Friday 13th October, 2017 – Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton
If there’s one restaurant in the UK that I would sell my grandmother to eat at, it’s probably le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I make no secret of my admiration for Raymond Blanc, and having met him a couple of times now, I’m even more established in my enthusiasm for the man and his boundless enthusiasm for good food and good hospitality. I’ve now eaten there four times, on one occasion flying in from Brussels to Heathrow and back in a day just to have lunch there. I suppose you might say I’m a fan…
And so, with a significant anniversary to celebrate I made a reservation three months to the day in advance (that’s the earliest you can book and if you really want a table on a set date it’s probably the only way to guarantee you’ll get in). And so, we duly presented ourselves in the reception area about half an hour ahead of schedule. This also gives you the chance to relax and enjoy the environment, particularly in the very comfortable lounge bar.
A glass of champagne was the only sensible way to proceed. It was this that did highlight the slightest of issues, when Lynne slipped off to the bathroom just before the waiter arrived with the bottle and a glass. I tasted, approved and he poured me a glass, and then asked if there was anything else. Unfortunately, my answer had to be, “Yes, the second glass for my dining companion please!” I do wonder if it’s this sort of minor slip that stops them getting that third Michelin star, or if it’s just that Michelin don’t approve of self-taught chefs! Either way, from then on things went very smoothly so it wasn’t really an issue, just something to ponder. There was nothing for it but to go for the tasting menu and matching wines, while we nibbled on some very cute amuse bouches.
And so, shortly afterwards, we were moved through to the dining room, where our chosen menu had already been printed out and placed on the table so we would know what we were getting. The restaurant does offer the option to have everything explained when it’s delivered to your table, but don’t do this unless you want them to. They must have somehow figured out that we did want that, because it happened. I’m always happy to have staff do so, because it shows whether they actually know what they are talking about (they do at le Manoir) or they’re just parroting something they’ve learned off by heart. The first course was a wonderful soupe de chou-fleur, amandes grillees (a spiced cauliflower soup with toasted almonds). It was delicately flavoured, the spices blending with the cauliflower and as on previous occasions, it proved, if proof were needed, that they do brilliant things with vegetables here. The crisp served with it was exquisite.
It was served with a Riesling Schlossberg 2012, Schloss Reinhartshausen, Rheingau, Germany. As with every wine I’ve ever drunk here, this was a cracker.
I should also mention the bread. The bread basket is one of the highlights for me, especially the bacon studded rolls, which are one of the best breads you will ever eat. And they’re crazily generous with it too. If you don’t exercise some restraint you’ll find you’ve eaten enough bread for a week, and will be able to do nothing much apart from waddle gently away from the table and collapse in the lounge or the garden.
The butter is pretty damn good too.
The next course was maquereau de Cornouailles grille, pomme, miel, soja et gingembre (grilled Cornish mackerel, apple, honey, soy and ginger). Mackerel is a very strong flavoured fish of course, and can overpower pretty much all but the most determined ingredients. The soy and ginger were brilliant accompaniments and the apple and honey cut through the fattiness of the skin. It was lovely, with none of the returning flavour afterwards to bother a diner.
The wine this time was a Saint-Romain 2015, Domaine de Chassorney, Bourgogne, France.
The third course was a technical tour de force with an oeuf de poule, jambon Jabugo and cresson (a soft, fried hen’s egg, Jabugo ham, and watercress). The egg was still soft yolked and sticking a knife in realised a cascade of yellow. It was very cleverly executed and tasted great too.
We now moved on to what I suppose might be considered the main event, a caille de Norfolk rotie, legumes d’Automne, vin rouge et canelle (roasted Norfolk quail, autumnal vegetables, red wine and cinnamon). This is the closest I’ve ever got to finding Autumn on a plate. It looked gorgeous, and tasted sublime. There were carrots and leaved and mushrooms and walnuts, all brought gloriously together on the plate by the pumpkin puree underneath and the brilliantly sticky, sweet and vinous sauce.
The glass of Valpolicella Ca’Fiui 2016, Corte Sant’Alda, Veneto, Italy was the ideal drinking companion for such a dish.
We’d already been in place for a couple of hours and were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and the company of the people on the next table was also very pleasant. Just as we started to relax, the waiting staff came back with an offering of one of my favourite cheeses, a selection of three ages of Couer de Franche-Comte: le Comte. The various stages of maturation on offer were 12, 18 and 24 months, and it was served with a complimentary glass of Vin Jaune 2008 Domaine Daniel Duglos, It’s fair to say I can’t recall drinking Vin Jaune (though I have had it in cooked dishes) so I was slightly surprised as to how dry it was. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect that. It’s even more bizarre that I’ve never drunk it considering it comes from Arbois, a part of the Jura I know very well indeed, having skied around those parts for many years. My god but those cheeses were good!
We moved on again after the cheese, with a beautiful looking dessert, an amandine de poire du moment, croustillant caramel, sauce gingembre et son sorbet (seasonal pear Almondine, caramel croustillant, ginger sauce and its own sorbet). It was crunchy where it ought to be, sweet and sticky with a warmth from the ginger sauce that went perfectly with the pear sorbet and the tiny tart underneath it.
The dessert wine was an unctuous Barsac Cypres de Climens 2011, Chateau Climens, Bordeaux, France. We were still drinking it when the final official course showed up in front of us, a millionaire shortbread (soft toffee with bitter chocolate on a crumbly shortbread, salted butter ice-cream), along with a little plaque of sugar wishing us Happy Anniversary. It was an elegant touch and we appreciated it.
We were offered tea or coffee and chose to go out into the garden as the day had proven rather more clement than we’d expected. This was again where the service faltered slightly and I had to chase someone up to remind them that we were there. Reminded of our existence, our hot drinks were duly delivered, along with a plate of petit fours. Thankfully these little lapidary pleasures didn’t come in the sort of quantity we’d encountered at Victor’s Fine Dining the month before. This was manageable, just, especially if we took a walk round the gardens.
The gardens have long been a work in progress and if you do go to Le Manoir, you must investigate. Reception will provided you with a map and you can then lose yourself out there, in the orchards and herb gardens, and vegetable and fruit and mushroom plots that now proliferate. There’s a lake and a Japanese tea house and statuary of all types everywhere. It provides almost as much of a feast for the senses as the food does.
And so, several hours after we arrived, and clutching a copy of “Le Manoir”which I would get signed by the man himself a week later, we went home and didn’t eat again until the following day. Even with the very minor blips in service, my love affair with Le Manoir is still in full swing!