Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

A beautiful spring Monday morning, sun high in the sky, a small picturesque, quintisential, Oxford village, where else can we be but at Le Manoir. It has only taken me 30 years to arrive at Raymond Blanc's two Michelin star restaurant. The weather is sizzling, as is my expectation as to what the menu has to offer. Just a short train ride away from Marylebone, London and you're in slumber-land!  Welcome to the sleepy villages of Oxford. The only distraction, a swarm of army helicopters in the distance, skimming fields like dragon flies across a pond.

Walking through the walled grounds of Le Manoir you enter another world where the words 'quantitative easing' and 'recession' probably haven't been uttered for a while. I'm disorientated. Is this really Monday I ask myself? The world and his friend seem to have taken a short cut, ending up in the back garden of Le Manoir. I'm going back to the City for some space.

At the gate house, a member of staff is there to meet and greet you ready with an armful of umbrellas in case the English weather takes a turn for the worst.  

The house is magnificent, set in spectacular grounds, mature trees, well clipped hedges, manicured gardens and a croquet game waiting to be played. Oh, was that Alan Titchmarsh ducking behind the rhubarb?  I've already spotted six gardeners in the first five minutes. God only knows how many chefs have been squeezed into the kitchen. 

Wildlife is in abundance and Springwatch would have sufficient subjects to keep them going for a few hours of TV!  Le Manoir estate is part of a conservation area which sits in a green belt land. The grass field, vegetable and herb gardens are certified organic which makes my two troughs look rather pathetic. Walking through the vegetable garden you get the feeling that Jemima Puddle-Duck and Peter Rabbit are about to pop up from behind the shrubbery but they're probably in the fridge awaiting to be roasted for my main course. For some strange reason the ponds are empty of fish!!

Drinks and canapes are enjoyed on the terrace before entering the restaurant which is situated in the conservatory, the only modern looking part of Le Manoir that I can see. Our party of chefs are clicking away unashamedly like a group of Far Eastern tourists with their newly acquired Olympus tech. Photographing everything from food, tables, crockery and anything that might stay still long enough.  

As you would expect front of house employees are everywhere, moving from table to table with serene elegance and poise. No haughty looks of disdain from our waiters here as we continue to click away. The team just want to make you feel welcome and they are both engaging and knowledgeable. There are even a few English waiters....that's where they ended up. We manage to glean from the manager that there are over 60 people involved in the kitchen alone. The figures are eye watering.

At lunch you can choose from a variety of menus. If you're feeling outrageous you can go off piste with the a la carte menu or perhaps a 5 or 7 course tasting menu grabs you?  At dinner you can experience a gargantuan 9 course meal with wines!  As they say the world's your oyster and you'll probably need to find a pearl to pay for it.  I could bore you to death with detailed descriptions of each dish but I think you should eat with your eyes and let the pictures do the talking! I know I'm lazy....but tough!

Lobster Plancha with Red Pepper & Cardamom Jus

Aberdeen Angus Fillet on Pearl Barley
Oxtail Ravioli, Red Wine Jus

A small selection of 40 French Cheeses

Millionaires Shortbread

Without gushing forth too much praise the food, wine and service is simply amazing. The cost is out of this world but it is worth it in more ways than you can imagine. Personally I'm unlikely to return in my lifetime unless my horse comes in.  But, if you have a very, very special event in your life then go to Le Manoir and enjoy. At the end of the meal your wallet will be lighter than it has ever been but you'll be richer in spirit for the experience.

We didn't get to see the famous Raymond but it didn't matter. He was probably doing the Can-Can somewhere in Covent Garden, sweating profusely as he opened another Brasserie Blanc.

Bon appetite!
Posted by Richard who now owes Christine big time!

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