Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons is a restaurant and hotel in the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton. It comes from the legendary French chef Raymond Blanc who received his two Michelin stars for Le Manoir just a year after opening in 1985 and has held them ever since.
As it was my birthday we decided that a visit here for lunch would be the perfect way to celebrate – and we weren’t disappointed.
We arrived after an hour and three quarter drive from London (without any traffic – hoorah) and were rather impressed by the beauty of it all. The building, the hedges, the lawn, the flower beds; all perfectly pruned and cared for.
What makes this place so impressive is the fact that the restaurant is surrounded by vegetable and herb gardens where over 90 varieties of veg and over 70 varieties of herbs are grown, which all provide the kitchen. After our lunch we had a walk around these gardens and there’s acres of them – it was amazing. There’s even a Japanese tea garden.
We were first seated in a room that was rather like a posh persons living room complete with comfy sofas, where we were given some canapes whilst we perused the menu. The crab with grapefruit and the salmon tartare were all exquisite but our favourite was the little deep fried ball filled with cheesy rice – heaven.
The five course tasting menu priced at £75 per person (yikes!) seemed the best value so we opted for that.
The dining room itself was in a large conservatory which was flooded with natural light and we had a perfect view of the gardens. It felt like a very tranquil and peaceful space.
Our lunch started with a terrine of baby beetroot, mozzarella and a horseradish sorbet. It looked beautiful, the sort of thing you’d happily hang on the wall let alone eat. The tangy beetroot with the creamy mozzarella was delicious and the horseradish sorbet was fresh and cleansed my palate. Light, delicate and summery.
The confit of salt cod, coco beans and olive was another summery and beautiful looking dish. I really do hate all types of beans, I find the texture of them disgusting but I rather liked these ones and combined with the wondrously flakey cod I enjoyed it a lot. The quality of the ingredients, all grown in the field next door, was sublime.
The soft fried hen’s egg, watercress puree and Jabugo ham was a simple but flavourful dish. The egg burst to reveal the yolk’s gooey loveliness. The rich yolk blended perfectly with the watercress puree to make a lovely sauce and some hazelnuts added texture.
The assiette of Cornish lamb, peas, bacon and sweet garlic puree was as delicious as it sounds. Everything on the plate sung harmoniously and was all brought together by a rich meaty sauce. My only criticism would be the lamb could have been cooked a little rarer for me.
Dessert was a showstopper – tiramisu flavours, coco sauce and coffee bean ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite such a stunning looking dessert. It tasted every bit of tiramisu yet didn’t have the soggy sponge texture that you often get – once I’d stopped admiring it’s appearance it was a pure pleasure to eat.
Service was efficient and precise but it lacked a friendly conversational side. Our young male waiter had clearly been trained to a very high standard but he never deviated from his well rehearsed script which seemed a shame.
My gentleman companion rather kindly organised a birthday cake to be brought to the table (£16) which was a lovely surprise (it’s not like him to be thoughtful!) We were too stuffed to eat any there and then so they boxed it up for us. The chocolate mousse cake had a chocolate biscuit base and a raspberry jelly running through the centre – pure indulgence of the very best kind.
Le Manoir isn’t cheap, but then it shouldn’t be. What you’re paying for is incredibly fresh and seasonal produce cooked to an impressively high standard. It’s a special occasion kind of restaurant and one where you’ll be glad you visited. Make a day of it, take the trip out of London and you’ll be transported to a peaceful bit of countryside that will fill your belly with delight.