The first time I heard his characteristically French “oo la la” I was almost suffocating under a mound of coats piled into my arms by VIPs at corporate function. By the time I had dumped the offending garments into the arms of one of my staff and I’d regained my executive composure the moment to chat with Raymond Blanc was gone. I was lucky to exchange pleasantries often enough though as he was a regular guest to the University where I worked but in those days I hardly had time to eat let alone develop an in-depth interest in food.
Watching his documentary The Very Hungry Frenchman earlier this year that I was once again charmed by Raymond Blanc’s enthusiasm and philosophy for simple and flavoursome food. Knowing I’d be back in the UK I vowed to save up enough to visit his flagship restaurant in Oxfordshire to satisfy my curiosity. At the weekend we celebrated 17 years of wedded bliss in the finest style staying at Le Manoir and eating our way through a gourmet dinner in the restaurant that holds 2 Michelin stars. From the personal tour of the manor and our room at the start to finish of our visit when we saw Chef Blanc chatting enthusiastically with the delivery driver of one of his suppliers the whole Le Manoir experience was charming. Friendly staff were attentive to your every wish and extraordinarily knowledgeable about all aspects of the manor, gardens, service and detailed questions about the menu.
It didn’t take me long to wander the acres of gardens which included a lavish kitchen garden, orchard, Japanese garden and mushroom grotto which are carefully tended by 8 gardeners. Although the kitchen garden is 2 acres it supplies only 20% of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetable needs. You can read a fascinating series of articles following the garden through the seasons. I took plenty of mental and visual notes of ideas for our own gardens back home plus a hankering for garden sculptures which added artistic charm and created a few surprises as you meandered around.
Naturally I was little worried about how we might deal with the peculiarities of our new dietary regime but it was clear that with one glance at the menu we would be fine. Nevertheless his Lordship was fed gluten free bread on which to slather the gorgeously creamy butter and similarly tweaked canapes and dessert allowed him to enjoy the full culinary experience. Every course was full of flavour and a wonderful balance of colour and textures. Each course was impressive but not showy, truly classy. I’ve eaten in a range of eateries in my life, including some in London owned by other celebrity chefs, but no doubt Le Manoir takes the prize for the best restaurant eating experience ever.
If you pardon the pun, I’m still digesting the intricacies of the menu. I remember once hearing Raymond Blanc say:
“The good does not interest me. Only the sublime.”
This is a perfect summary for what I experienced at Le Manoir.
No doubt there is something magical going on in deepest Oxfordshire. Le Manoir is certainly a haven for special celebrations and the perfect retreat for people who love food and appreciate the finer things in life. @Lemanoir wins the prize for making me feel extra special with a special twitter friend gift left for me at my dinner table. I look forward to perfecting Maman Blanc’s vegetable soup or Raymond Blanc’s Coq au Vin using my new Raymond Blanc recipe book.