A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: Nicki Thandi

‘I wanted them to have an evening of amazing food, drink, laughter and music; a real night to remember.’ 

Do you know Nicki Thandi? Her husband Paul and she have been guests at Peel’s Restaurant  at Hampton Manor since its opening almost a decade ago. They’ve supported its growth from inception to its current success as a Michelin-starred, four AA-rosette awarded Restaurant with Rooms. Away from the dinning table Paul is CEO of the NEC group. This is the couple that you ask for restaurant recommendations, and whose guest list you hope you’ll appear on. When it came to throwing Nicki’s 50th birthday party last summer they got straight on the phone to Hampton Manor.

To really get a taste of who Nicki is, leaf or click your way through these photos from her 50th; that’s as good an introduction as any, we think. The wild, meadow flowers hint at her nostalgia, her elegance and less is more ethos. She knows her gins, loves her food, and has a sweet tooth. Her comedy host reveals her playful side. She adores her family, is life and soul of her friends, and knows how to throw a memorable party.

But to start at the beginning we need to first go to the end: what did Nicki want her guests to take away from her party? “I wanted them to be wowed by the venue and room and to see that a lot of effort had gone into the detail. I wanted the evening to reflect my personality and background – so I hoped they’d pick up on the subtleties of the decor, food, drink etc. I also wanted them to have an evening of amazing food, drink, laughter and music; a real night to remember. Not gimmicky but delivered in a stylish and unique way. Crucially, I wanted my guests to feel at home, with their own bedrooms to head up to at the end of the night, and a chance to reminisce the following morning over a full English and HasBean coffee.”

I’m guessing you’ve noticed the flowers. “Peonies are my favourite flowers – mainly because my mum loved them. I’m also a bit partial to hydrangeas, bluebells (wild in the woods), and tulips in spring.” Ambience-oozing, awe-inspiring, fresh flowers to fit a brief? In come AVA. They combined peonies, garden roses and foxgloves with foliage and grasses: mixing meadowy and garden flowers to evoke a sense of nostalgia and reflect Nicki’s childhood memories. Nicki’s vision for the Courtyard was relaxed styling with an urban edge, which also played homage to elements from her life. AVA juxtaposed the flowers with hanging glass baubles, clear Victoria Ghost chairs, and a hand-written graffiti table plan and name places.

Guests were seated on long trestle tables in a U-shape to set the stage for the theatrical and interactive segments of the party. And set in the heart of the U tables was The Butcher’s Block table, initially laden with Hendrick’s (cucumber, rose), Monkey 47 (cranberries), and Copperhead (grapefruit) gins. Nicki’s a proper gin lover (who isn’t?!); “I tried a grapefruit gin over Christmas which I loved. I also like Stratford Mulberry Gin and Fever Tree tonic.”

When it comes to wine, she hands the reins over to her husband. Paul is a bit of a wine buff, and a big fan of the Manor’s Wine Director, Sam Olive, enjoying his youthful approach to wines. There’s no poncey pontifications in Sam’s vocabulary, just a straight forward ethos that happy grapes make great tasting wine. His company, Wine Freedom, sources organic, biodynamic, handcraft wine made by winemakers that care for their grapes and the environment. On the night, he talked to Nicky’s guests about the wine pairings that he’d put together for her bespoke tasting dinner.

But Nicki’s a self proclaimed foodie! I ask her where she goes for a treat dinner. “Scott’s in London for great seafood. Closer to home Tasca Dali in Warwick, a tapas restaurant with no menu. They just bring you what they have cooked!” The key for Nicki is fresh, seasonal produce which, conveniently, is perfectly aligned with the menu at Peel’s. Canapés included Berkswell mushroom with marmite, duck tartare orange with pain d’epices, and crab with lobster. Homemade bread and wagyu fat butter led the way to heritage tomato, elderflower, burrata, and then lamb, baby gem, lovage.

Time for the ultimate question: starter or pudding? “Both, if I can! I have a sweet tooth but do enjoy starters.” After dinner the Butcher’s Block was laid with strawberry, cream, shortbread, and chocolate, mint, cookie crumb desserts. To add a bit of theatre, these nitro desserts were served by the Peel’s Restaurant chefs in front of Nicki’s guests. A show-stopping tower of cheeses then took the guests through to the early hours.

You may recognise one of these guests. Comedian and Celebrity Masterchef finalist Hardeep Singh Kohl hosted the evening, keeping the laughter-levels high with his refreshingly edgy comedy. “He came to Paul’s birthday gathering to cook for us all and became a family friend. He’s just a great big personality, with a funny, fantastic presence in a big room.”

The question is, how do you end the perfect evening? That’s easy when you’ve got a whole Manor house to play with. By tumbling upstairs to Arts and Crafts inspired bedrooms, and reminiscing on the evening with your nearest and dearest over a full English in Peel’s the following morning. And the verdict: “Hampton Manor delivered in every way! The guests were blown away and talked about it for a long time after.”

I asked what she took away from the night. “I had the most fantastic night of my life. When I think about it, it makes me feel emotional and so overwhelmingly happy at how well it went. The way the room looked, with the flowers, the hanging lights, the graffiti numbers and name cards, to the gin selections, the delicious food, the MC, the DJ, and the stunning dessert table. Everything I’d planned with the Hampton Manor team exceeded my expectations. It was perfect.”

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