Thursday, November 29, 2007

Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons

Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
Church Road
Great Milton
OX44 7PD
Bookings: +44 (0)1844 2788

Last summer lovely wife and I were fortunate to stay and eat at Le Manoir. I say fortunate because it was absolutely outstanding.

Le Manoir is pretty well known in foodie circles with its 2 Michelin stars and a 9/10 from the Good Food Guide. It is owned by Raymond Blanc who, although French, is somewhat of an institution in England’s restaurant scene.

Blanc bought this 13th century Manor House in 1984 and converted the stable blocks, the dovecote and part of the main house into a number of absolutely delightful and individually designed rooms. The kitchens have been extended and the gardens landscaped beautifully. Blanc grows a lot of his own produce for the kitchens and his menus strongly lean towards showcasing the best of that season’s produce.

Le Manoir is in a beautiful little village called Great Milton nestled in lovely English countryside a little south of Oxford. There is tons to do in the immediate area so it is easy to spend a couple of days pottering about. Many of the houses in Great Milton are listed as of Special Interest and a large portion is designated a conservation area. The older buildings have been constructed out of the local Portland limestone which gives them a lovely warm pale yellow colour. It really is rather delightful.

We had really gone mad and had booked ourselves in to stay for two nights. Our plan was to eat the first night in the restaurant and the second night somewhere else locally.

Once we had got ourselves sorted out we went across to the main house and had a glass of Le Manoir’s own champagne in the lounge. We had already opted for the Menu Les Classiques which was a five course menu showcasing the best loved dishes from the restaurant.

The wine list is extraordinary, running to about 40 pages, and very heavily French leaning. Having looked through the menu I settled on a Chablis Premier Cru but couldn’t decide on which of the six or so I should choose. Adopting a tried and tested method I choose the one in the middle of the price range of the lot! The sommelier nodded but advised that actually the cheapest of the six was the better of them and recommended that I change. This was a difference from GBP65 a bottle to GBP48. I was rather astounded, first time ever that a sommelier had actually directed me to a cheaper bottle of wine. Nice touch.

We were shown to a table in the beautiful conservatory; the room a sea of crisp white linen, low lighting and with a gorgeous view out on to the gardens bathed in a late summer’s evening glow.

I am not going to give a blow by blow account of the food, I am only going to say that it was without a doubt some of the very best I have ever tasted anywhere. Five courses of perfectly prepared, fabulously presented and utterly delicious food.

At the end of the evening both Lovely Wife and I were feeling rather assaulted, it wasn’t that the portions were big, in fact they were perfect sized, but it was the assault on the senses. Everything was just so damn good. All the breads are made in the kitchens and were superb, the dining room is just beautiful and with every one speaking in very hushed tones it was like a Temple to Gastronomy. The service, which you expect to be absolutely faultless in such a place, really was just that.

After a little espresso and some divine petits fours we staggered back across the forecourt to our room. It was a fabulous experience and the whole evening was very special.

In fact it was all so wonderful that we threw caution to the wind, and spared no thought for the palpitations we would be giving the bank manager, and decided to eat in the restaurant again the second night. It was as good as the first.

To use a rather hackneyed old phrase Le Manoir is ‘reassuringly expensive’, in fact actually it is heart-stoppingly expensive, and as I mulled over the bill trying to figure out how many months of Sundays it would take to pay it off the credit card I decided that such trivialities should just be ignored. It was a once in a life time experience.

Now if you don’t believe me that this place is pretty much as good as you will ever get this is what an article in the Independent newspaper said in a column listing the best 100 restaurants in the United Kingdom:

This is the heaven to which good foodies aspire to go when they die. Raymond Blanc's luxury country house hotel has gastronomic perfection at its heart: the modern French food isn't just good, it's Oh-God-take-me-now good.

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