While leafing through the proofs for the Telegraph last week, I came across a gardening supplement about Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – Raymond Blanc’s flagship restaurant; the jewel in his culinary crown.
Gardening isn’t a foremost interest of mine – don’t get me wrong, I like a good garden – I’m just not likely to be found shovelling soil, or laying down turf. But the article got me thinking, or rather reminiscing about my time spent in the chef’s backyard.
It was three years ago. My family (well four out of the six of us – mother conveniently forgot to invite the other two; to avoid denting the bank balance too much) journeyed down to Oxfordshire for lunch at the double Michelin-starred restaurant to celebrate my 21st Birthday. And what a way to celebrate it was.
Dressed in all my finery, determined to look like I belonged and frequented similar establishments regularly, I entered the mansion of a maison at approximately 12.30 pm. We were shown through to a sitting room, offered some canapés and given both the menu and the wine list to peruse at our leisure.
It didn’t take us long to decide upon the ‘tasting menu’, and then to my delight the father passed me the wine list and said, “Now Alice, as it’s your birthday you can pick the wine, but please, be sensible.”
Figures of £200, £750, £1,750 met my eyes and, contrary to the lyrics of Jessie J, I could not ‘forget about the price tag’. I flicked through some more and landed on a more reasonable £40 bottle. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘that’ll do.’ I turned and smiled at the sommelier, who came over immediately and bowed ready for the order.
“Yes, please may I have a bottle of the…(something French)?”
He looked at me, almost embarrassed on my behalf, and said: “Ummmn zeeees is a pudding wine.”
I flushed bright red and, let’s be honest, after that there was no point keeping up my pretentious pretence; I was out of my depth – an outsider, a visitor – I didn’t belong. But this, in actual fact, worked out for the best, for as a tourist I had no problem whipping out my trusty canon and photographically documenting the incredible meal. So here, better late than never, is the tasting menu from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons on the 8th of February 2010:
Confit of ‘Landais’ duck liver with rhubarb compote; sour dough toast
Plancha-seared hand-dived ‘Loch Levern’ Scottish scallop, sea kale, cauliflower puree, curry oil
Wytham farm free-range hen’s egg, garden Jerusalem artichoke, pickled mushrooms, winter truffle
Wild Cornish gill-netted red mullet, chorizo; coriander ravioli, saffron tapioca; bouillabaisse consomme
Boned quail filled with liver pate; pink grapefruit zests, turnip gratin and Pineau des Charentes sauce
‘Coeur de Guanaja’ chocolate cremeux, cocoa ‘grue’ nougatine and coffee foam…(with gold leaf)
Food: ***** Wine: (post ‘pudding’ faux pas) ***** Price: £££££
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Church Rd, Great Milton, Oxford