Ameer Kotecha

Food, glorious food: the rise of the culinary mini break

Food, glorious food: the rise of the culinary mini break
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After a fraught summer of changing restrictions, it seems likely that staycaytioning is here to, er, stay. The good news for food-lovers is that Britain is now home to a growing number of boutique breaks that are centred around eating. Our weather may be unpredictable but the top-notch dishes at these destinations will more than compensate for even the wettest of weekends. So here is a guide to the best all in-house foodie staycations – from Michelin-starred manors to wholesome working farms – all with fabulous food and drink on offer within a postprandial stagger to the bedroom.

Thyme, Cotswolds

Thyme opened in 2014 in restored 17th and 19th century Cotswold buildings and it features rooms, cottages, a wonderful restaurant, cookery school, pool, ‘Meadow spa’, ‘botanical bothy’ and more, complete with farm and gardens. The result is a ‘village within a village’. The restaurant, Ox Barn, is all about modern seasonal British, with a heavy reliance on the vegetable gardens and the fruit and nut orchards in the grounds and a commendable commitment to minimising food waste. It is all round a truly beautiful place and you would be forgiven for doing nothing other than lazy walks in the grounds in between meals. But there is also countryside rambling to be done, bikes to borrow to explore neighbouring villages, private cookery classes and a whole ‘calendar of happenings’ with workshops on everything from floristry to soap making and painting. There is also a (free) exhibition on flower pressing running until mid-September. Who needs The National Gallery? Who needs London? You will never want to return home.

Hampton Manor, West Midlands

A grand, Gothic manor house that was formerly the home of the 19th-century Prime Minister Robert Peel, Hampton Manor lures plenty of guests from nearby Birmingham looking fora foodie country retreat, though those in the know happily make the trip from London and further afield. The fine dining restaurant, Peel's, seats just 28 diners making for an intimate setting, and the food is inspired by the produce of the estate’s Victorian walled garden. Peel’s is reason enough to come, but consider going the whole hog and opting for the two day tailored foodie staycation which includes a wood-fired feast in the candle-lit Victorian greenhouse, wine tasting, guided walks of the kitchen garden before a Michelin starred tasting menu as fitting finale.

Daylesford, Cotswolds

Created by Lady Bamford in 2002, Daylesford has been something of a trailblazer in local, seasonal, organic eating. Londoners will recognise the name from the string of cafés and shops in Marylebone, Chelsea and Notting Hill, but it is in the pretty Cotswolds village of Kingham where it all began. As well as the farm itself, the estate includes a spa offering yoga and pilates, a casual restaurant, a lifestyle shop and a deli where you stock up on lunch supplies for your daytime hiking. The cookery school features classes in nose-to-tail butchery, foraging and a fermenting workshop. To stay, opt for one of the five Aga-sporting luxury cottages if you’re in a group, or for couples and solo travellers, book a cosy room at The Wild Rabbit down the road. There were home-made flapjacks waiting by the bedside when we arrived to tide us over until the evening’s tasting menu at the excellent in-house restaurant.

Pythouse Kitchen Garden, Wiltshire

Pythouse is a truly idyllic Victorian walled garden in Tisbury, Wiltshire with accompanying restaurant and overnight glamping options. It has the same boujee-wholesome vibe as Daylesford or Petersham Nurseries with the friendliness and intimacy that comes from a much smaller operation. Wander around the beautiful garden past kiwi trees and artichoke plants and practice telling apart your oregano from your marjoram. The restaurant is truly excellent and great value: the quality of the produce (all from the garden or surrounding local suppliers) in the £28 three-course set menu shines through. Beechwood Farm Hogget with Fennel Marmalade and Dorset Yoghurt for mains and Burnt Honey Cream and Barbequed Rhubarb Pavlova for pud gives you a flavour. To make a weekend of it, there is a “glamping village” in the secluded orchard, with six luxuriously furnished bell tents with communal bathrooms (including proper hot showers), a dining area and, naturally, a cocktail bar. It’s a perfect option for a getaway with a large group of friends (though there is an additional overnight option in the form of a Shepherd’s Hut if you’re just a couple and drink one too many at dinner). You can keep yourself entertained in the day with an outing to the nearby 14th century Wardour Castle and some local wild swimming followed by a pint and Scotch egg at The Compasses Inn (run by Fay Maschler’s son, Ben).

Chewton Glen, Hampshire

It is not difficult to see how Frederick Marryat was inspired to write Children of the New Forest from this stunning country house with expansive grounds and activities galore. There is, of course, all of the New Forest in which to build up an appetite for dinner, or you might prefer to take a dip in the sea (Highcliffe-on-Sea is just a short walk away). There’s a large range of kid friendly activities on offer so you can enrol the little ones onto the Bushcraft course or get them horse-riding while you do the Veuve Clicquot Picnic Bike Ride. There’s also a highly-rated cookery school which has a syllabus created by TV chef James Martin (who worked in the kitchens here in his twenties). The Dining Room exudes understated sophistication, and offers something for everyone, from lightly smoked loin of venison to Thai lobster curry. The starters looks especially salivating: Pressing of corn-fed chicken and duck liver, or perhaps Chewton Glen twice-baked Emmental soufflé? Both please. None of this comes cheap mind. But then perfection never does.

The Grove of Narberth, Pembrokeshire

Situated just a few miles from the sandy beaches and scenery of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, The Grove at Narberth flies the flag for Wales when it comes to staycationing. The rooms contain vintage furniture, pottery and artwork made by the local Pembrokeshire community alongside more international and modern touches. The food mirrors the interior design: the fine dining restaurant, The Fernery, does modern European cuisine but with a firm nod to Welsh tradition. There are three tasting menus to choose from (no à la carte) doing five, seven or ten courses and you can expect the likes of “Pembrokeshire Oyster – cucumber – jalapeño– sour cream – chive” and “Perl Las – Eccles cake – celery”. For simpler fare, there is the Artisan Rooms where you can eat lamb suet pudding and try a selection of Welsh cheese. Or head out on one of the walking trails, or into the local hedgerows and woods to forage. Though maybe ask the kitchen to make you up a hamper in case the handfuls of wild blackberries aren’t quite enough for lunch.

Whatley Manor, Cotswolds

Chef Niall Keating has shot to recent fame through his appearance in last year’s season of the BBC’s Great British Menu and some of the dishes on the menu at his two-Michelin starred The Dining Room still take inspiration from that experience, such as the Harry Potter-inspired “chocolate frog”. For something lighter but with some of the same sprinkling of Michelin stardust, you can opt for an aperitif and a couple of light bites at the “gastronomy bar” in the Green Room, where you can watch the chefs prepare small plates in the open-kitchen.

Lime Wood, Hampshire

Lime Wood is a quintessential Georgian country house, nestled in the New Forest. The closest civilisation is a peaceful 15 minute stroll away, but with so much to do in the house and the beautiful grounds there’s little reason to leave. The restaurant is a collaboration between Angela Hartnett and Lime Wood’s Luke Holder, and is a lesson in sophisticated-yet-relaxed Italian dining, all heavily local and seasonal. But it’s the other bits that make this place a real foodie haven: the greenhouse, the cookery school, the smokehouse (doing smoked salmon, pancetta, oh and lavender cured loin of pork). There’s a heavy focus on the virtuous– such as the “Herb House Spa” focusing on plant-based, raw food, and the resident “wellbeing expert”. But it’s never too pushy, and for those of us who have a more gluttonous sense of culinary rapture, there are fat slices of gooey cake served daily from 3-5 pm for afternoon tea.

Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, Oxfordshire

Raymond Blanc’s famous Cotswolds manor has held onto its two coveted Michelin stars for 36 years and counting and offers serious gourmandising, albeit for a price. The grounds, and particularly the organic kitchen gardens that guide the seasonal menu, give one a sense of wholesomeness that haute cuisine indulgence so often lacks. Wander through the water gardens, created by the monks who were resident in the 16th century, and where the chefs (yours truly used to be one) today go to decompress between service. And, if you’re looking to spot Raymond, try the orchards where he may well be found comparing the crunch of the Braeburn with the Blenheim Orange in preparation for a tarte tatin.

St Edmunds House, Cornwall

Padstow, Padstein– call it what you want, everyone knows about Rick Stein’s empire in this most pleasant of Cornish fishing ports. The whole of Cornwall has of course been given even more publicity by the recent G7 and so this is no place to get off the beaten track. That said, spending a weekend eating around its sheltered bay is about as good as foodie weekends get. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and staying in this part of Cornwall– other options range from The Pig to Paul Ainsworth’s Padstow Townhouse– but St Edmunds House is a fine choice if you want to worship at the altar of Stein. Set back slightly from the hubbub of town, it is a restored Georgian townhouse with tranquil views across the Camel Estuary. Breakfast is served in Stein’s flagship Seafood Restaurant, so you can expect poached kippers and smoked haddock kedgeree alongside the usual Continental breakfast fare. Suitably fuelled, it’s then time to roam the delights of town, shopping at boutiques and galleries (including the famous Drang Gallery), learning how to prepare lobster at Stein’s Cookery School, or perhaps putting away several pints of Cornwall’s finest Camel Valley Pilsner at the Harbour Inn before returning to the Seafood Restaurant for dinner, for some Porthilly Oysters and Pondicherry cod curry.