We all know what it’s like when you really, really want to visit a place that’s supposed to be fabulous but when you get there, it turns out to be a let down. Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat Saissons is not one of those places.
Choosing to visit the 2 Michelin starred Le Manoir Aux Quat Saissons takes some logistical forethought. It’s not in London or even Oxford but in the tiny village of Great Milton in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside. As we drove through the village, we couldn’t see the restaurant but as we rounded the corner, an dramatic stone manor house of unbelievable proportions came into view and we knew we had arrived. Le Manoir screams opulence (and money). From the personal greeter at the gate who directs you to the private car park, to the Lamborghinis and Bentleys parked alongside our Seat Ibiza, to the tail coated attendant who directs you through the immaculate gardens to reception, you know you are going to have the experience of a lifetime.
When you book for lunch, you are advised to arrive half an hour before your dining time. As we walked through the door, we stepped onto a cloud of indulgence, cosseted by staff who saw to our every need for the length of our visist. We were greeted and escorted to a large formal lounge, offered a drink and allowed to peruse the menu and wine list at leisure. Over a glass of Champagne, we made our choices and nibbled on the selection of Amuse Bouche delivered to our corner seat. Six perfect little bites featuring combinations of salmon, pate, mango, miso, creamed sweet potato, caviar and truffle. As we were escorted to our table at 2pm, some of the first lunch sittings were returning to the lounge for coffee and petit fours. The group beside us were celebrating a birthday with the gentle clink of Champagne glasses and Tiffany gift bags.
|A glass on 1953 Madeira perhaps?|
We dined in the conservatory, the larger of the two dining rooms with a fantastic outlook over the gardens, looking wonderful on the first sunny day we had seen in a week. For the rest of the afternoon it was a ballet of staff gliding back and forth to the table, murmuring greetings and explanations of food, subtly topping up water glasses and bread and spoiling us for any other restaurant for ever more. The ratio of staff to diners is very high and no surprises that Chef Blanc has plumped for a significant proportion of European and more specifically French staff. In Europe, restaurant service is a serious profession with apprenticeships and ongoing professional development and it appears he has successfully transferred this concept to his own little piece of France in the South of England.
|Parfait with Crumble|
No need to say that every dish was a triumph. Stand outs were the best Chicken Liver Parfait I have ever tasted (yes, the best), garnished with a caramelised pistachio and oat crumble accompanied by tastes of rhubarb; and, the Assiette of Organic Denbigshire Piglet served with savoy cabbage, a particularly delicious onion garlic puree and black pudding. Of course, the Textures of Chocolate desssert wasn’t too bad either. Seasonal produce featured strongly including rhubarb, turnip, game birds and quince.
|Assiette of Piglet (it rhymes!)|
At the suggestion of the head Sommelier, at the end of the meal we chose to share a glass of chilled Plum Sake instead of the usual heavy dessert or sticky wine. He explained that it had been very popular and would take him a few moments to chill another bottle. A short time later, our desserts arrived and when we enquired of the Maitre D’ about our sake, he hunted it down. It was really only a few moments away but both the Sommelier and MD’ were most apologetic and poured us a delicious plummy glass each. The MD’ returned again to apologise for the delay and explained that there would be no charge for the other glass. Oh, and would we like some petit fours boxed up to take home with us? He twisted our arm.
|100% Chocolate Textures|
As the afternoon slid by and the garden was bathed in a golden glow, it was sadly time to leave our cocoon and head back to the south-east. We paid our bill, made a visit to the suitably luxurious bathrooms (two types of hand towels, soap and handwash, orchids & lillies, hairdryer and even some good old Elnet) and walked out into the late afternoon sunlight, wishing we had the budget to stay the night. As we carried our little box of petit fours towards the car, Anthony told me that we had not been charged for the Sake at all and I knew that this little gesture would mean we would be back the next time we were in the UK.
I Heart Raymond Blanc.