Food 2008 – Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons

Wednesday, 13th February 2008 – Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Great Milton

So, it was both my Mum and Lynne’s birthdays, and to celebrate, what with it being Lynne’s 50th and Mum’s 81st, we were booked in at the splendid – nay utterly wonderful – le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. We got up slowly, the Birthday Girls unwrapped various presents, and eventually, all dressed up and made up, we set off for Great Milton, stopping on the way to pick up Steffy from Silverstone. After a slight detour from the route, caused by the dreadful signposting off Junction 8a of the M40, we arrived at the Manoir a little before noon, just in time to take a few photos of the gardens, which were looking glorious in the unseasonally warm early Spring sunshine. The carpet of crocus flowers under the fruit trees were especially spectacular…

At that point we couldn’t hang about, and having found Andrea, Janice and John in the garden, we wandered round to the reception and were quickly shown through and seated in the bar, where drinks orders were taken, some of us opting for framboise (champagne with a raspberry liquer, raspberry puree, and a fresh raspberry perched on the edge of the glass), some for kir and John (who was driving) had a wonderful looking tomato juice, which had a tiny cherry tomato decorating his glass. The accompanying canapes were beautifully done:

There was a tiny croustade with goats’ cheese, a piece of carpaccio of beef wrapped around some creamed horseradish, a spoon of tuna in jelly, and a tiny skewer of grapefruit and pear with a slice of ham in the middle. There would have been a minute nest of deep-fried Parmesan, but I’d eaten it by the time I realised I hadn’t taken a photo!

From there we moved to the restaurant where we were served the most amazing selection of breads (ciabatta with sun-dried tomatoes studded through it like tiny jewels, sourdough slices, crusty rolls with bacon pieces embedded in them, a baguette that looked perfect, a nut roll that was packed with pistachios), with perfect fresh butter and sea salt flakes. To start us off, the amuse bouche was a Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle oil, delicately flavoured, frothy on the top and served in tiny cups.

After that, the starters arrived, with more bread also making an appearance – and Andrea, predictably as she’s such a bread fan – having awful trouble trying to decide which one she really wanted. For starters, I had wild mushroom risotto, with truffles, while others hit the mackerel.

What can I say about the risotto? It was so wonderfully flavoured, the mushroom flavour coming through while the truffles could also be tastes separately. It was delicious, and there was more to come, needless to say.

The main courses of smoked chicken with smoked mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables from the garden, and the Cornish pollock, pan-fried and served on soft, fluffly brandade de morue were both beautifully done, the ingredients obviously as fresh as could be and each speaking for themselves without overwhelming any of the others.

We took a breather after that, finishing off the Irouléguy Andere d’Anja 2005 (the third bottle anyway), before deciding which dessert to opt for. There was a chocolate tart, with coffee ice cream, which looked very deep, dark and sticky, and proved so when I blagged a spoonful from Steffy in return for a spoonful of the passion fruit souffle, with mango salad and banana ice cream. The souffle was perfect, a cushion of creamy flavour with a kick from the fruit and the crunch of a passion fruit seed now and then. It looked and tasted amazing.

The Jurançon Uroulat, Charles Hours 2004 was the perfect accompaniment, and I think we would all have been quite content at that. However, there was an offer of coffee, which went down well with some, and fresh mint tea which went down even better, and came with a large quantity of exquisite petit fours. As best I can I recall, there were lemon tarts, liquorice “magnums”, rhubarb crumble, chestnut sweets, chocolate truffles, nougat and I’m not wholly sure what else, but they were incredibly good and we didn’t leave a single one!

And so, full of food, we eventually left, after a surreal discussion about mushroom hunting (and whether or not you needed mushroom beaters to flush them out), and a stroll round the grounds in the late afternoon sunshine. We got home around 17.30, and collapsed on to sofa to drink a bottle of Bollinger and turn down all suggestions of any more food. All I can say is if you can, save up the money and go to Le Manoir. If you love food, you won’t regret it. Oh, and Andrea, that plan to buy the place lock, stock and Raymond Blanc? Keep buying the lottery tickets! We need a place to retire!

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