It must be nice to be able to commission your own railway station. You build yourself a nice house in the country, plant some pleasant trees, dig a few ponds, savour the fresh air, but then realise taking the horse and carriage to London from this far out is a bit of a hassle.
You could really do with a train just over yonder to hop on when duty calls. Well, former Hampton-in-Arden resident Sir Frederick Peel (son of Sir Robert) appears to have done just that. As the government’s railway commissioner he was able to choose the stations for the London-Birmingham line and just happened to find a spot five minutes from his front door.
Today, however, Peel’s convenient decision benefits anyone who fancies stopping off in this green and pleasant village and no doubt does the house prices in Hampton-in-Arden no harm either. Peel’s former gaffe is now a boutique hotel recently acquired by the Hill family who’ve been in the pub and restaurant game for many a good year. They have named their fine dining restaurant named after Sir Frederick’s family and are holding up his fine name too. So I took my own personal aristocrat, Lady C, with me to savour the kitchen’s delights.
We were greeted at the door by Seamus Sharkey the restaurant’s young, knowledgeable and witty sommelier and were seated in the snug bar. Here we enjoyed a glass of bubbly along with an amuse bouche of wafers and foamy dip. The service at Peel’s is attentive without being claustrophobic. Most the staff are old enough to have experience, but still young enough to hold big ambitions. For instance, the kitchen team, headed by chef Ryan Swift, is aiming to win a Michelin star. So in order to survey its talent as well as filling our faces we enjoyed a taster menu, while Seamus picked us the best of his cellar.
Our first course was curried crab with mango and carraway crackers. Crab is a delicate flavour so currying it is a risk, but thankfully chef didn’t overdo it and the mango provided a fruity compliment contrasting with the hard, ultra-crunchy crackers. A pleasing starter washed down with a glass of Pinot Gris.
My second starter was foie gras with a sliver of smoked eel down its centre. The soft buttery texture of the liver oozed flavour, while the eel gave you something to chew. It was accompanied by soft spots of blended pear and pain d’epices, which is a spiced French bread. Seamus poured me a glass of Riesling to accompany this which was a fine palate cleanser. Meanwhile, Lady enjoyed a goat’s cheese parfait which she adored. However, she didn’t save me a bite so I can tell you no more. Although I think we can take it as read that Peel’s kitchen can certainly cater for cheese lovers. For instance, there was some fine homemade bread made with parmesan and thyme. I grabbed a mouthful, which was very good, the rest was devoured by my guest.
Our next course was a bit of surf and turf. Monkfish served with ham, salt-baked celeriac and summer truffle. For a taster, this was a healthy portion of firm meaty fish, perfectly cooked with good accompanying flavours. This came a glass of Limoux from Chateau de Gaure. A dish which is hard to argue with – a good square, fine dining plate and glass.
Our second main was venison cooked medium rare and served with goat curd, barbequed mushrooms, a venison kofta and lemon. I very much liked the sliced venison and the mushrooms, whereas the cheese and the lemon sounded a little strange, but actually worked very well. The venison kofta was certainly an interesting idea and adding a bit of surprise and fun to the plate. The wine was an Austrian red, which wasn’t at all strange and perfectly welcome.
By the time desserts arrived we were more than on the full-side. My advice is that if you go for a tasting menu then fast during the day. Some cheese came before the sweets which is my favourite way around, and my cheese connoisseur wife gave it her approval. We then ploughedinto a crumbly chocolate and pistachio combination with some firm cream and croissant-type pastry. Accompanying this we drank what must be the best dessert wine I have ever tried. The Rivesaltes Ambre was a honey-sweet cake of a wine full of the flavours of the barrel, more of a soft brandy than a rose. Lovely stuff.
Peel’s is another recent and welcome addition to the region’s fine dining scene and is set in stunning grounds. Word is still getting around about this little hideaway and so when we were ate there were tables still available. I expect this will change in due course, but better to get in soon before it gets its star and the prices go up.