Luxury Explorer Review

Luxury Explorer review

Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons

United Kingdom, Country & Coast

Raymond Blanc's world renowned cuisine is the star of the show

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Special Offer

 

The Dining Experience (extra 20% off in Jan & Feb)

 

Discover Raymond Blanc's world renowned restaurant while staying at this Oxforshire gem

 

Offer includes:

 

- Luxury accomodation

 

- Welcome amenities, including fresh fruit, Madeira wine and half a bottle of Le Manoir Chateau de Boursault

 

- Daily English Breakfast

 

- One dinner for 2 per stay, with a choice of the a la carte, 5 or 7 course menu

 

Subject to availability and blackout dates may apply. Contact us for more information.

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Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons
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Location

The picturesque village of Great Milton, Oxfordshire

Travel Information

Haddenham & Thame Parkway station - 10 mins
Oxford station - 25 mins
Private helipad

Top Tips

Opt for the tasting menu and you will not be disappointed - Raymond's food is out of this world

X-Factors

The food (two Michelin stars), the service, the grounds - everything!

MORE REVIEWS OF
THIS PROPERTY

Lovely Le Manoir
Raymond rules rural

MORE REVIEWS OF
THIS PROPERTY

Lovely Le Manoir
Raymond rules rural

Lovely Le Manoir

The weather was sub-tropical and hitting the Oxfordshire countryside felt like a perfect antidote to a bustling Thursday in the city. With our mode of transport being a Bentley, we felt spoilt, like the supplanters of good-fortune.

Arriving, or gliding, through the gates and down the lush drive to Le Manoir has an edifying effect for even the sceptics of this world, but we had the added bonus of liquid sunshine. However, as it's name suggests, Le Manoir is a perfect place for all seasons. We were swiftly shown to our room, inhaling the sweet scent of flowering philadelphus and mock orange blossom en-route.

Provence (each room is named by Raymond Blanc for sentimental reasons) is in the original 17th century stable block. It is a spectacular suite, with a vaulted ceiling in the dining area above a barn-style wall of windows looking onto the central courtyard garden. Our tea arrived, with a slice of heavenly wheat-free chocolate g√Ęteau and lemon drizzle cake.

Having been suitably refreshed, we wandered off to explore the grounds of this magnificent manoir and peek at where we had said 'I do' many years ago. There has been change here, but it is more of a next phase in an uncompromising evolution than a noticeable difference. The ethos is as it was, and time has handled the change most favourably.

A floral orchestra

An English country garden, when done well, is border nirvana, especially when back-dropped by a 17th century grand manor house. I couldn't help feeling a little envious by how perfect the swaying blanket of delphiniums were beneath the mullioned windows of the drawing rooms. Or, indeed, how so many white peonies had flowered simultaneously to such breathtaking effect. And then, the water lilies all open on the small lake, floating ethereally rootless on the sun-soaked water with a mass of classic, pungently aromatic, pale orange roses on the bank. It really is special here so peaceful and blissfully maintained. We met the conductor of this floral orchestra, Anne Marie, the following morning, and she, like most of Raymond's staff, have been here for a very long time.

So, with our visual senses reeling, it was now time to put our digestive track into top gear, but not before a soak in the cavernous marble bath surrounded by an over zealous abundance of bath oils in crystal decanters and large blocks of rustic French scented soaps. All the bathrooms are spectacular: high spec, extremely well finished and, most importantly, spacious.

Utterly delicious

At dinner we had a large round table in the conservatory with views across the lawn and onto the floodlit Cedar of Lebanon. We chose the classic menu, knowing that we would experience enough variety and in portions we were now accustomed to. Well, it was utterly delicious. The Irish salmon tartare in salmon jelly with oscietra caviar was smooth and citrussy, almost refreshing and delightfully light, leaving doors well open for what was to follow: a risotto of spring garden vegetables and herbs (most from Le Manoir) with grilled Sicilian tomatoes. It was stunning: slightly al dente, a little crunchy, and flavoured immaculately. Then to the sea for some Cornish sea bream, lightly cooked with a fricassee of squid in a tasty bouillabaisse jus.

We then thought we'd really 'hog out' and opted for the assiette of 'cochon de lait roti et son jus de cuisson' (I prefer writing it in French because I feel less guilty). It was close to the best 'cochon' I have ever tasted. The 'slice' of cochon is layered, and each layer from crisp crackling to soft melting meat, with succulent juices and forbidden fat in between is absolutely sensational. So with satiation levels being nigh on complete, we opted for a light bowl of summer berries in their slightly tart but highly complementary juices. The wines were Burgundian: a minerally Meursault followed by a fragrant Gevrey-Chambertin.

Rise and shine

Waking up in our room to the sounds of cooing doves and various other songbirds was sublime. We felt healthy and surprisingly refreshed (a few calories were consumed after all), and loved the cocoon cosseting of our darkened room amid the soft, soft, exquisite cotton sheets. I really was looking forward to meeting Monsieur Blanc once again, so that he could tell me where he purchased his cotton from, among other things, of course.

The rooms, as previously mentioned, are all different and therefore appeal to a cross section of guests. For example, if you want a taste of the Orient in Oxfordshire then 'Opium' is the perfect love den: rich coloured silks, lacquered wood, eastern sculptures and paintings, and an oriental private garden with a pond for good feng shui.

Across the way, 'Snow Queen' is decorated in whites, with hand-painted snowflakes on the walls and flowing drapes across a four-poster, a white marble bathroom and touches of grey for the gathering clouds. In the main house the rooms are more traditional, suiting those who love the mullioned windows and lead panes, with views over the dreamy estate; many have incredible four posters and 17th and 18th century furniture with classic armoires and drapes. Fresh seasonal fruit (for us it was cherries) is placed in all the rooms.

There is a genuine enthusiasm about Raymond. He really is deeply passionate about Le Manoir and all it encompasses, and he is unquestionably a hugely talented cook. (He calls himself a cook rather than a chef because, not only is he self-taught, he dislikes pomposity, contrary to popular belief). He knows every single room inside out, and much of the memorabilia (which are very sentimental to him) he has purchased himself on various travels, knowing exactly where he will place them on his return. Raymond is a generous host who wants, above all else, to spoil his guests.

In the past he has been criticised by a few journalists, but harsh fault-fiding is easy. Perhaps he is a little controversial, being French and buying the village showstopper; but so what? He's done an excellent job, and each time we visit we are treated to the season's best, with skill and imagination well worthy of the two stars in the multi-talented cook's kitchen.

We bid adieu to Raymond and Le Manoir, feeling real pain on leaving a much-loved retreat from the city, but the Bentley fires up and burbles up the drive and, cosseted in soft hide and lambswool, we point Mr B towards our next adventure.

Sophie_Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Raymond rules rural

The problem with Raymond Blanc is this: what more can I say that hasn't already been written? I am a fan right down to his occasional quirky choice of strange travelling memorabilia with which he adorns some of the sleep chambers. In fact, I could rave about Raymond until the organic cows come home from Daylesford...

After an evening of subliminal dining, Raymond offered to meet up for a 'quick' chat the following morning. Nearly three hours later we hugged 'adieu' and walked into the sun-streaked dining room for more epicurean ecstasy. Not only did I take no notes walking Raymond's world, I also fell so in 'like' with him that any notions of 'arrogant Frenchman' or 'egotistical' were thrown right off this English isle.

He is so charming, so passionate, and so Herculean in his relentless pursuit of perfection, that even his hands are almost char-grilled. I asked him if he could prevent this with some sort of hand cream to which he replied he had asbestos fingers and that a real cook (he was not formally trained, so refers to himself as a cook rather than a chef) has no time for manicures.

Walking around the dreamy 17th century manor house, and blissfully blooming gardens, you realise just how unique this place is. I can't think of anywhere else in England where chef, chamber and land have synergised on such a successful scale. It is a sort of gastro microcosm with a chic-farm quality.

English country garden

The grounds are exquisitely maintained under the green fingers of head gardener Anne Marie Owens whom we met pruning peach-coloured, divinely-scented roses. After a warm embrace between the two of them Raymond explained how he poached her away in 1985 when just a student on work experience from horticultural college. She is most definitely part of the 'family' and unquestionably thinks of Raymond and Le Manoir as her spiritual home, as do all his key players.

We have been regular guests of Le Manoir for many years and even tied the proverbial knot here in gob-smacking style in 1996. Since 1984, Raymond's personal vision has materialised superbly, although this Great Milton-Oxfordshire-Franglaise-oasis continues to unravel its magical metamorphosis as 'Raymond the zealot' has an insatiable appetite for life, living and cuisine.

I adored walking the rooms, suites and grounds with him, but equally I was entranced once in the throngs of his clanging kitchen. His approach towards his team is honest, warm and solid while his ethos on success and survival is about '99 percent perspiration'. He insists on each creation being tasted before it passes to the plate and is also meticulously hygiene-conscious so every shiny steel surface has a spoon-cleaning-glass for separate tastings. The atmosphere in here is not clinical, though it is kitchen-theatre with military-style precision undertones.

At one juncture along the frenetic path of chefs' surfaces I was asked to 'taste'. "What is missing in this?" he asked. My knee-jerk response was "salt" to which he replied something in French and then asked me to taste again. Feeling as small as one of master patissier Benoit Blin's crumbs, I blanched and suggested perhaps garlic? The answer was a pinch of sugar; Raymond is well aware of the endemic sodium crises in this country.

From boudoir to parlour, Raymond effused with continual surges of adrenalin, and left me realising that he really is one of our best imports.

Food glorious food

I have never had a close to disappointing meal at Le Manoir, however, I will say that the food seems to have climbed into another league, one that is most definitely worthy of three Michelin stars. This must be because Raymond is constantly striving for the ultimate experience for his guests and in the process he moves the goal posts of perfection.

He experiments with relish, using his home-spun products from the magnificent vegetable and herb garden, referred to as the 'organic kitchen garden': two acres and 160 plus different varieties of herb and veg, all flourishing magnificently in streamlined unison. He also works with the seasons in order to maximise on both the freshness and naturalness of some of the planet's most delectable veritable vittles. His wild mushroom valley is now proffering a staggering amount of different edible species.

The tables are expertly worked by a dedicated team; the discreet and relaxing manner from all the staff works wonders when you have chosen to spend several hours gourmandising in their company. We opted for the Classique du Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, a culmination of years of perfecting some of Le Manoir's best-loved dishes, and all plumb-in-season of course. So, with floodlight highlighting the glorious cedar of Lebanon on the carpet-smooth lawn before us, we went from one outrageous taste-sensation to the next, in the soft light of the dining conservatory.

The Irish salmon tartar in salmon jelly with oscietra caviar was smooth and citrussy, almost refreshing and delightfully light leaving the doors well open for what was to follow. Next a risotto of home-grown late spring garden vegetables and herbs, with grilled Sicilian tomatoes. It was stunning: slightly al dente, a little crunchy, and flavoured immaculately.

Then to the sea for some Cornish sea bream, lightly cooked with a fricassee of squid in a tasty bouillabaisse jus. We followed this with the assiette of 'cochon de lait roti et son jus de cuisson" (I prefer writing it in French because I feel less guilty). It was close to the best 'cochon' I have ever tasted. The slice of 'cochon' is separated into layers consisting of the softest most succulent and flavoursome meat the world over by thin wafers of crisp crackling, oozing succulent juices and 'forbidden fat'. We ended our feast with a bowl of exquisitely fresh summer berries marinating sweetly in their piquant juices. The wines were a Guy Roulot Mersault and a Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin.

Sweet slumber

Sleep is special at Le Manoir, as the exacting focus on creature comforts is seriously spoiling. Waking up in our sensational suite, within what was the stable block, to the sounds of cooing doves and various songbirds, was sublime. We felt healthy and surprisingly refreshed (a few calories were consumed the night before), and loved the cocoon cosseting of our darkened room amidst the soft, exquisite cotton sheets. One of the reasons for feeling so good, I have since realised, was the low salt content in this master chef's cuisine.

Reading through the current seasons' classic menu, I feel compelled to get on the M40 and indulge once more: smoked haddock soup with a dash of caviar; another divine risotto; Cornish red mullet and so it continues... Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons is the most obvious choice in England for celebrating the complete pleasures derived from perfecting the combination of a 5-star luxury country house and a seriously gifted Michelin-starred chef.
 

Sophie_Marchant
Sophie Marchant


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