Do you have a bucket list? I don’t. At least, I didn’t. Not for anything other than ‘places I want to travel to’ and ‘guests I would like at my dream dinner party’, that is. But, I have been inspired to make more of a general one since my visit to Raymond Blanc’s 2 Michelin Star restaurant, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Post-visit, I can say it would have been pretty near the top of that list.
The lush vegetable patches, with the manor house in the background
The restaurant is the proud owner of 2 Michelin stars. It is located within the grand 15th-century manor house of the chocolate-box quaint Oxfordshire country village of Great Milton. There is a 27-acre garden, flanked at almost every border by rows of Provençal lavender, where ingredients are grown to create the magnificent dishes that are served up in the restaurant. The wine cellar is home to around 1000 wines, 60% of which are from France – no surprise, given the heritage of the joint’s owner, Monsieur Raymond Blanc OBE. When you start to add these things up, you can begin to see that Le Manoir is something special, indeed.
Restaurant/Hotel: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Location: Great Milton, Oxfordshire
Address: Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD, UK
Phone: +44 (0)1844 278 881
Nearest airport/how to get there: Well, there’s a helipad on site… Otherwise, Great Milton is just off the M40, and is close to Oxford with its well-served station
Pool? No – it’s a luxurious English countryside retreat with a touch of French flair. No pool needed.
Perfect for: Celebrating a special occasion
FashCatherine credentials: A 2 Michelin star restaurant in an idyllic country location with 27-acres of picture-perfect grounds perfect for walking your lunch off, in
ARRIVING AT LE MANOIR AUX QUAT’SAISONS
Apart from the setting, the food and the decor, what sets Le Manoir apart is the service. Which is impeccable. And not only that, it is thoughtful and considered. Arriving at the manor is an experience in itself. You drive through the grand gates and pull up at the castle-like frontage, above, where you are greeted by a cheery, chatty chappy who whisks you inside and takes the keys to your car – all parking is valet.
Pink champagne – the perfect way to start your lunch at Le Manoir
We were escorted through the manor’s narrow corridors, decorated to make the most of the natural light that floods through the many windows, out to the back garden. There are lots of benches in this open grass area. You are taken to one and left with wine and food menus, but not before being offered a glass of champagne, to kick things off. The sommelier will help you match your wine with your food choices.
We were lucky enough to visit on a sunny day. Having spent the weekend in the Cotswolds, staying at The Slaughters Manor House, lunch at Le Manoir was a perfectly located stop-off on our journey home to London. Although, post-lunch, we wished we were staying away from home for just one more night, at Le Manoir – which offers 32 luxurious bedrooms, including 16 suites.
Canapés served with the champagne – both disappeared quickly…
The two-acre kitchen garden
The experience of having a meal at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons doesn’t stop at the restaurant. The 27-acre grounds are fantastic fun to explore. There is a two-acre working garden, where the vegetables, fruits and herbs are grown to be used in the kitchen, and hardly anywhere is off limits to intrigued guests.
Children aren’t only allowed at Le Manoir, they are given a very warm welcome. As well as an extensive, and relatively healthy, menu of their own, there are lots of activities going on that they can get involved with. Like nature trails to be undertaken in the garden. There are loads of statues in the gardens that children will love to discover. Also, the manor is home to Raymond Blanc’s cookery school, which offers classes for children.
A shot of gazpacho tomato soup
The main attraction here is, of course, the food. The Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons restaurant is the culmination of its patron chef, Raymond Blanc’s, 30-year mission to discover and serve up the finest of food. The quality of the food is a credit to all of his hard work. The freshest ingredients, taste combinations and ingenious pairings mean that all of your anticipatory excitement will be gratifyingly rewarded.
Yes, it is pricey, there’s no getting away from it; but consider that the price is for the whole experience – the service, the gardens and the hospitality, as well as the top quality food. Quite honestly, you won’t eat finer and in a more beautiful location. We were seated in the conservatory area, which I would recommend, as it was so light. There are seven and five course taster menu options, but we chose from the a la carte.
Starter: Fresh Cornish crab salad, coconut, Kaffir lime sorbet, oyster leaf, £46
When you bite into a tomato, you can taste the sunshine it has been growing in. ‘Tis a rare thing to find, sadly, a tomato that tastes like a tomato, so I would be tempted to recommend Le Manoir based on this alone. Head chef Gary Jones uses all locally sourced ingredients, as well as the fruit and veg harvested from the restaurant’s own grounds. A big bonus of utilising the garden’s own produce is that the menu is always seasonal, and therefore the ingredients will always be at their best. Does it get better than that?
The hospitality is highly polished, and yet still feels friendly. We didn’t feel rushed, simply welcomed and the calm and chatty (if you want them to be) nature of the staff puts everyone at ease. It’s the exact amount of pleasant that it should be.
French bread and a bread roll with bacon baked into it…
Starter: Goat cheese tortellini with tomatoes, £46
Main: Roasted fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef, braised Jacob’s ladder (short ribs), and red wine jus £56
Pudding: Millionaire’s shortbread desert, £28
The cheese trolley of dreams
Ordering from the a la carte menu means you can keep a tally on your spending. But, saving the pennies for a special occasion will reap endless rewards if you plan on treating yourself and your loved ones to a trip to Le Manoir. The beef fell apart at the touch of a fork and the jus was silky, and the perfect accompaniment. The layer of caramel at the bottom of our desert was indescribably more-ish and the accompanying salted caramel ice cream was served at the perfect temperature to delve straight into.
The food was so delicious and the ingredients so fresh that we asked if they sold any of the produce. The reply? There is simply too much demand in the restaurant, that they can’t produce enough! So, if you want to make a booking, I’d say plan well ahead.
Perfection doesn’t come around very often, but at Le Manoir aux Quatre’Saisons it comes in silver-lined ladles. You don’t need to eat here, but you really should try to visit at least once in a lifetime.
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The trip reviewed in this article, in June 2016, was supported by Le Manoir aux Quatre’Saisons.