As a very special birthday gift, my lovely husband bought us a 6 course dinner at Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons restaurant in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. I’m very fortunate to have a husband who loves food, and loves to experience fine dining. We don’t do it often, but when we do, oh my, it’s quite an experience to treasure. And Le Manoir is possibly the best experience of them all, so far.
From the moment you arrive, guests are made to feel special. There is a high staff to guest ratio, and everyone is trained to the highest degree of service. They called us by our name, and they knew our dietary requirements which we mentioned over the phone when we reserved the table (both pescetarian, and me with a nut intolerance). It was a pleasure not to have to remind them or inquire about each dish. They took our coats and showed us to a table in the lounge near the fire. We were presented with food menus (regular and vegetarian), a bar drinks menu, and a very extensive wine menu – Le Manoir is home to around 1,000 different wines from around the world, with around 60% being of French provenance. A wine steward took our wine order and was very knowledgeable and helpful in aiding our choice (even though he looked to be about 20 years old!), and another member of staff took our food order. We both ordered the 6 course menu, which surprisingly had only 1 item we couldn’t eat (venison), but they happily allowed us to choose another dish from the 9 course, the vegetarian, or the À la carte menu to substitute. We relaxed by the fire with a nice glass of rosé until they came and showed us to our table.
Much to our surprise and delight, while we were waiting, we were brought a beautiful dish of canapés. In the image below, in the front row from left to right: Salmon tartare, crispy aubergine with baba ghanoush, goats cheese on a tiny sweet cracker, and spiced beetroot in a sweet, sticky sauce. I’m not sure what other diners may have gotten and whether or not ours was special to our dietary requirements, but I assume it was because our requirements were mentioned by the server to reassure us everything was ‘safe’.
The Dining Room
The dining room is a beautiful conservatory-style room with a high, pitched glass roof and lovely palm trees throughout. We sat at a great table in the back of the room which allowed us both to look out over the whole restaurant (which was completely booked).
Our wine was decanted and brought to our table immediately after we were seated, along with a bottle of water. The bread steward came by first with a special selection of breads for me to choose from, all nut free. Then he returned with a very large basket of breads of many varieties for my husband to choose from. We were also given salted and unsalted butter. The bread was very nice, but not so fantastic that we were tempted to fill up too much. The highlight for both of us was the ciabatta bread with tomatoes, which had a beautiful texture and tasted a bit like pizza.
We were asked at the start of our meal if we wanted the wait staff to explain each dish as it was served. Otherwise, there was a printed menu card on the table. We wanted the full experience of having each course announced and described.
The first dish was a salad of Devonshire crab, grapefruit and celery. I now understood why the restaurant has been described as “a twist of imaginative genius” – crab, grapefruit and celery shouldn’t go well together, said my head. But when I tried it, it absolutely went well together, said my taste buds. It was delightful! (Did you notice the celery crab claws?)
The second course was a Risotto of wild mushrooms with truffle cream. The size of the dish was much larger than I expected, and I wished later that I had had the restraint to eat only half of it as by the end of the meal I was so full I could barely breathe. But the risotto was delicious, and so I enjoyed every morsel.
The third course was my favourite of the night. It was a pan-fried Cornish Dover sole fillet, scallop, and cauliflower puree. My cauliflower puree had tiny capers in it, while my husband’s had both capers and almonds. This dish was heaven. The scallop was huge and sweet and perfectly cooked throughout. The sole was flavourful and expertly cooked, and the cauliflower puree was creamy and buttery. It all went together perfectly. It was my highlight of the night. One of my favourite items on the plate was the finely sliced cauliflower under the scallop, which looked like coral. Gorgeous!
The fourth course on the 6 course menu should have been roasted loin of Shropshire venison, chicory, and braised celery with a Grand Veneur sauce. This was the one meal my husband and I had to substitute. He chose a fillet of turbot with a crab ravioli in a ginger consomme sauce. I chose quails egg ravioli with spinach and mushrooms. They were both fantastic. I squealed with delight when I cut open my ravioli to find a whole tiny quails egg which was runny when I cut into it! How did they do that? It was sublime. The whole ravioli was just creamy and delicious with tiny cubes of mushrooms and huge, chunky bits of spinach with the delicate quails egg. Amazing!
At this point, we were relieved when the staff asked us if we’d like a few minutes to rest before continuing on to the cheese course. I took the opportunity to visit the ladies room, which was beautiful, and well stocked with items like hairspray, cotton balls and buds, feminine products, etc. There was bar soap, pump soap, hand lotion, and both real cloth towels and high quality disposable ones. Very impressive. Now back to the food…
The cheese was rolled out on a cheese board. The gentleman manning the board explained that the three cheeses were a selection of Comté cheeses of different ages, from Raymond Blanc’s native region. The cheese ranged in age from 6 months to 18 months to 24. The cheese was served with grapes, bread (plain for me, nutty for my husband), juniper jam, and for my husband, a selection of nuts. A wine steward offered us a glass of special wine to go with the cheese – a self-oxidizing Vin Jaune De Garde (“Yellow Wine” of the Jura), which I enjoyed very much, but my husband did not. It tasted a bit of sour grapes, but I thought it complemented the cheese well. They warned us ahead of time the wine isn’t to everyone’s taste.
The cheese platter was delicious and we both agreed the middle aged one was the best.
The sixth and final course was a poached pear in caramel, Tahiti vanilla creme chiboust and liquorice. This dish was a revelation! I didn’t expect to love it, as I’m not a fan of liquorice. Or poached pears. But oh my. The pear was poached to perfection – just cooked through without being mushy or mealy, and topped with the heavenly, light as a feather vanilla cream with tiny bites of crunchy caramel and bits of gold leaf on top. To the side was tiny diced pear with what i’m guessing was a liquorice sorbet. It had just a hint of liquorice, with tiny slivers of black liquorice throughout, and was ice cold, contrasting nicely to the warm poached pear. The whole dish tasted light, which was exactly right for the final course. Anything heavy and chocolaty would have pushed me over the edge. Instead, this felt like a light palate cleanser. It was perfect. Genius.
All good things must come to an end
When the meal was complete, we were invited back into the lounge to sit by the fire and enjoy tea/coffee or an after dinner drink – all of which we declined as we had more than had our fill. We sat by the fire and digested and reflected on the wondrous meal we just enjoyed. We tried to rank order our dishes, but were hard-pressed to find any reason why any one dish should fall last in the list. Then we contemplated how we could re-arrange our yearly spending to justify coming back this summer, as we would like to enjoy the beautiful Manoir in the sunlight, and walk through the extensive gardens and grounds (they have a two-acre kitchen garden, which produces 90 types of vegetable and over 70 varieties of herb!), and enjoy the seasonal offerings of the warmer months.
I highly recommend dining at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. It’s much more than a restaurant – it’s a whole experience. This restaurant is an example of perfection in both food and service. We are lucky to have this exquisite place in Oxford’s backyard.
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Great Milton, Oxford, OX44 7PD
Tel: +44 (0)184 427 8881