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

 

Wild Mushroom and Parma Ham Lasagne

This has to be one of the most delicious pasta dishes, made using four classic Italian ingredients: Pasta, Parma Ham, dried wild mushrooms and Parmesan Reggiano. You can eat this either as a starter or as a main course. It is very rich, so if you use it as a starter, you only need a smallish ramekin per person.

Ingredients for 8 as a starter or 4 as a main course.

  • 8 sheets of Lasagne Pasta
  • 60 grams plain flour;
  • 150 grams butter
  • 1 litre milk
  • 450 grams fresh or dried wild mushrooms
  • 150 grams freshly grated Parmesan
  • 200 grams Parma Ham, sliced into juliennes
  • a good handful of freshly chopped Parsley
  • Truffle oil
  • Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 F/220C/Gas 7
  2. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan.
  3. Add the flour and blend, stirring all the time. Cook for a couple of minutes to cook the flour, still stirring. Remove from the heat.
  4. Bring the milk to near boiling. Place the butter and flour mixture back on a very gentle heat and add the milk a little at a time stirring constantly with a whisk. This will only take a couple of minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and set to one side.
  6. If you are using fresh wild mushrooms, slice them into chunks and fry gently in olive oil. If you are using dried, soak them well in cold water, drain them and add to the béchamel.
  7. Cut the Parma Ham into juliennes and add them too.
  8. Sprinkle in the chopped Parsley and season with salt and pepper. Don’t add too much salt as the Parma Ham and the Parmesan both have a certain amount of salt in them.
  9. Bring the mixture to the boil and remove from the heat. Butter your dish or dishes, depending on whether you are using 8 ramekins or one dish.
  10. Place a layer of soaked (or “no pre-soak”) pasta on the bottom, cover with the mixture and generously sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat this until your dish is full.
  11. Place a knob of butter on top of a ramekin dish or several knobs on top of a single dish.
  12. Place in oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbling and golden.
  13. Just before bringing it to the table, you can drizzle a little Truffle oil over the top for an extra subtle and delicious flavour.

My mouth is watering at the thought!

Michel Roux’s Cheese Straws

Ingredients

  • 400g puff pastry
  • egg wash, (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp milk)
  • 80g emmenthal or parmesan, freshly grated
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper

Method

  • Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 28 x 12cm rectangle, about 2mm thick.
  • Roll it loosely over the rolling pin and unroll it onto the prepared baking tray.
  • Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.
  • Brush the entire surface of the pastry with eggwash and sprinkle over the grated cheese evenly.
  • Mix the paprika and cayenne together and dust it over the surface.
  • Use a cook’s knife to trim the edges of the pastry, then halve it lengthways to make 2 bands, each measuring 14 x 12cm.
  • Cut each piece into 1cm wide strips, making 24 straws in all.
  • Lift each cheese straw with a palette knife, hold both ends and twist them 6 times in opposite directions to make a spiral.
  • Put the straws on a baking sheet and bake for 5-6 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and immediately transfer to a wire rack carefully.
  • Leave to cool slightly.
  • Arrange the cheese straws in a tall goblet or on a plate and serve, preferably while still warm.

Venison Sausages in a Shallot, Wild Mushroom & Red Wine Sauce

If you have never tried our venison sausages, this recipe is a good way to start. They are acknowledged as some of the best and this is a marvellous way of cooking them.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb + Venison sausages (ours are usually just over 1lb per pack)
  • 8 oz finely diced streaky bacon or pancetta if you prefer
  • 6 peeled shallots
  • 1 jar of mixed wild mushrooms (fresh are perhaps better but much more expensive, and you can always use ordinary mushrooms)
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • ¾ bottle of red wine
  • ½ pint game or chicken stock
  • 8oz Crème Fraîche
  • 2oz butter
  • chopped thyme
  • chopped parsley
  • 10 juniper berries
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Take a heavy casserole and brown the sausages all over in a little olive oil.
  2. Remove the sausages from the pan and fry your bacon, garlic and mushrooms, sprinkled with parsley.
  3. For the sauce, put the shallots and red wine in a saucepan and reduce over a low heat until there is only about two to three inches remaining.
  4. Add the juniper berries, stock and the Crème Fraîche and reduce again for a further 7 or 8 minutes.
  5. Add the partly cooked sausages, the bacon, garlic and mushrooms and cook for 20 minutes.
  6. Just before serving, strain the sauce through a sieve, allowing the liquid to run into a heavy saucepan, placing the sausages and other things back in the original pan.
  7. Place the sauce back on a low heat.
  8. Cut the butter into knobs and add, whisking as you go with a hand whisk.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. The resulting sauce will be a pretty plum colour and taste divine!
  11. Pour back over the sausages, sprinkle with chopped parsley and a little thyme and serve with creamy mashed potato and crusty bread to wipe up any extra sauce!

Venison Sausage Toad in the Hole

Serves as many you care to share with.

Ingredients

  • 4oz plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • ½ pint milk
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Combine the milk and the flour to make a smooth paste.
  2. Gradually beat in the milk, adding salt & pepper.
  3. Leave to stand in the fridge for an hour or so.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  5. Put the sausages in a deepish roasting tin or oven dish with a little oil or dripping.
  6. Cook them for 10 minutes.
  7. Increase the heat to 200 °C.
  8. Take the batter out of the fridge and beat it thoroughly again to make it light and airy.
  9. Pour over the hot sausages and return to the oven for around 20 minutes until golden brown and crispy.

Tempura Vegetables

A very easy and very delicious way of presenting vegetables.

Serves about 50 pieces

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg yolk or 2 small
  • 12 fl oz or 340 ml iced water
  • 8 oz 225 g plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • Vegetables such as courgettes, mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus, or peppers, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Method

  1. Combine ingredients and mix well. It should not be smooth.
  2. Use batter almost straight away.
  3. Dip the vegetable pieces one at a time, in the batter and shallow fry in clean oil.
  4. Place on kitchen towel to dry after cooking. It is a very “thin” batter, and the vegetable’s colour will show through after cooking.
  5. They can be used as a vegetable or as nibbles.
  6. This batter is equally good for things like prawns.