[Great Milton, Oxfordshire] Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons
I’ve long been a fan of Raymond Blanc. Well, maybe not his TV series “The Restaurant” – or, at least, not the final series which seemed to be taking the piss. But, until now, there’d never been the justification to make the drive and spend the dosh. We were keen to see how the lunch would compare with the previous night’s dinner at the 3* Waterside Inn. Well, it was about to compare very, very favourably. Both formal, both French, both pretty classic cooking.
We had an aperitif in the lounge and decided to go with the set five course menu – “Flavours of August”.
There was an excellent array of bread to choose from including a mashed potato one, where the spuds are mixed into the dough. I liked that one quite a lot. It went well with the pistou soup that was the first course. The bowl held an array of vegetables and the intensely flavoured liquid was poured over them. A little Parmesan crouton floated on top. Soup isn’t something I generally order – I think I’m nervous about most of it ending up on my shirt – but this might convert me into wanting to take the risk. It really was bang-on for flavour, seasoning, taste, texture – you name it, it had it.
Lemon verbena marinated salmon may be the prettiest dish I’ve ever had put in front of meal. The pink salmon, thinly sliced deep red and white radish, a yuzu cream bringing a hint of citrus and, to top it all, a little scattering of edible flowers. Oh, and it tasted absolutely delicious.
Next up was a dish which, to my taste, was OK but the least successful of the meal. A fried egg, sat on watercress puree, which had been spiked by crisply fried Jabugo ham. As I say, it tasted OK but it was all a bit baby food, texture -wise. My partner has an aversion to eggs and had swapped out this dish for pasta. And she had definitely got the better of the deal. Agnoletti stuffed with ricotta, accompanied by thinly sliced artichoke.
The Manoir’s take of “lamb three ways” was an outstanding success for both of us. Thin slices of loin – medium rare; a little long braised meat, probably shoulder, and half a kidney (or, in my case, two halves as my partner has more of an aversion to kidney than to egg). There were a few peas and braised lettuce which appeared to have been cooked separately, rather than together as petits pois a la Francaise. And a dab of garlic puree set everything off.
We’d reckoned a dessert the previous night at the Waterside had been one of our best ever. But this lunch served up a dish which may have been the actual best ever. There was a soft chewy meringue which, when you broke it open, out spilled the most intense blackcurrant puree. And, when I say, the “most intense”, I mean it literally. I cannot really think of words to describe just how intense this flavour was. And if that wasn’t blackcurrant nirvana on its own, then it became so when it was combined with a blackcurrant sorbet and a scattering of blackcurrants. This was just, simply, fab. Absolutely.
Coffee and superb petits fours were served in the lounge and made for a really good end to the meal.
Service had been exemplary. It is worth noting that the menu makes clear that service is included in the menu price and that nothing further, by way of a tip, is expected from customers. I really wish more places would adopt this practice – I’m sure it would improve service.
And then a 160 mile drive home, when all I really needed was a nice post-lunch nap.