check in for a near 24-hour immersive culinary experience, a showcase of the journey from place to plate. It begins in the afternoon with a welcome drink; we opt for a locally made vermouth, a surplus product from nearby Astley Vineyard, developed with the restaurant, and made mostly with apples, rosemary and other botanicals, that, with tonic, is effervescent and fruity with a kombucha-like tang. As we down ours in the restaurant’s lounge area, designed by the estate’s co-owner/creative director Fjona Hill — lovely with cream sofas that have surely never met a child or dog, terracotta-coloured walls and enormous Crittall windows — a pretty little bowl appears, holding tiny cubes of confit potato with cecily, an anise-y herb, pickled leek and cured egg yolk (a sort of posh egg and chips). Comforting yet refined and delicate: it sets the tone. I cannot wait for dinner.

Kohlrabi, pickled elderflower and a smoked whey butter sauce seasoned with⁠ a garum made with mackerel trim at Grace & Savour
Kohlrabi, pickled elderflower and a smoked whey butter sauce seasoned with⁠ a mackerel-trim garum at Grace & Savour © Fjona hill
Cream sofas and chairs at terracotta-coloured walls in Grace & Savour’s lounge
Grace & Savour’s lounge © Fjona hill

Umbrellas in hand, with David leading the way, we head outside to learn about the origins of the evening’s menu with a tour of the garden, which was created in 1891 by the industrialist Frederick Peel, son of Robert Peel, former prime minister and founder of London’s Metropolitan Police. The garden was derelict when Fjona and her husband James took over the estate in 2008, and they vowed to return it to its former, fruitful glory.

Today it looks rather sparse. It’s the end of March — what’s called the “hunger gap”: the interval between the last winter vegetables and the arrival of spring’s treasures. “A lot of what’s on the menu tonight is what’s preserved from last year . . . we have pumpkins that came out of the ground in October and are still fine. All the apples came off the tree in November,” David says. “Looking at our British heritage and why we grow certain things, it’s because they store so well — we don’t have [produce] all year round like our Mediterranean friends.”

A table surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the walled garden at Grace & Savour
The restaurant looks on to the walled garden © Fjona Hill

After the tour, the few hours before dinner are left to guests (walking maps of the estate are provided in the rooms for those wanting to work up an appetite).

Dinner kicks off at 7pm, the same time for all diners, sat at tables with views of the open kitchen or the garden. The meal begins with a cube of pumpkin, glazed in treacle made from vegetable trimmings and sitting in a cup of unctuous mushroom broth. Next, a fried Jerusalem artichoke skin, filled with a purée of its flesh and delicately topped with circular cuts of apple and bay leaf from the garden. I murmur an array of complimentary expletives — it’s a textural delight, savoury, sweet and aromatic. The drinks pairing is also well pitched, and, depending on one’s proclivities, includes everything from specially created kombuchas to small-batch wines and craft beers.

A dish of Jerusalem artichokes with bay leaf and apple at Grace & Savour
Jerusalem artichokes with bay leaf and apple feature on David Taylor’s menu . . .  © Fjona Hill
A deep bowl of rhubarb and toasted-hay custard at Grace & Savour
. . . followed perhaps by rhubarb and toasted-hay custard © Fjona Hill (2)

Grace & Savour’s all-British mission (some beverages come from elsewhere) means David and his team treat local ingredients in unexpected ways to provide certain tastes, such as sourness from acidity. “Because we only focus on what we have here in the UK, we don’t use any citrus in the restaurant,” he says. “So for acidity we use things like rhubarb juice, or we’ll take grapes from our vinery and lacto-ferment them to create grape juice, and use these as alternatives, as well as pickles and other ferments.”

Cornish crab comes atop a fennel cracker, adorned with punchy pickled sea buckthorn and the early shoots of the garden’s fennel fronds. Superbly soft skate wing, with a generous pool of smoked mussel cream, is dotted with tiny squares of pickled green strawberry, offering relief from the richness of the sauce. Rhubarb is mellowed by toasted hay custard and rhubarb-root oil (cold-infusing it in oil inhibits the release of toxins.)

Each dish — of which there are around a dozen, all smartly portioned — is strikingly flavoursome, beautifully presented and creative, flaunting serious cookery skill, knowledge and technique. David trained under acclaimed English chef Glynn Purnell before moving to Norway, where he was part of the team that won three Michelin stars at Oslo’s Maaemo. Grace & Savour was awarded its first star just days before our arrival.

The Whittler room at Grace & Savour, with a hand-carved headboard behind a double bed and large windowed-doors
One of five rooms themed around British wood-craftsmanship, The Whittler features a hand-carved headboard, as well as furnishings and ceramics made by local craftspeople © Fjona Hill

By the feast’s finale, we’re grateful to be staying the night. Grace & Savour’s five suites are each themed around British wood-craftsmanship; we’re in The Whittler, which features a hand-carved coffee table and headboard. It’s spacious and comfortable, with a relaxing, earthy palette and floor-to-ceiling windows. Sustainability was at the heart of Hill’s aesthetic decisions, from the furnishings and ceramics selected that were made by local craftspeople, to the use of plant-oil resin for sealing the floors (as opposed to traditional polyurethane) and clay for plastering walls.

Breakfast the following morning is also a multi-course event, with presentation that elevates even the humble breakfast sausage (with a rocher of wholegrain mustard on the plate). 

Hampton Manor – a 19th-century brown-stone mansion – in the distance, seen through a clearing in some trees
The former home of Frederick (son of Robert) Peel, Hampton Manor sits on 45 acres © Fjona Hill

The rest of Hampton Manor’s estate is worth a taste too. On another night we dined at Smoke, helmed by chef Stuart Deeley (a MasterChef: The Professionals winner), which also champions sustainability and is more laid-back. Its menu favours fish and meat with bold, punchy flavours, from smoked eel in a frothy eel-bone sauce, to lamb fillet and shoulder with morels and black garlic purée. Wine here is cleverly curated, and fun to explore with Smoke’s jovial restaurant manager, Alex McLaren, who says he’s picked varieties to serve predominantly on tap that range from “the farmyard-y to the classic.”

I often think that if one were to play a fine dining-themed drinking game in Britain, the words “sustainably sourced”, “local ingredients” and “seasonality” would probably be the equivalent of The Police’s “Roxanne”. A lot of restaurants follow these principles — or at least say they do — but there can be a lack of transparency around the supply chain, questions raised around how these terms are or should be defined, and ingredients used that inject doubt around claims of provenance (avocado, hello).

This is rapidly changing. More and more restaurants are sharing exactly where their produce comes from and showcasing their suppliers on menus and websites. David, Anette and the team at Grace & Savour are at the forefront. Their authenticity, knowledge and passion are charming, inspiring and infectious. And I promise they won’t kill you.

How to get there: Hampton Manor is about 1.5 hours by train from London’s Euston station (take a train to Coventry and then another to Hampton-in-Arden; it’s an eight-minute walk from the station) or just over two hours by car

Niki Blasina was a guest of Hampton Manor. Dine and stay packages at Grace & Savour start at £690 per couple and include dinner, bed and breakfast; non-residents can book the tasting menu at the restaurant, £135

Tell us about any green getaways from London that you’d recommend in the comments below. And follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter

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