22 June 2014

An Oxford Elegy

It's been a while since I've been back to visit my parents in Oxfordshire and this weekend there were several other reasons to head west. First, it was my dad's MA graduation ceremony and the plan was for me to join my parents for a celebratory dinner at Le Manoir in Great Milton. Although Raymond Blanc's lovely restaurant is only a few miles from my parents' house, I've never been, but the unpredictability of traffic on the A40 on a Friday night meant that I wasn't counting on anything other than pudding. As it turned out, a horrible fire in White City meant the road was closed entirely for hours and my bus had to inch its way up Kilburn High Road instead, and until we entered the Oxfordshire county line, I wasn't sure I would be able to make it at all.

Luckily, though, I got to Great Milton just as my parents had finished the second course of their multiple-course tasting menu. I ordered the assiette de porc from the à la carte menu, sipped on the most elegant whiskey sour I've ever had, and nibbled on a bread roll that was spiked with crispy bacon pieces.

My main course was delicious: a real assortment of pork, including tiny pork chops (sorry, Babe), slices of sausage, crackling, and pancetta-laced salad. It was so beautifully presented too and the service throughout the evening was impeccable.

Then it was pudding time. As my parents were on the set menu, they had to have the set pudding, which was called something like ‘a theme on the French strawberry', but I got to pick the millionaire's shortbread, which was amazing: rich dark chocolate, layered with gooey caramel and crisp shortbread, garnished with gold leaf.

I also found room for a second cocktail, which was essentially a gin mojito, and which was refreshing and fruity. We retired to the sitting room for coffee, and were pleased to find an incredibly tempting selection of petits fours. Le Manoir isn't cheap, but the food is outstanding and it is a truly lovely place for a special celebration.

On Saturday, I went into Oxford for a haircut and colour (the second reason for my visit), and did a bit of shopping. I usually go to The Missing Bean for coffee and stopped by for a macchiato first thing, but I also discovered a new coffee bar in North Oxford called Brew (full review to follow), which serves pourover coffee: the first place I've found to do so in Oxford. After an afternoon in the sun with the cats at home and dinner on the terrace, Dad and I went to support Mum at her choir's latest concert (the third reason for my visit), which took place in a church in Headington — near the famous Headington shark.

This morning, the sun was still out so my dad and I went for a run around Christchurch meadow. The cobblestone of Merton Street was completely covered with confetti students' post-exam celebrations and it looked like they were in the process of clearing up at a ball at Merton College. The gate to the Radcliffe Camera was, for once, open so we took our coffee and posed for a few photos under the honeyed stone arches. Oxford is so beautiful on days like this.

After a lunchtime barbecue, we went to see a few friends and relatives before it was time for me to head back to the Big Smoke. I can't imagine living anywhere in the UK other than London, but I sure do enjoy the weekends I spend at my parents' house, especially when the weather is so perfect.

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