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Manoir Au Quat Saisons

Church Road, Great Milton, Oxfordshire, Great Milton, England, OX44 7PD, United Kingdom

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I have visited Le Manoir many times (indeed, we had our wedding reception there) and I have found over the years that it has distinct phases when the cooking is on great form, and other times when it less so.  What follows are notes from my most recent meal.

A plate of nibbles appeared as we sat in the lounge to browse through the menu.  A bonito jelly worked well, but a mango beignet was a little dry and grapefruit on a stick was, well, grapefruit on a stick; onion tart had delicate pastry, while goat cheese & tapenade and tomato mousse with anchovy were pleasant  (16/20). Bread is made on the premises and is one of the strengths of the restaurant, with lovely rolls of, amongst others, country bread and bacon-flavoured rolls, with lovely texture (19/20). Potato (Mayan gold potato) and garlic soup was a pleasing introduction to the meal, served with a little crisp on the side and having very good flavour, the garlic flavour well controlled (18/20). 

White asparagus (from Spain) was cooked to the stage where it was very soft in texture, served just with a poached egg, a little chicken jus and a garnish of a sliver of bacon. This was decent, though I felt the asparagus was cooked for a little too long, and some minor sloppiness was shown in that my poached egg had a soft centre but my wife’s had a hard centre (15/20). 

A small piece of fillet of (Cornish) sea bass was pan-fried and timed well, served with a cauliflower puree and a little red wine jus, and a single scallop. The puree was smooth and had good flavour, the jus was perhaps a little thin but enjoyable. However the scallop that arrived was severely overcooked; this was apparent just looking at it, and when I tried to cut it the knife actually bounced off. I asked for the scallop to be replaced and the one that came out was lovely, sweet and nicely cooked, but this was quite careless. The manager who eventually arranged the replacement did not help matters by initially trying to explain why the initial rubber scallop was just fine (implying that I could not tell the difference between a correctly cooked scallop, one of my favourite things, and something whose texture was more Michelin tyre than Michelin standard). If I ignore the scallop entirely then the dish was fine, but no more than 16/20 at best.

Better was a roast loin of venison (from Shropshire), two attractive slices cooked pink served with a braised celery heart, a piece of chicory, chestnuts, a bitter chocolate sauce and a few cranberries as garnish. The sauce was comfortingly thick and had good flavour, the meat was tasty, the cranberries provided some welcome acidity; as an accompaniment the celery heart seemed a little clumsy to me in appearance; perhaps a celeriac puree would have worked better (17/20). The best dish was my wife’s brill with lemongrass sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce had a lovely, aromatic quality that was very refreshing (good 18/20, bordering 19/20). 

At this point I ordered cheese, and had a surreal experience with the Italian sommelier. Years ago I attended a wine tasting led by Michael Broadbent, the wine buyer for Christies for many years and author of perhaps the most respected books on wine tasting.  He explained that he was never comfortable serving red wine with cheese and found that the light, sparkling, simple Italian wine Moscato d’Asti worked well with most cheese, as it is very light and low in alcohol, and so complements the cheese rather than competing with it, which he felt can be a problem with a red wine or port. I drink this wine regularly and find it works well with both cheese and some awkward-to-pair desserts. There was a nice Moscato d’Asti on the wine list and so I ordered a bottle. The sommelier who turned up with the wine said “Who suggested that you drink this wine with cheese? Certainly not me!”. I explained that it was a suggestion from Michael Broadbent, the wine expert. “Who? Never heard of him” retorted the sommelier. Now I find it curious that a sommelier working in England has never heard of Michael Broadbent, a luminary of the industry, but let’s put that to one side.  If a sommelier does not agree with a customer’s choice of wine then surely it is sensible to try and gently suggest why another wine may go better, rather than firmly giving the impression that the customer is utterly clueless.

When the cheese arrived the waiter did not actually know who the supplier was, but it turned out that the supplier has changed since my last visit and is now Premiere Cheese; some of the cheeses were in better condition than others, for example a runny Brie and ripe Reblochon, but a rather tired Beaufort (16/20 cheese).  For dessert we had a very well executed pistachio soufflé, inside which was nestling a bitter cocoa sorbet (19/20). Coffee is excellent, with good petit fours.   

Overall, and ignoring the service issues, this was a rather disappointing meal. Two star Michelin restaurants should not make basic technical errors, and even apart from this, only the brill and the soufflé really seemed to me to be of proper two-star standard. I suspect that the issue is partly one of scale; there are so many diners to cater for, and with these numbers it is hard to be consistent, and difficult to produce really dazzling dishes that require a lot of work. Yet on many prior visits the restaurant had produced better meals than this, despite the numbers being cooked for. I have considerable fondness for Le Manoir and wish that the meal today was a glitch, but I fear that it may be the sign of it slipping from its previous high standards. The service from our German waiter was excellent, but as noted otherwise left much to be desired. The prices (the menu was £95 at lunch) do not encourage a lot of forgiveness when things go wrong.

What follows are notes from a July 2007 meal.

Le Manoir is in a beautiful setting in a carefully restored manor house. Wisteria bloomed spectacularly on the walls today, and on a sunny day like today this must be one of the most attractive restaurant locations in England. There is a large lawn and tables for drinks or coffee on the terrace, while a stone wall separates the main gardens from view. As well as further ornamental gardens behind the wall, extensive use is made of the land to cultivate vegetables and herbs used in the cooking here. As anyone who has ever compared the produce in a Mediterranean market with New Covent Garden can observe, getting really top quality produce in the UK is a challenge. No such problems here, and this shows through in the tremendous freshness and quality of the vegetables. The dining room has a section inside the house and also a large conservatory, which now sensibly has blinds added (it used to get quite hot in summer). The conservatory has several tall plants and a trellis work of climbers inside, and one solid wall on which hang a few watercolours, though on two and a half sides of the room is the view over the terrace and lawn. The tables themselves have cream linen tablecloths, while comfortable classic wooden chairs have low backs and brown upholstery.

There are two tasting menus (we had "discovery" at £110 each), a short à la carte and two nice touches: a full vegetarian version of the tasting menu, and a children’s menu at £18. The menu draws heavily on seasonal ingredients and generally has an almost Mediterranean lightness of style. It is fairly classical, though steadily evolves e.g. one of the dishes today was just added to the tasting menu this week. The wine list is 42 pages long, and naturally enough covers France thoroughly. Recent changes have seen an extension of the coverage of the "lesser" regions of France, for example we see wines like Chateau Simone from Provence. International coverage is patchier. Italy gets two pages but Germany has just six wines, Austria three, and Argentina and Chile three wines each. Spain fares better, with classics such as Torres Mas la Plana 1999 at £85 (around £23 retail), or at the top end Vega Sicilia Unico at £455 (around £125 a bottle retail if you can find it). It can be seen that mark-ups are pretty high, though they do vary. Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2004 is £76 (around £23 retail) while Au Bon Climat Chardonnay is price more reasonably at £51 (around £21 retail). Etienne Sauzet Les Perrieres 2003 Puligny Montrachet is £158 for a wine that can be bought retail for £36 a bottle. There is a page of wines by the glass, and some astute choices within these e.g. the excellent Mas de Daumas Gassac red. Half a dozen dessert wines by the glass include Coutet 1999 at a really steep £18 a glass for a wine that you can buy a bottle of for just £17. There is no house wine as such, and although I spotted one obscure Italian white at £23, there are few other wines anywhere near this price.

We were presented with a few nibbles while perusing the menu. A little piece of tuna on a sesame tuile had high quality tuna (18/20), while mozzarella and tomato on a cheese biscuit base had very fresh tomato flavour, alongside a ball of crispy Parmesan (18/20). Better was a superb cod brandade with superbly delicate texture (19/20) and a little sliver of foie gras terrine with a little pear chutney had plenty of liver flavour and smooth texture (19/20).

A real strength here is the selection of breads, all made on the premises. You can choose from rolls of potato bread, bacon bread, pecan nut and raisin, wholemeal or country bread, ciabatta or slices of superb sourdough. The breads are uniformly magnificent, nearing perfection in texture and seasoning, with well controlled flavours. The sourdough is as good as I have eaten anywhere, with just that hint of acidity that the best sourdough should have. I have to think back to meals at Marc Veyrat and Louis XV in France (i.e. the very best) to find bread that is comparable with this (20/20 bread).

Our menu began with a dish of very fresh Cornish crab, carefully picked over (so no stray bits of shell) and bound together with just a little mayonnaise. With the crab was extremely ripe mango puree, tiny cubes of mango and a little grapefruit jelly segments served on the side on a sliver of toast. This simple dish was refreshing (the grapefruit providing acidity to balance the slight sweetness of the crab and mango) and had terrifically fresh ingredients (19/20).

Next was a confit of Landais foie gras, served simply with a little pile of rhubarb puree. The foie gras had silky texture and good flavour, though I have had versions with even more intense flavour. The rhubarb was again extremely fresh, and the natural acidity of the rhubarb well under control and balancing the richness of the liver; this was served with a toasted slice of the sourdough (18/20). Stella had a superbly made cheese soufflé made from Vieux Lille cheese, served with a salad of walnut and apple with a Parmesan sauce. The technical execution of the soufflé was excellent, the salad leaves extremely fresh, and an apple and chive garnish given a tartness that nicely offset the richness of the Parmesan sauce (19/20).

This was followed by was a single diver-caught scallop from the Orkneys, served with a puree of cauliflower, a few dried slices of cauliflower and a few drops of curry oil. The puree was excellent with great depth of taste and the scallop fresh and of high quality, but for me it was cooked just a fraction too long; the curry oil flavour was subtle and did not intrude too much (18/20).

Next was a simple dish of two spears of white asparagus from France. These were cooked very well and had excellent taste (though you can find even better white asparagus in Germany right now) and were served with a coddled hen’s egg topped with tiny slivers of bacon and Parmesan on a bed of wilted cabbage. Though the egg was pleasant enough, I can’t really see what it added to the dish (17/20).

Next was a fillet of halibut from Iceland, grilled to just the right consistency and resting on a bed of fregola (Sardinian pasta made from semolina) and wilted rocket, served with a red wine and star anise sauce. The fregola was remarkably good, extremely delicate and flavoured with citrus, while a smear of tapenade had great depth of olive flavour (19/20).

Next for me was Gressingham duck, two generous pieces of breast cooked pink, served with a superb garlic and shallot puree, tender bak choi (grown in the garden here) a red wine sauce and caramelised chicory. The duck was excellent but again the vegetables and the great technique with the puree were even better (19/20). Stella had stunning tagliatelle of summer vegetables (ultra fresh peas, broad beans, asparagus, morels and broccoli) with a frothy Parmesan sauce. Only in the very few finest restaurants in France or Italy would you be able to find vegetables better than these, while the texture of the pasta was just about perfect (20/20).

Desserts began with a carpaccio of blood orange topped with a scoop of blood orange sorbet. The sorbet was technically perfect, the fruit of very high quality (19/20). An exotic fruit "ravioli" was dazzling, with remarkably fresh passion fruit, papaya, mango and grapefruit held together with gelatine, on a froth tasting of pina colada. This was served with an intense coconut sorbet that extracted every last bit of flavour from the coconut, while having fabulous smooth texture (20/20). The final dessert was a coffee panna cotta on a crunchy hazelnut praline base (which seemed to me to have a slight hint of marmalade flavour), served with an ice cream of coffee and star anise (18/20).

Finally we had excellent coffee (and no problems getting as many refills of espresso as required without supplement). This was served with delicate lemon macaroon, an excellent piece of nougat, strawberry on a light, moist pistachio sponge base, ice cream of hazelnut and chocolate, a chocolate and orange sablé, a fine chocolate truffle and a little rhubarb with wild strawberries and marscapone in white chocolate (19/20 petit fours).

Below are notes from a 2004 meal, for comparison.

The place is like a well-oiled machine now, producing top-notch food on one recent visit even though neither the head chef nor Raymond Blanc were there. As well as the fine setting, the service is exemplary, and the quality of ingredients superb. The attention to detail shown towards the incidentals (coffee, bread) is a characteristic of a restaurant that is striving for the best. The only problem is the bill - £285 for two, with half a bottle of wine (plus two glasses of house wine) and only one pre-meal alcoholic drink, with the cheese course at a little matter of £17 (one person only). This must be the most expensive place in the UK now. Here are notes from a recent meal.

These days there is a large car park with a separate driveway, as well as the gravel drive down to the front of house, as this is a large-scale operation. The gardens are as immaculate as ever, and on this perfect summer’s day we had drinks on the lawn. The manor house itself has attractive climbers – wisteria, clematis and others, growing up its elderly walls. The pace is certainly leisurely: we arrived before 13:00 and our starter arrived at 14:28, while we finally left at 17:00, so nobody could be accused of rushing. The menu is elaborate, with plenty of emphasis on the perfect vegetables that are grown in the gardens here. One minor quibble is that, of six meat main courses, two were for two people minimum (tricky when one of us does not eat meat). The wine list is 38 pages long, closely typed, so no difficulties with choice here, though finding value is another story. The list is mostly French, though with a respectable smattering of bins from elsewhere e.g. Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 from South Africa at a full £39 (I remember drinking it at the vineyard at £2, though this is not a fair comparison). One example of the high mark-ups in the UK can be seen with the classic 1981 Vega Sicilia Unico – I drank this great wine at the 3 star Michelin El Raco del Con Fabes in Spain last summer at £140, but here it is £355. Fortunately there are some cheaper choices e.g. from Alsace. Water is Hildon, Perrier, Badoit or Evian, all at £3.50.

We sat in the conservatory today, which suffered from an air-conditioning unit that was taking it easy, and eventually the staff gave up and opened the windows to avoid completely suffocating. The conservatory has been extended since I last came here, and has dark wood floors, lots of natural light supplemented by directed spotlights hanging from a metal frame, and canvas blinds. Each table has cream tablecloth and napkins, while the chairs are covered in the same cream-coloured cloth. Crockery is Villeroy and Boch. Each table had a display of kolanchoe, with salt and pepper in an open wooden dish. Various large plants give some colour to the conservatory, in addition to the view over the gardens. Service was extremely capable, with bread and wine topped up faultlessly, and the New Zealand waiter we had (ex the Ivy) a bit more friendly than some of the staff here. This seemed to be a chef’s day off, as on the next table was Michel Bourdin of the Connaught, and on the other side was the manager of Kensington Place – Raymond Blanc was similarly absent from the premises.

The nibbles were first rate – a perfect salt cod (20/20), a little goats cheese on tapenade (19/20) an excellent escabeche (18/20), a delicate crab tartelette (19/20) and a tomato and olive tart with melting pastry (20/20) as well as an anchovy stick (18/20). Instead of nuts on the table, there is a dish of little bread-based biscuits (18/20). When we were seated at the table we were greeted by a further complimentary dish: a superb gazpacho with very intense tomato flavour (though maybe it could have had a little more pepper to give some bite) that had small-diced aubergine and courgettes. I had a fine terrine of suckling pig, the jelly very clear and with excellent carrots to supplement the meat (19/20 for the amuse guele). Breads are very good here, though the dazzling country bread I had a few months back was missing. Today’s offerings were bacon bread, beer bread, wholemeal, raisin, rye, pecan and baguette. The breads are made fresh and are of a very high standard, served cold but with very full flavour, great texture and the right degree of saltiness (breads are 20/20).

My wife's starter was a confit of salmon, shaped into a parcel sitting on flakes of salted cod, atop a layer of mouli, an Indian vegetable that has some resemblance to horseradish and so gave an excellent foil to the salmon, as well as a little slices of cucumber. Around the edge of the plate were baby cauliflowers and an artistic smear of horseradish sauce that was very, perhaps too, subtle. Still, the wild salmon had great depth of flavour and the vegetables were perfect (20/20). I had macaroni in a truffle jus, the macaroni heaped into the centre of the plate with a pile of superb asparagus and courgette pieces. Around the central pasta tubes were three beautifully cooked langoustines, while there were generous shavings of black truffle on top of the pasta. The flaw in this dish was the pasta itself, which was distinctly harder than it should have been. Otherwise the vegetables were again magnificent, and the langoustines very tender (19/20).

My wfie had roast monkfish, which can so often be chewy but here was delicate and full of flavour, served on a rectangular plate in two pieces, framed at either end of the plate by a scallop on a ring of courgette, atop a led of potato puree. The monkfish was accompanied by a magnificent watercress puree, the whole sitting in some of the roasting juices and a beurre meuniere, supplemented by further diced vegetables. The scallops were exquisite, sweet and delicate, of the highest quality, perfectly timed. This was very impressive cooking, with the elements of the dish working well with each other, while to make watercress taste this good takes talent (20/20). I had poached breast of Landes chicken, topped with a sliver of truffle and served with a slice of perfect pan-fried foie gras. The chicken rested on a nage of vegetables – peas, baby broad beans, asparagus, carrots, green cabbage, baby turnips and broad beans, with a simple white wine sauce. The chicken was delicate and had that taste of chicken that seems to elude most of its brethren these days, while the vegetables were again stunning (19/20).

The cheeses were all French, and I tried Picodon de l’Aideche goat, Rouelle du Tarn, Brie de Meaux, a slightly below par Reblochon (not quite ripe), an excellent Tomme de Vache and a good Bleu de Bresse. Apart from the Reblochon these were very good indeed, in excellent condition (18/20). A trivial service slip was that they forgot to offer any bread with the cheese, but this was soon remedied. This is the most expensive cheese-board in Britain, though.

I went for a familiar classic for dessert, the ice creams and sorbets arranged on a palette biscuit, with a spun sugar brush. I just went for a chocolate ice cream and passion fruit sorbet rather than the wider choice, and both were utterly perfect. The passion fruit sorbet had perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, faultless texture and intense flavour, while the chocolate ice cream had great velvety richness combined with smooth texture; the biscuit palette was also lovely (20/20). My wife had a caramel dish with caramel ice cream (fine texture) resting on a superb tuile, with a magnificent crème caramel of striking delicacy; so far so good. On one end of the dish was an apple tarte tatin, which had a caramel topping but had apple that had not been fully caramelised inside. The kitchen used a dessert apple that had descended into a mush, which did not help matters. The tatin element was really only 14/20, though everything else was around 19/20. Overall 18/20 for this dish.

The coffee here is very fine indeed, an example to others. Dark roast arrabica beans are brewed to perfection in both the filter and espresso versions. Accompanying the coffee were petit fours: a pistachio sponge topped with strawberry (20/20), a frozen chocolate with almond ice cream inside (19/20), orange jelly (18/20), a choux bun with rum-flavoured crème patissiere (20/20), a lemon meringue pie topped with redcurrant (20/20) and a perfect chocolate truffle (20/20). Overall I’d give these petit fours 20/20; hardly anywhere in the UK produces ones of this standard.

The bill, hardly small, is left with the credit card slip open. Moreover, if you ask for a copy of the menu, you are told you may buy one for £7.50. This is just sheer greed, and leaves a sour taste in the mouth after such fine cooking

There are two tasting menus (we had "discovery" at £110 each), a short à la carte and two nice touches: a full vegetarian version of the tasting menu, and a children’s menu at £18. The menu draws heavily on seasonal ingredients and generally has an almost Mediterranean lightness of style. It is fairly classical, though steadily evolves e.g. one of the dishes today was just added to the tasting menu this week. The wine list is 42 pages long, and naturally enough covers France thoroughly. Recent changes have seen an extension of the coverage of the "lesser" regions of France, for example we see wines like Chateau Simone from Provence. International coverage is patchier. Italy gets two pages but Germany has just six wines, Austria three, and Argentina and Chile three wines each. Spain fares better, with classics such as Torres Mas la Plana 1999 at £85 (around £23 retail), or at the top end Vega Sicilia Unico at £455 (around £125 a bottle retail if you can find it). It can be seen that mark-ups are pretty high, though they do vary. Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2004 is £76 (around £23 retail) while Au Bon Climat Chardonnay is price more reasonably at £51 (around £21 retail). Etienne Sauzet Les Perrieres 2003 Puligny Montrachet is £158 for a wine that can be bought retail for £36 a bottle. There is a page of wines by the glass, and some astute choices within these e.g. the excellent Mas de Daumas Gassac red. Half a dozen dessert wines by the glass include Coutet 1999 at a really steep £18 a glass for a wine that you can buy a bottle of for just £17. There is no house wine as such, and although I spotted one obscure Italian white at £23, there are few other wines anywhere near this price.

We were presented with a few nibbles while perusing the menu. A little piece of tuna on a sesame tuile had high quality tuna (18/20), while mozzarella and tomato on a cheese biscuit base had very fresh tomato flavour, alongside a ball of crispy Parmesan (18/20). Better was a superb cod brandade with superbly delicate texture (19/20) and a little sliver of foie gras terrine with a little pear chutney had plenty of liver flavour and smooth texture (19/20).

A real strength here is the selection of breads, all made on the premises. You can choose from rolls of potato bread, bacon bread, pecan nut and raisin, wholemeal or country bread, ciabatta or slices of superb sourdough. The breads are uniformly magnificent, nearing perfection in texture and seasoning, with well controlled flavours. The sourdough is as good as I have eaten anywhere, with just that hint of acidity that the best sourdough should have. I have to think back to meals at Marc Veyrat and Louis XV in France (i.e. the very best) to find bread that is comparable with this (20/20 bread).

Our menu began with a dish of very fresh Cornish crab, carefully picked over (so no stray bits of shell) and bound together with just a little mayonnaise. With the crab was extremely ripe mango puree, tiny cubes of mango and a little grapefruit jelly segments served on the side on a sliver of toast. This simple dish was refreshing (the grapefruit providing acidity to balance the slight sweetness of the crab and mango) and had terrifically fresh ingredients (19/20).

Next was a confit of Landais foie gras, served simply with a little pile of rhubarb puree. The foie gras had silky texture and good flavour, though I have had versions with even more intense flavour. The rhubarb was again extremely fresh, and the natural acidity of the rhubarb well under control and balancing the richness of the liver; this was served with a toasted slice of the sourdough (18/20). My wife had a superbly made cheese soufflé made from Vieux Lille cheese, served with a salad of walnut and apple with a Parmesan sauce. The technical execution of the soufflé was excellent, the salad leaves extremely fresh, and an apple and chive garnish given a tartness that nicely offset the richness of the Parmesan sauce (19/20).

This was followed by was a single diver-caught scallop from the Orkneys, served with a puree of cauliflower, a few dried slices of cauliflower and a few drops of curry oil. The puree was excellent with great depth of taste and the scallop fresh and of high quality, but for me it was cooked just a fraction too long; the curry oil flavour was subtle and did not intrude too much (18/20).

Next was a simple dish of two spears of white asparagus from France. These were cooked very well and had excellent taste (though you can find even better white asparagus in Germany right now) and were served with a coddled hen’s egg topped with tiny slivers of bacon and Parmesan on a bed of wilted cabbage. Though the egg was pleasant enough, I can’t really see what it added to the dish (17/20).

Next was a fillet of halibut from Iceland, grilled to just the right consistency and resting on a bed of fregola (Sardinian pasta made from semolina) and wilted rocket, served with a red wine and star anise sauce. The fregola was remarkably good, extremely delicate and flavoured with citrus, while a smear of tapenade had great depth of olive flavour (19/20).

Next for me was Gressingham duck, two generous pieces of breast cooked pink, served with a superb garlic and shallot puree, tender bak choi (grown in the garden here) a red wine sauce and caramelised chicory. The duck was excellent but again the vegetables and the great technique with the puree were even better (19/20). My wife had stunning tagliatelle of summer vegetables (ultra fresh peas, broad beans, asparagus, morels and broccoli) with a frothy Parmesan sauce. Only in the very few finest restaurants in France or Italy would you be able to find vegetables better than these, while the texture of the pasta was just about perfect (20/20).

Desserts began with a carpaccio of blood orange topped with a scoop of blood orange sorbet. The sorbet was technically perfect, the fruit of very high quality (19/20). An exotic fruit "ravioli" was dazzling, with remarkably fresh passion fruit, papaya, mango and grapefruit held together with gelatine, on a froth tasting of pina colada. This was served with an intense coconut sorbet that extracted every last bit of flavour from the coconut, while having fabulous smooth texture (20/20). The final dessert was a coffee panna cotta on a crunchy hazelnut praline base (which seemed to me to have a slight hint of marmalade flavour), served with an ice cream of coffee and star anise (18/20).

Finally we had excellent coffee (and no problems getting as many refills of espresso as required without supplement). This was served with delicate lemon macaroon, an excellent piece of nougat, strawberry on a light, moist pistachio sponge base, ice cream of hazelnut and chocolate, a chocolate and orange sablé, a fine chocolate truffle and a little rhubarb with wild strawberries and marscapone in white chocolate (19/20 petit fours).

 

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Further reviews: 20th Jun 2017

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  • Name unavailable

    Project Michelin 1st 2 Star location: I booked this for 2 nights over Christmas 2011. I was planning to propose to Caralyn so I thought why not combine great food with a getaway and a proposal to boot. I called the hotel and the events manager was very helpful in setting the scece for me down in their Japanese Garden and made all the preparations. As a weekend getaway, it's unbeatable. Beautiful Oxfordshire setting, wonderful walking and cycling roads. We met no less than 5 couples who come back every year for Christmas (Hello Huw and Daniel). Anyway back to the experience. We had a cooking demonstration laid on (it's amazing how we all get it wrong in the kitchen...just watching the pros makes you realize how simple cooking really is). 2 Star Breakfast lunch and Dinner is a heck of a lot of food to eat. With each meal, we had to take a break halfway for a walk in the gardens. Christmas dinner alone was 7 courses I think. The food at all times was exquisite (the best breakfasts i've ever had). The winners for me are the staff. They couldn't be more polite and accomodating. They do everything to make sure your stay is memorable and for us it certainly was. I came away wondering why it did not have a 3rd star. So far, we have done 2 of the 3 Star restaurants in the UK and whilst I'm no expert, I couldn't say Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was any better than Le Manoir. I'd ask for a recount to be honest.

  • Robin and Charlie

    My wife and I ate here on 17/4/10 and whilst the setting is incredible we sadly found the food a little disappointing, especially considering its 2 star status. An appetizer of Salmon tartare and a strawberry parfait/shortbread based pudding were excellent but a Spring green Risotto was good but unspectacular, an assiette of lamb was similarly uninspiring and a fillet of Brill with a Wasabi beurre blanc was terrible with every component of the dish overpowered by the Wasabi, undoubtedly the worst fish course I have had at any Michelin starred restaurant. Overall we found the food to be well executed and technically sound but generally uninteresting and to be honest a little dull. With the modern cooking styles and techniques that many restaurants are now demonstrating Le Manoir's food just seemed comparatively dated. It was still a very enjoyable meal and the bread was indeed excellent (beer and potato bread!), but not quite the 2 star experience we were hoping for.

  • Julian Robinson

    We had a disappointing 5 course meal a few evenings ago. Apart from the breads, red mullet and the dessert, the food we felt lacked 2 star standard. It seems with a full restaurant they are catering for between 80-100 guests which to ensure consistent levels of cooking, seems rather stretching it a little. To be honest we thought the service was better than the food, even if a little 'automatic' at times.

  • Rob

    This was the first Michelin Star place I visited about 4 years ago. I've been back 3 times since, and while I still think it is a beautiful place to stay, sadly my experience is that the quality of the food and service (more on Italian sommeliers coming!) is deteriorating. Past highlights have been the fillet of seabass with cauliflower puree it sounds like they are still serving and a fantastic assiette of pork from a 5 course menu. Our last trip in December 2008 reminded me of just how wonderful the rooms are but did nothing for my memories of the food. The dishes I recall included dish 1, a Japanese style savoury custard, that must have been good because my wife who gagged at the sight of me eating them in Japan managed to finish hers. A very bland all vegetable dish. I'm all for the spirit of degustation but this was just a line of boiled baby root veg in their skins with a very ordinary red wine sauce. I wasn't impressed. Quail with lentils. Nothing special. I admit to not having had quail before but I found it rather lacklustre. Woodcock or grouse would have been nice at that time of year. Cheese I really enjoyed, not usually taking cheese at restaurants. And at a supplement of £10 each probably not something I'll enjoy too often. Don't recall desserts but I did have 2 interesting Italian sweet wines. Did I mention Italian wine? There was more than one Italian sommelier there so we could be talking about different people. To begin with I should say my experience of sommeliers at Le Manoir has been very good. It was my first "posh" restuarant, and my first sommelier, and they've all been very nice. The sommeliers serving have always been happy to chat. Their very tall French sommellier who we saw about 4 years ago turned up in Gordon Ramsay's in Chelsea, and was still charming and presiding over a charming, friendly team. Anyway, I'm digressing horribly. The little Italian guy on this night was very curt and came over as rather smug to me. I was trying to ask him more about my Italian sweet wines and he could barely tell me what region they were from and he shot off to serve someone else. That wasn't my only niggle with him that night. Maybe Le Manoir is understaffed for it's size, but the place certainly wasn't full, and I've always found sommeliers to be enthusiastically knowledgeable about their subject, I didn't feel I enjoyed my wine so much with this guy. The waiter was an odd chap who seemed to literally look down his nose although almost in comedic fashion. He was English but we struggled to understand what he was saying about the food, but he seemed a little cold. Again he compared very poorly to staff elsewhere in 2 or 3 star places. Overall I really think I'd be put off spending big bucks to stay there when that is the only food option in the area. If they could relocate to Bray I'd be tempted.

  • Ben

    This was my first foray to a Michelin starred restaurant. While not cheap at £170 a head, it was certainly worth the money and the journey. The 10 course taster menu was beautifully diverse with highlights including chicken and duck pate served with some wonderfully ripe pear and later trout and scallop in a simply sublime cucumber sauce with a hint of wasabi to add a hint of pepper. Fancy without being over pretentious with very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Special mention should also be given to how well children are catered for with a reasonably priced kids menu. This included some wonderful surprises; a half boiled egg covered in a cheese sauce made up to look like a mouse (caviar eyes and nose and a herb tail) was a really nice touch as a pre-starter. Other treats including some complimentary ice cream and a trip to the kitchen were also much appreciated.

  • Paul

    For the past twenty-two years, Mr. Raymond Blanc OBE has choreographed beautifully prepared, two-star cuisine that, remarkably, is not overshadowed by the manor’s idyllic surroundings. On my recent, whirlwind trip to Rome and London, hitting a number of starred restaurants along the way, Le Manoir outshined them all. Undoubtedly, many staunch metropolitans, content to dine amidst the bustle of central London, will be deterred by the cumbersome journey, a full 20 minutes past Oxford (45 miles northeast of London), to reach Mr. Blanc’s outpost within a veritable oasis that dates back to the thirteenth century. Based on our visit, however, I would suspect those who do complete the trek are likely to recommend that others do the same. To begin, and while seated in the light, airy, but otherwise muted anteroom, we were presented with a platter of simple nibbles of various cheese and fish preparations (6/10) – an inauspicious start given what was to follow. Indeed, served in the greater richness of the main dining room, the amuse bouche of straightforward potato and garlic soup had the strength and complexity of flavors to warrant as permanent a place on Mr. Blanc’s menu as there is given his perpetually changing offerings (9/10). Up next were our appetizers, consisting of a wild mushroom risotto with black truffle flakes (9/10) and langoustine tails with leek and truffles (7/10). The risotto was fabulous, combining full-flavored, meaty mushrooms with the moist rice and well-placed truffle shavings that lent a nice accent to the dish. The langoustine tails and truffles were quite flavorful as well, though the surprising coldness of the underlying leek noticeably detracted from the warmth, and overall enjoyment, of the rich and firm langoustine. Taken separately, each would have been deserving of a higher mark, but the presentation implied nothing other than that both were to be devoured together – a disappointing instance in which the total was less than the sum of the parts. Despite an interesting variety of entrée selections, albeit limited to five options, neither of us could resist ordering the assiette of suckling pig with applesauce, black pudding, and ham-studded lettuce (9/10). Though unusual for us to forgo the opportunity to experience a greater sampling of a formidable kitchen’s repertoire, upon finishing the last of the plethora of porcine preparations, we were certainly glad we had, as it seemed as though each preparation had more flavor than the next. Textures, colors, sizes, and shapes all varied, but the most important of all categories, flavor, was constant across preparation and near-perfect. Equally enjoyable was the ham-studded lettuce, which transformed a mundane and oft-overlooked side of green into a welcome salad that tasted of well-prepared pig. A fine selection of predominantly British cheeses followed our entrées (7/10). Aged Stilton from a nearby farm was the compulsory choice among the group – and it assuredly lived up to its billing. The supporting cast, however, while still enjoyable, could not quite match the richness of the Stilton. For dessert, chocolate three ways shone (9/10). Yet, the rhubarb and strawberry from southeast France with crumbly pastry and cream (10/10) was the dish of the trip. Absolute perfection. The buttery pastry was a wonderful complement to the fresh, overwhelmingly flavorful strawberries above and the warm, perfectly sweet and sharp rhubarb below. A vanilla cream sorbet with flecks of gold leaf adorned the top of the dish, the sorbet providing a refreshing coolness that played off the warmth of the rhubarb appropriately – in a manner entirely dissimilar to the mishap with the temperature of the langoustines served earlier in the meal. This dessert is fully deserving of a 10/10 as it not only impressed during the meal, but also will be long remembered. Petits fours were elegantly presented and more substantive than most (8/10). Bread, freshly baked on the premises daily, was also outstanding (9/10). Ambiance and service were also first-rate. Before we were shown to our table in the dining room, the host seated us the living room of the manor on comfortable, oversized couches to enjoy a glass of champagne and an assortment of bite-sized offerings (7/10). A relaxing start, the remainder of the afternoon proceeded at a comfortable pace, moving into the pleasantly appointed dining room, replete with large, south-facing bay windows overlooking a portion of the well-manicured grounds. Although the gardens surrounding the manor are second-to-none, the dining room is not equally awe-inspiring (9/10). Comfortable chairs, a peaceful environment, and neatly arranged fine china await diners, but this is not a grand dining room comparable to those of celebrity chefs in Paris or Monte Carlo. The staff was attentive and knowledgeable, competently describing each of our courses, though some of the recommendations in creating a cheese plate compatible with each of our tastes were, perhaps, rather dubious (9/10). Overall, a wonderful meal at a bastion of French culinary tradition entrenched in the English countryside.

  • Graeme Donalson

    Thoroughly enjoyed the Menu Decouverte. The scallop with superb cauliflower puree probably my favourite. Every course well presented and very tasty from the pumpkin soup, foie gras, scallop, ceps, brill and desserts. Service and ambience excellent. Money well spent, £181.00 a head.

  • Gareth Davies

    You'll need to a bank loan to eat here but it is fantastic. I think the only reason they do not have 3 stars is the fact that they do to many covers a night Got to be tried though