Perusing the menu
Perusing the impressive menu in the bar later than evening was beyond exciting; the realisation of a dream. The impressive offerings are modern French, its origins influenced by Raymond’s mother Maman Blanc, who instilled in her young son his love of local provenance and the importance of complementary flavours and textures.
The wine list
Over vodka tonic cocktails and amuse bouches we peruse the generous wine list – down from 1200 last year to 700. Raymond says he prefers to concentrate on ‘quality and purity’, with a focus on wines with less sulphur content. Good news.
Head Sommelier Lukas Hyner guides us towards a crisp peach-and-pear off-dry Stopham Estate Pinot Gris and a delightful red from the superb Domaine La Terrasse d’Elise in the Languedoc, before we make our way into the dining room. This Vin De Pays de l’Hérault Elise’s Syrah and Mourvèdre combination providing a lightly spiced and smooth accompaniment to the marvellous tasting menus.
We chose to have each course announced at the table (you can opt not to as a printed menu is provided) that added a touch of theatre to the evening. My friend chose the five-course tasting menu, while I opted for seven courses. In retrospect rather adventurous for one person but I was too excited to resist.
The culinary experience
Wild garlic soup with seared scallop…beautifully presented and served, the garlic a perfect pairing with the Cornwall-fresh scallops and provided an interesting visual début to the evening. Hen’s eggs. As Raymond himself tells me over breakfast the next day, just because an egg yolk is dark yellow does not mean it’s healthy (probably just maize fed, so beware readers). The yolk in front of me now is medium yellow, and richly flavoursome, as is the white asparagus, morel ketchup and the crown of deep green parsley sabayon. I don’t pretend to be a food writer; I just love good flavours, textures and great service and presentation. Gary Jones, Benoit Blin (Chef Patissier) and of course Monsieur Blanc have made this an art form.
I take a break while my friend enjoys her confit de saumon, risotto of spring vegetables and soon-to-arrive Cornish sea bass. Then segue slowly into the mouth-watering steamed fillet of sole, Scottish langoustine and delicate ginger consommé that arrives next.
Definitely more pescatarian than meat lover, I’m thoroughly enjoying the melange of textures and flavours. Portions are perfect. Presentation exquisite. This is a meal you wish would go on forever, and it almost does
Veal fillet, hazelnut, watercress and cauliflower, in a fabulous jus, tender and succulent; melt-in-your-mouth delicious. This tasting menu is so incredible I am lost for words, savouring each mouthful and taking in the beautiful surroundings of the dining room. With its soft lighting and greenery, the dining room has a fairy tale enchantment to it.
I take a longer gap, to find requisite space for dessert, while my friend enjoys her succulent roast chicken breast, asparagus, smoky mash and poultry jus. I have choice envy – but only for this one dish.
For the grand finale, we are both served strawberries: hers is a Gariguette, while mine are garnished with Szechuan pepper, cream cheese, fresh mint and basil gelée – extraordinary! Somehow we find room to share milk chocolate and Earl Grey tea crumble with banana and passion fruit sorbet.
Eschewing a Remy for peppermint tea, we had a good long walk around the gardens before heads touched soft pillows.
Verdict on the food
The food at Le Manoir is incredible. Not just the freshness and purity of its ingredients but the presentation, the service and the ambiance. Raymond may well describe himself as a ‘micro-idiot’ – as someone who is obsessive with detail – but it’s his skill in finding balance and harmony from many different elements that make Le Manoir such a resounding success.
Before reluctantly leaving this heaven on earth the following morning, I find a quote from Raymond’s book A Taste of My Life that perfectly sums up our experience at Le Manoir: “Even as a child I understood that life is rooted in the changing seasons. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is the fulfillment of a personal vision, a dream that one day I would create a hotel and restaurant in harmony where my guests would find perfection in food, comfort, service and welcome.”
I couldn’t agree more. So if a stay at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is on your bucket list, I urge you to stop dreaming and make it a reality.
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – Where and How?
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD, UK
Reservations: +44 (0)1844 278881
E: [email protected]
One, two and four-day courses. Book on +44 (0)1844 278881
Link to the sculptures at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons
Tours of the gardens only
Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays)
Starts at 10am with coffee/tea and biscuits in the lounge
To book call +44 (0)1844 278 881
Getting To Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons
London Heathrow Airport is 36 miles (45-minute drive) from Le Manoir. You can land at Oxford Airport, about 16 miles away if arriving by private plane.
The closest station is Haddenham & Thame Parkway, a 45-minute journey from London Marylebone. A taxi to Le Manoir takes 15 minutes.
From the M25, pick up the M40. Le Manoir is approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes drive from London. Free valet parking on-site.