Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ saisons is a foodie mecca, boasting two Michelin stars, an impressive accolade in itself, but he’s held these Michelin stars for 29 years. Monsieur Blanc has dedicated his life to constantly growing, developing and perfecting his life’s work, creating memories for his guests all through the medium of great food and service.
So obviously our expectations are pretty high up there as we arrive into the main house for dinner. Instead of showing you straight to your table though, here they usher you into the lounge, press an apertif into your hand (We both opt for G&T’s) and you can peruse the menu in comfort whilst munching on some excellent canapes.
There’s confit salmon with elderflower jelly, which has a melt in the mouth sweetness, but quite subtle. The sweet flavour is perfectly balanced, allowing the salmon to shine rather than overpowering it with the elderflower. There’s guacamole with coriander and their own grown cherry tomatoes, which has a gentle sharpness to it to cleanse the palate, an olive tuile with goats curd and a sliver of red pepper to stop it being too rich and a potato curry puff, known to me from my trips to India as an Aloo Bonda, with a citrusy lime mayo. All fabulous, all contributing to a very happy sense of anticipation of what is to come.
The dining room is larger than I would have thought, intimate and cosy inside and airy and light in the conservatory portion. I say this comparing it to the likes of the Fat Duck, both of whom operate a very small number of covers. That makes the kitchen’s accomplishments even more pronounced, catering to the highest level of quality to a larger audience than most. Given that it’s still light and bright outside, I’m pleased that we’re sitting in the conservatory, looking out to the beautiful gardens.
We’ve opted for the nine-course Menu Decouverte with matching wines, not knowing a great deal about wines, this is a daunting task I am more than happy to delegate to the sommelier. However, this isn’t the sort of place that will care that you aren’t up to date on your grapes, all they want is for you to enjoy what you’re drinking and he makes us promise to let him know if any of the options aren’t to our taste, because ultimately, it really only matters if we’re liking it. This is so refreshing a change from other establishments, where rather than admit to a lack of wine buff knowledge, we’ve taken to simply pointing at an option and nodding intelligently.
First up, breads (delicious, obviously) and then we really get this party started with a Tomato Gazpacho with olive and basil. Whilst perusing the menu, we were considering whether we would ask for any swaps, but on reflection decided to go with the way the menu was intended to be. Husband isn’t ever really keen on tomatoes or soup, so this was to be his preferred swap, but one sip later and he’s marvelling.
Perhaps it’s that we’re getting too used to mass grown vegetables that no longer taste like what they’re meant to, and this shows us what a tomato should really taste like, the highlights and very essence of a tomato, slightly acidic, but sweet, with a savoury umami hit of olive oil and basil into one little shot glass. This course comes with a Rosacker 2009 Riesling and on this beautiful summers day, it’s bringing the tomato flavours to life.
Good food is food that is memorable, no matter if it’s fine dining, a fast-food shack or memories of your childhood favourite. Even as I write this, in my mind’s eye, I’m thinking juicy, fragrant tomatoes with a tangy hit. Such is the power of the gazpacho, it’s bringing to the fore memories of a wonderful evening.
Next up is the confit salmon dish, served just barely warm with crisp pickled cucumber and a bit of horseradish cream. It’s so simple, the salmon is bright coral and flakes away at the gentlest hint of a fork.
I’m lagging behind on the wine matching and since I’m out of sync, I’m having my glass of Yves Cuilleron 2013 Viognier with the Agnolotti of goat’s cheese, honey, artichoke and olives. Less oaky than a chardonnay, it’s fresh and marries beautifully with the light pasta with its filling of soft sweet goat’s cheese. Given that this is a pasta dish, it’s so surprisingly light and the olive oil, tomatoes and olives lend a fruity Mediterranean flavour and sweetness. I’m beginning to see that this is Blanc’s modus operandi, dazzle with light airy textures and flavours and have you float away on Cloud 9.
The presentation of this next dish is so intricate, the delicate courgette flower stuffed with fresh crab and decorated with baby courgettes, perfumed with Lemon verbena and I’m washing it down with a Gruner Veltliner 2012.
The next course is one I was considering a trade for, the roasted fillet of Aberdeen Angus, braised Jacobs Ladder served with wild mushrooms, red wine essence and watercress. On a warm day I thought it too heavy, but I was entirely proven wrong. How Monsieur Blanc can make something as heavy as a red-meat heavy meal seem light and caramelised, I’ll never know. Although it occurs to me now that I could find out, I could enrol myself in the Raymond Blanc Cookery School and under the tutelage of Mark Peregrine, I could wine and dine, dazzle with fish or cook for the Hungry Frenchman. I’ve got my eye on a few of these so if my culinary abilities miraculously improve, then you’ll know why.
The Jacobs Ladder portion was one that fell into the rich bracket, but it’s no more than a mouthful to contrast with the lightness of the rest of the fillet. This course comes with a glass of the Chateau Beau-Site Saint-Estephe 2009, a traditional velvety French red, designed to get the senses reeling.
We’re having such fun, our waitress has a mischievous spark in her eye that is causing a lot of laughter at our table and so I’m flummoxed to find that it’s dessert time already and a Raspberry & Beetroot Gourmandine arrives at the table, layered with fresh raspberries and small morsels of marshmallow, this cleanses the palate and leaves behind a sweetly earthy flavour, a combination I’ve yet to come across before.
And finally, the chocolate. Textures of coconut and Ghana chocolate Grand Cru, On the downside, I’m never going to be able to enjoy a Bounty again, spoilt as I am by this. Coconut foam, a coconut marshmallow with Kaffir lime flecks and a rich rich chocolate shell. Served with a Chateau Suduiraut, it’s a grand finale fitted for a grand meal.
Full to the brim and buzzing with good food, charming service and a relaxed air of informality, we decide on a nightcap before heading back. The bartender, sensing my indecision, volunteers to make me something different to anything I’d have tried before and talks me into an Old-fashioned. He’s made it a little sweeter for me since I’m not a whiskey drinker and it’s a perfect ending.
Back at our room, there’s Petit fours and more fruit, melodious notes of Jazz piping through the system and comfy beds all turned down for the sleep of the truly content.
While you’re here, why not read all about our luxurious stay at Le Manoir as well.