11 March 2019

A Sumptuous Sunday Supper at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

A few months ago, my parents invited me to attend a 'come-and-sing Fauré's Requiem' they had organised as a special celebration in the church of Great Milton, a village just down the road from the Oxfordshire village I grew up in. I accepted with pleasure — on the condition that I didn't have to sing myself — and I then found out that we would be going to 'the local' for a celebratory supper afterwards. And yes, the local in Great Milton happens to be a certain establishment called Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.

After a successful concert, we walk five minutes down the road to Raymond Blanc's two-Michelin-star hotel-restaurant. It is dark by then but I managed to catch the honeyed-stoned buildings — resplendent in the golden hour sunshine of an unseasonably warm February day — during a break. Just inside the door are assorted pairs of wellies — guests of the hotel are encouraged to explore the gardens and grounds. We hand over our coats and then take a seat in one of the lounges.

The first challenge is to decide whether to order the seven-course tasting menu (£190) or a three-course à la carte (specialités du moment; £175). It's already 8 pm on a Sunday and so we decide to opt for the latter. I order a lemon, raspberry nectar and gin cocktail, which I enjoy with a beautifully presented amuse-bouche selection. The textures and flavours are tantalising, the tuna tartare being my favourite. Needless to say, my bouche is very satisfied.

After we have ordered, we are led through into the dining room. It may go without saying that the service at Le Manoir is good, but it really is exceptional throughout the evening: warm and unobtrusive; nothing is too much trouble for the wait staff. The place settings at our table are lovely too, with a centrepiece of early spring flowers.

Before the starters arrive, we have another 'snack': a small glass with pumpkin soup, served with blue cheese and a biscotti; this, I remember, also appeared on the tasting menu so I'm glad I get to try it. I'm also trying hard not to eat too much of the delicious fresh bread (I go for the one with bacon, of course). My starter — langoustine with truffle and Jerusalem artichoke — materialises soon afterwards. I am not usually fond of truffles or other fungi, but the delicate slices here are beautifully prepared and make the perfect foil for the langoustine.

Torn between Dover sole and beef for my main course, I end up ordering the latter, a medium fillet of Angus beef, with braised Jacob's ladder (short rib), pomme purée and a red wine jus. This was one of the nicest beef dishes I've had for a long time — juicy and perfectly tender — and my plate was soon clean.

For pudding, I choose the pistachio and cocoa soufflé, which is rather larger than I expect. It's sinfully rich too, although the pistachio adds a lighter contrast, and I finally regret eating so much bread (although only a little bit). Although I don't usually go for chocolate and coffee combinations, on seeing my dad's pudding (a chocolate cup containing the layers of a cappuccino), I think I could have made an exception.

We retire to the sitting room for coffee and petits fours. Well, I choose a manuka infusion rather than a coffee, which is a nice complement to our final sweet treats. The raspberry 'jelly' is my favourite, although the chocolate and caramel concoction is lovely too. After polling our group as to whether the chocolate mushroom tastes of mushroom or just resembles a mushroom, I decide to give that one a miss; it has been a fun-filled night, but I have had my fill of fungi.

Overall, it has been a wonderful evening. Every meal — and snack — is delicious and beautifully presented, the setting relaxed, and the service impeccable. I am lucky enough to have eaten at Le Manoir before, although traffic problems on my way out of London meant my meal was rather more rushed than planned. And I'd certainly be more than happy to return for another special meal some day.

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

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