I hope you don't mind if I share a few photos of R's birthday trip to
back in March. It was such a special place - we are still talking about it now!
For those who haven't heard of it, Le Manoir is a hotel and restaurant created by chef Raymond Blanc, nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside. It comprises a rather beautiful Cotswold stone manor house where you can stay (if you have a small fortune to dispose of!), a very famous restaurant with two Michelin stars and lovely gardens which supply the hotel and restaurant.
For a very long time R and I had talked about going but hadn't found a time when finances and a suitably special occasion coincided! Eventually we decided to take the plunge and go for a meal to celebrate his 30th since that seemed like a special occasion that needed to be celebrated properly! Our budget didn't quite stretch to staying at the hotel so we stayed in nearby Holton which was a 10 minute drive away (there's a little post about where we stayed
). We also decided to go for lunch rather than dinner so that we could see the gardens and the house in the daylight as everyone told us that they were beautiful.
We got there at about 1pm and decided to have a walk around before our lunch. The gardens are indeed lovely - extensive and beautifully maintained, and the staff give you a map so that you can identify each area (I think they also do tours). It was wonderfully sunny and crisp and there were signs of spring here and there, but I think it would be even lovelier in late spring or summer, when the trees and shrubs are all in flower.
One of the most impressive aspects is the huge vegetable garden where they grow all the lovely organic vegetables, salads and herbs that they use in the restaurant. There is also a bronze scarecrow modelled on Monsieur Blanc.
One of my favourite bits was the English water garden, a huge deep pool of glass-still water, upon which the reflections of the trees and sky shone. Perfect for strolling and gazing into the depths. Apparently the pools were dug by monks who lived in the manor in the 16th century - they must have been some muscly monks!
Another lovely spot was the Japanese tea garden, complete with little pink thatched hut for quiet contemplation.
And the greenhouses! Oh my. I was in glass and plant heaven, my head full of greenhouse dreams!
And this was the potting shed. Have you ever seen a prettier one?!
After a good explore of the gardens, we headed inside where log fires and cocktails awaited us in the lounge, before heading into the dining room for our lunch.
As it was a special occasion and we probably wouldn't be returning for a very long time(!) we opted for the 7 course tasting menu. We decided against the matching wines (I would have been on the floor) so we had a bottle of white wine and then a glass of red later on which was just about the right amount (we still ended up quite tipsy by the end....)
Needless to say, the food was completely wonderful - full of fresh and interesting flavours, familiar and unusual at the same time, all perfectly executed and just the right amount.
Above are pictures of our two of the starters which were smoked salmon with sweet pickled cucumber, caviar, horseradish and new potatoes, followed by a slow cooked hen's egg with a rich mushroom broth, root vegetables and hazlenuts (incredible). We also had a warm wild garlic soup with seared scallop which I forgot to take a picture of!
After that we had slow cooked beef with kale, pickled carrots, smokey mash and red wine jus. Totally delicious. We followed that with a plate of Comte cheese and Vin Jeane, both of which originate from Raymond Blanc's native region.
Then there was a chocolate mousse with almond ice-cream (eaten too quickly to manage a photo), and finally an incredibly light but powerful lemon tart, which is R's absolute favourite pudding so was absolutely perfect.
After lunch we had coffee and petit fours in the lounge and relaxed as the sky started to darken outside. We had one last walk around the garden before we left, just as all the little twinkly lights were coming on.
Finally we headed back to our B&B at around 6pm (we were there for 5 hours!) and settled down, very full, very happy and rather drunk for an evening of DVD watching in bed (with beer and popcorn). Yep, we're classy.
Le Manoir was a truly lovely place - comfortable and relaxed but very "special" at the same time with incredibly attentive staff and a very gentle, warm atmosphere, without any hint of stuffiness. We both felt extremely lucky to be able to spend a little time there.