Near Oxford

A few weeks ago we spoilt ourselves and visited Raymond Blanc’s famous hotel and restaurant near Oxford. One does have to be prepared for quite a high bill here, but it is a very special place and we thought worth every penny (pound?!). Sadly it was pouring with rain from start to finish, so we were unable to visit the renowned 27 acres of garden. Another time? No sooner had we arrived in the car park than a friendly member of staff arrived with umbrellas. Once in the hotel, we felt immediately at ease and not at all “threatened” as can happen in some Michelin starred establishments. We were shown into the comfortable bar area and sank into a deep, very comfortable sofa in front of a flickering fire. We perused the menu whilst sipping our drinks and eating canapés. Unlike most people who eat there, we decided against the Tasting menus – they just didn’t appeal to us, whereas several things on the main menu did! Maybe a quarter of an hour after we had chosen, we were shown to a table in the conservatory dining-room. It is a high-roofed room with the tables nicely apart from each other so you couldn’t hear or be heard by your neighbour. Immaculately set tables with great flower decorations everywhere in the room.

As a mise en bouche we were given a shot of cauliflower soup, slightly curried, with a strip of poppadum and a seared scallop with a smear of curried sauce. All very delicate and appetising. Home-baked bread rolls accompanied the meal and were outstandingly good. My mashed potato and beer roll was amazing and I had two!

For starters we chose a fresh crab salad with grapefruit, mango and red pepper and seared langoustines on a confited leek, with pink pickled onions and truffle shavings. Both were well presented and delicious.

Main courses were, for Ethne, slices of monkfish, with poached mussels and a divine lemony, herby, buttery Gewurztraminer sauce. This was definitely the dish of the meal and the sauce was out of this world. I had roasted veal kidneys with wild garlic, lovage and a red wine jus. I felt there should have been a bit more of the jus as calves kidneys are a bit “dense”. This is a comment and not a criticism.

For desserts we had a very fine apple tart with honey and ginger ice-cream. This was stunning! And, as they called it, “our millionaire shortbread” which was a thing of great beauty and amazing taste. Soft toffee with layers of bitter chocolate on a crumbly shortbread with salted butter ice-cream.

Service was impeccable throughout and our main two waiters were Florence and Jean-Baptiste who were thoroughly charming, relaxed and friendly.

It was a great experience and we didn’t begrudge the bill one bit.

A couple of points of interest when considering the price. They have 210 staff there and 42 people in their kitchens! So it’s hardly surprising they have to charge a lot.

The Manoir au Quat’ Saisons, Church Rd, Great Milton, Oxford OX44 7PD
Tel: 01844 278881
http://www.belmond.com/le-manoir-aux-quat-saisons-oxfordshire/