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Monday, November 08, 2010

A day to remember

J with the red roses
I have wanted to go to Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons for a long time, so with a milestone birthday this year I knew I had the perfect opportunity.

It was booked back in April and we finally got there yesterday, day of my birthday.

The attention to detail is second to none. The moment we arrived, staff came out to welcome us and take our cases. We were then shown straight to our room. No nonsense with checking in and presenting credit cards!

Our room, Crystal, was wonderful. We had the celebration package and a table groaned with twelve perfect Grand Prix roses, a bottle of Champagne on ice, a bottle of Madeira, hand-made chocolates and a selection of fruit.

The marbled bathroom had a huge walk-shower, a huge bath with candles and big crystal bottles of unguents plus heavenly scented slabs of soap.

We immediately went for a walk in the gardens to catch the last tentative rays of sunshine. Here is my picture of the lily pond in the Japanese garden.

There are wonderful sculptures everywhere, reclining figures, figures relaxing with books. At this time of year the main vegetables growing in the veg beds were chard, beetroot and cabbage.

After a heavenly scented bath with candles and Strictly Come Dancing (Jimi voted off -a travesty!), we had a pre-dinner apertif and perused the menu. There were three options: the decouverte tasting menu, the classic menu and the a la carte menu of seasonal specialities. We chose the latter.

Now, if I am brutally honest, I must tell you that the food didn't quite live up to expectations. One of the things I love most about haute cuisine is the complex layering of flavours and the unexpected frisson of delight when you sample something unexpected. But reader, I must tell you, the food at Le Manoir was one-dimensional. The menu promised all sorts of exotic capers but in the main one or two flavours dominated and drowned out the rest.

Cauliflower soup
Chef Gary Jones' amuse bouche was a cup and saucer of cauliflower soup, a confident start with a strong garlic truffle oil providing the oomph that cauliflower needs. 

We both chose plancha-seared Cornish lobster with warm Jersey Royal potatoes, Oscietra caviar, cardamom and red pepper jus.

Cornish lobster
My initial reaction was that the heavy hitter in the cauliflower soup was also at play here, drowning out the flavour of the lobster. J said quite spontaneously that the lobster was a little disappointing.

My duck
My main was roasted Gressingham duck breast with braised chicory and confit of yuzu fruit; jasmine tea and raisin sauce. This was ruined by the very thin sauce poured over the duck and a very powerful orange sauce. Although orange isn't mentioned anywhere, I guess yuzu fruit must taste very similar. The duck itself was a little tough and the vegetables actually quite soft.

J's beef
J fared better with sirloin of beef, which isn't shown on the online menu so I can't tell you everything it came with. In typical J fashion, he did note there could have been more potatoes.

We didn't have a dessert but went straight to the cheese board. The trolley was left languishing by our table for about 10 minutes before the waiter said "oh, looks like I'd better do this." Fortunately the cheeses were not too fragrant, otherwise it may have been a little off putting for the couple next to us.

A nice touch was the banana and passion fruit sorbet complete with candle and Happy Birthday motif for me.

Rounded off with "chocolate discovery" for me (hot chocolate) and tea for J in the lounge - which took about 30 minutes to materialise -  a thoroughly lovely experience but somehow making me think the chef has maybe become a little complacent. It was nowhere as good as Gidleigh Park in Devon, which also has two Michelin stars, where I went a few weeks ago.

Waking this morning, tea arrived dead on 8am as scheduled and breakfast was delicious. We plumped for the full English but Le Manoir excels in healthy choices with delicious fruit salads and seeds, fruits and nuts all meticulously labelled with their countries of origin. The sausage was, I am sure, 90% meat with none of that nasty rusk. 

All in all, a fabulous experience but if Le Manoir is to deliver Raymond Blanc's vision of unsurpassed customer service and gastronomy, they need to step up just a gear or two.


Buggles Balham High Road said...

It all sounds and looks lovely for a special occasion but that was very interesting-saying the flavours were mainly one dimensional. I imagine you might not have noticed this if you hadn't recently eaten Michael Caines' wonderful cooking.

Each individual item on a plate of his food is exciting and intense, either eaten alone for that first impression and then combined with other items.

However, a beautiful setting and a memorable experience.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear it didn't quite live up to expectations Gail! Especially as I had just recommended it to a friend for a landmark birthday in a few weeks time! Did you give them any feedback? Have you got any experience of Whatley Manor - recently seen in Masterchef - I am thinking of it for a freind's 'do'?