Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons

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/

The King John Inn, Tollard Royal

Opened seven years ago already, the King John Inn in picturesque Tollard Royal is well worth a detour. Open for food 7 days a week, the pub still offers a fine selection of draft beers for the beer drinkers amongst you. The decor is a mixture of modern and traditional, with a stunning new pale oak bar and a quarry tile floor of reclaimed red tiles. Lovely selection of framed country photographs on the walls. Mixed scrubbed oak tables. Immaculate loos. It all works really well and has been done with excellent taste.

We arrived just after noon and were the first there. A relaxed but good welcome set the tone and we were shown to a nice table by the crackling open log fire.

The menu when we visited for lunch was quite small but full of interest. Hot out of the oven bread (The King John Bloomer) was crusty and delicious. For starters we chose Moules Marinières; and lightly dressed Portland crab on sourdough toast. Mains were a pigeon breast salad with crispy bacon and croutons; and pan-fried Gurnard with crushed potatoes and curly kale. There was a good selection of puds from which we shared a chocolate and orange fondant. The food was all well prepared and nicely presented, without being too “fussy”.

Service by our friendly waitress Bronte, was very good and well informed.

A three course meal will set you back £30 to £35, excluding drinks.

http://www.kingjohninn.co.uk
Tel: 01725 516207
The King John Inn, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire SP5 5PS

 

The Anglesea Arms

Hammersmith

It has been some time since we have eaten in this lively gastropub just south of the Goldhawk Road in Hammersmith. It was good in the past and probably even better this time. Despite the boisterous atmosphere in the bar & the tightly packed tables in the well-used dining area, staff maintain their good humour and give us a cheerful welcome, showing us to a scrubbed pine table and presenting us with the day’s special menu.

Menus change constantly according to what is available on the market. There is a large blackboard along one end of the room; it is full of mouth-watering offerings such as starters of Carpaccio of beef; smoked eel with a beetroot remoulade; Country pork terrine (fantastic pate de Campagne) and Ricotta and Courgette tart. Main courses included Roast mutton with lentils, peas and artichokes; Turbot with courgettes, roast cherry tomatoes and asparagus with a salsa verde; Duck breast with Kenya beans, red onions and new potatoes; and for the more daring Caramelised pig’s head with stuffed cabbage and celeriac puree.

Desserts such as Orange and vanilla Pannacotta; Treacle tart; and Raspberry soufflé all sounded tempting, but we were too full by then. Excellent, good value house wines and nice coffee.

Everything we ate was superb and the quality was exceptionally high. The al fresco terrace is a must when the sun shines and there is a good selection of well kept beers for the beer drinker. If we lived in London, it would be one of our regular haunts.

The Mason’s Arms

Knowstone

The Mason’s Arms is a picture postcard 13th century cob and thatch inn in the tiny village of Knowstone on the edge of Exmoor, twenty minutes north of junction 27 on the M5, up the North Devon link road. It is well signposted on your right hand side. We returned here for our annual visit a couple of weeks ago.

On entering the bar, a low-ceilinged room with lots of exposed beams, there is a huge fireplace complete with bread oven and some scrubbed pine tables and benches. It still retains its pub atmosphere in the bar, with real ale on tap and real locals who come for a pint and a chat. It has a Michelin star, but is one of the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurants you will ever find. There are two menus and a Sunday lunchtime menu. The daily lunchtime menu is great value at £21 for two courses and £25 for three courses – this in a Michelin-starred restaurant!  The Sunday lunch menu is a three course meal for £36, also terrific value. The à la carte menu has a selection of five starters, five main courses and five desserts, which might include pan-fried foie gras; Gin Cured Salmon, Salt Baked Beetroot and Cucumber; Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash, Pomegranate Dressing; Wild Mushroom Arancini with Thyme Oil; delicious seared peppered tuna with oriental salad, Devon crab with crème fraîche and a mango dressing, pork belly with braised red cabbage, fillet of beef with sweetbreads, halibut with a potato crust and a cider sauce, sea bass with aubergines. And to conclude Devon and Somerset Farmhouse Cheeses;  Dark Chocolate Ganache with Yoghurt Sorbet and Passion Fruit Syrup;  Honey Pannacotta with Blackcurrant Ice Cream and Brandy Snaps; Banoffee Mille Feuille with Pecan Praline; Chestnut Soufflé with Cinnamon Crème Anglaise and Mandarin Sorbet. And finally, good coffee followed with homemade petits fours. (seehttp://www.masonsarmsdevon.co.uk/resources/ALC-Autumn-16-rev1116.pdf for a current menu)

After 13 years as head chef at Michel Roux’s Waterside Inn and then a short spell at Cliveden, Mark Dodson, his wife Sarah (and their three young daughters) bought this pub in July 2005, in order to enjoy a less pressurised life with more of a family atmosphere. Sarah is a delightful hostess whilst Mark works his magic in the kitchen.

The small fifteen to twenty seater dining-room at the back is light and airy and looks on to some pleasing, rolling Exmoor countryside. There is a terrace where meals can be served on fine days, or where you can enjoy a drink before your meal. The tables are scrubbed oak, the service is friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed.

The wine list is small but interesting. We chose an old favourite of ours, Quiot’s Gigondas 2011, which was quite exceptional.

Excellent food and wine with first class service. This was another outstanding meal and well worth a special trip to Exmoor.

www.masonsarmsdevon.co.uk