Raymond Blanc has made it his life's work to put a smile on his celebrated hotel in Oxfordshire – and the dining room at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is full of happy people.
This month, Britain's favorite Frenchman is celebrating the rarest double birthdays – 35 years since he founded his grand restaurant with rooms and 35 consecutive years with two Michelin stars.
And the landmark of Le Manoir also coincided with another that was just as important (in my humble opinion) – 10 years since I married my wife, Gemma, who was so shocked when we arrived for a surprise visit that she screamed so loudly that I almost crashed large wrought iron gates.
As she repeatedly shouted: "Turn the car around, we can't get in here," I was so confused that I made a career out of the parking garage to the orchard where an employee rescued us from a muddy field. & # 39; Play the cool Trig, & # 39; I thought as I trudged along the famous boulevard with lavender bushes to the hotel.
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat & # 39; s Saisons in Oxfordshire celebrates its 35th anniversary – and an extraordinary 35-year-old with two Michelin stars, all led by star chef Raymond Blanc
Raymond Blanc arrived in Great Britain in the 1970s and despite being self-taught, he is considered one of & # 39; s the world's best chefs, who has completely rebuilt Le Manoir with the help of his savings and money help from friends
The suites at Le Manoir, including this one, Lavande, where Martin and his wife stayed, are cozy and comfortable with large beds, sitting rooms and gigantic marble bathrooms with organic luxury toiletries to use
This Le Manoir suite is called Jade. There are a total of 32 individually designed rooms
The design of each room is inspired by Mr Blanc's travels. This suite is called L & # 39; Orangerie
It is a beautiful mansion – with a reception as warm as its golden stone from Oxfordshire – and its success is all the more remarkable when you consider Raymond & # 39; s own story of rags to riches, which may be something from a Dickens novel or Hugo.
He was born of loving but difficult parents in post-war France with Raymond who, from the age of six, toiling his father and brothers and sisters in the garden from the age of six to give Maman Blanc the ingredients she needed to feed their families seven.
At the age of 15 he peered through the window of his local restaurant, where he witnessed the theater of a waiter flambeing Crêpes Suzette and the joy on diners' faces – at that time, he says, lit a lifelong passion for gastronomy and delightful customers. He got a job there as a cleaner, was promoted to pot-washing and finally became a waiter before the chef broke his jaw with a frying pan and threw him out to offer ideas on how to improve the food.
If you want to understand the philosophy of Le Manoir, you have to look at it through this prism from its early years (even the biscuit cap).
The hotel is not at all stuffy, with homely rooms and food so tasty and beautiful that it sometimes feels like you are being walled in with a frying pan – with many ingredients grown meters away in his celebrated vegetable garden.
In 1983, Raymond, who arrived in the UK with barely a word of English to work as a waiter in a pub, bought the New Milton mansion by scraping his savings and help from friends and his customers in Les Quat & # 39; Saisons, his restaurant in Oxford. The new Le Manoir aux Quats’Saisons was opened in 1984.
In honor of the monument, he said: & # 39; When I first saw the house, I fell in love with it. It was much more expensive than I could afford – and much larger than what I was looking for. I was lucky enough to raise the money, and the rest is, as they say, history & # 39 ;.
In 1983, Raymond, who arrived in the UK with barely a word of English to work in a pub ten years earlier, bought the New Milton mansion by scraping together his life savings and with the help of friends and customers of Les Quat & # 39; Saisons, its Oxford restaurant. He is pictured here with his wife Jenny in 1978
Mr. Blanc saved the grand ownership of being partially destroyed and made into flats
Thirty-five years at Le Manoir is considered one of & # 39; the world's best country house hotels, where Mr Blanc remains chief patron
Prince Charles was invited to visit Mr Blanc's national heritage garden in Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat & Saisons, including apple and pear orchards (photo) used in each menu
MAILONLINE & # 39; S ORAL HEATING AGENT AT LE MANOIR
The excellent pear pudding enjoyed by MailOnline
MailOnline tested the seven-course menu from Raymond Blanc (plus cheese!).
Shellfish bisque, verbena and scallop
Cornish crab, kaffir lime, coconut sorbet and passion fruit
L & # 39; oeuf
Truffle chicken egg, wild mushroom tea, truffle
Canapes. Pictured top left clockwise: structures of Raymond's carrots, pressed apple with verbena, cheese puff with liquid center and tuna tartar
Seasoned monkfish, alliums, aromatic mussels from Cornwall
Fried fillet of Angus beef, stewed Jacob & # 39; s ladder, alliums and red wine essence
Coffee and chocolate flavor
Seasonal pear Almond, croustillant of perensorbet, caramel and ginger sauce
Gemma & # 39; s birthday raspberry souffle surprised her and other guests
And since then it has had two Michelin stars – an extraordinary achievement for a working class, self-taught chef from Franche-Comté, now an OBE in Britain and the equivalent of a knight in France.
Anyway, back to our stay.
Let me start with the staff, the wonderful staff. I have never met a group that seemed so excited that we ate with them and stayed with them. I believe it was real.
Megan, who brought us to our room, Diana who gave us buzz and snacks before dinner, and Valentina who served us dinner, were all so enthusiastic about our stay – it felt like we had a personal fan club. Even a great gardener seemed overjoyed to advise me on how to save my wilting blue rain and rubbed my arm as I told a sob story about my ability to kill vegetables that I am trying to grow in my little London garden.
God knows what the chefs must have been like to prepare all that amazingly delicious food – I imagine the atmosphere in Chef Gary Jones' kitchen should be like a rammed Wembley stadium.
The food is an expression of Raymond's upbringing and philosophy – a celebration of ingredients – and the gardens at Le Manoir that produce the majority of its vegetables and herbs. For our meal I walked to the car to get something for Gem. I turned around and saw two chefs take the path towards me who apologized for scaring me, but they explained that they needed to get more potatoes for dinner.
When we sat down, the first course was an espresso-sized shot of a deep coral-colored seafood bisque and a seared scallop on a cocktail stick, beautifully crispy on top and silky soft in the middle.
The next was a creamy Cornish crab salad with coconut sorbet, kaffir lime and a zingy passion fruit jelly. It was all very cold, Gem said, but I thought it was great.
The following was a poached chicken egg, topped with almost a crust of finely shaved black truffle served on a sprinkle of wild mushrooms and with a warm, amazing mushroom tea poured into the small bowl. It was the most delicious, turbo-savory dish that one of us had ever tasted.
Then there was an Indian spiced monkfish with a creamy broth so good that I no longer had any bread to mop it up and was tempted to insert the napkin and squeeze it into my mouth.
The sommelier then exchanged my fruity Riesling for a smoking Spanish red while Valentina pirated with the roasted beef fillet and stewed Jacob's ladder (beef rib) with a syrupy red wine sauce.
Then came the cheese barrels, most of them from the UK, delivered by the charming restaurant director Mourad Ben Tekfa on a wooden cart so big and big that it looked like a royal ship was moored at our table.
And then there were TWO puddings – the first a coffee panna cotta and a super soft chocolate sorbet served with a roasted caramel tuille with a coffee foam on it, so it looked like a cappuccino.
Gem believes that chocolate & # 39; contaminated & # 39; is with something that is wrong – so she did what our children, five and two, do when they promise to try something – she brought a spoon to her lips and made a grim face. I had to eat them both. Poor me.
I then ate a sticky almond cake with pear textures and a perensorbet (all using fruit from the orchard at Le Manoir), surrounded by a satisfying moat of ginger custard. Gem had the raspberry souffle with raspberry sorbet. It looked so long and deep pink that the family on the table opposite shouted enviously and asked what it was like.
The soufflé came with a beautiful handmade happy birthday plaque made from sugar. And while you were looking around, each table got a person the same or with a candle in their pud, because they also celebrated a special occasion with the people they love. It was amazing.
We then fell into our room, Lavande, which has a beautiful view of the walled gardens from the living room and a gigantic bathroom with a bathtub large enough for a hippo.
Le Manoir dominates the landscape of the village of New Milton, where many of the employees of Le Manoir also live
The extraordinary kitchen garden of Le Manoir – considered one of the best of its kind in the world – where many seasonal vegetables and herbs from the restaurant are produced by a team of gardeners
As part of the 35th anniversary, the hotel is organizing a series of special events in the coming month
Le Manoir employees follow Raymond's motto that the restaurant and hotel must have pure luxury, but also inclusive and stylish
The grounds of Le Manoir include this beautiful and peaceful Japanese tea garden, which looks more like Kyoto than rural Oxfordshire
The food at Le Manoir is generally considered exceptional. Shown is blood orange carpaccio
The Le Manoir website claims that it is & # 39; a must-visit dining experience for gourmets around the world & # 39 ;. Few would disagree
One of Mr Blanc's distinctive desserts is the one shown at the top left, which consists of a cup made entirely of chocolate. On the right is sea bass with scallop and smoky puree, and red wine gravy
A sensational chocolate dessert. If you want to learn how to cook Raymond Blanc style, sign up at the Le Manoir cookery school
Before I visited Le Manoir, three things occurred to me: Raymond Blanc, the vegetable garden and the reputation that it cost an arm and a leg.
Our dinner with a few drinks was north of £ 400 – and a room for the night can cost as much as £ 1600 – it's a staggering amount.
But at Le Manoir you can eat for less if you come for a set lunch, or opt for fewer courses for dinner – or even purchase a pot of tea from around the world (including an extraordinary Cornish Assam) from Raymond itself, although Granted, even that's a Tenner – but it came with giant plates of delicious ice cream cake with lemon.
I am not trying to justify it – just to say that on October 17, 47 people were there for dinner and looked around at their faces, and heard the soft rumble of excited chatter and laughter during the evening, we all get memories of people whose we will last that for a lifetime.
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has been attracting guests for 35 years
A Taste of Belmond Le Manoir – a wonderful mid-week holiday with luxury accommodation and a five-course dinner, followed by an English breakfast the following morning – is available from Sunday to Wednesday evening, subject to availability. It costs £ 830 per person. For more information, visit the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons website here or telephone +44 (0) 1844 278 881.
Classification key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
As part of the 35th anniversary, the hotel is organizing a series of special events in the coming month:
- An evening with wine expert Oz Clarke and music ensemble Armonico Consort on 31 October. Priced at £ 255 per person. Includes a Champagne Laurent-Perrier reception with snacks and a four-course dinner with accompanying wines, coffee and petits fours.
- On November 20, the day after Raymond Blanc's 70th birthday, Le Manoir organizes the 35th anniversary of the music evening with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the gifted young cellist who played last year at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Tickets include a Champagne Laurent-Perrier reception upon arrival, the evening concert at St Mary & # 39; s Church, followed by a five-course dinner, with accompanying wines, coffee and home-made petits fours. It costs £ 300 per person.
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