My wife and I didn’t have a wedding list, we were just happy that people came and had a good time. However, lots of people chose to buy us something which was very kind. The upshot was that we got things we wouldn’t have even thought of asking for.
Such as the generous gift from Susannah and Guy who gave us a voucher for lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons when we tied the knot way back in March. And so last Friday we found ourselves walking up the garden path for lunch in Raymond Blanc’s fabulously appointed country hotel. The weather was a touch inclement but the home fires were burning bright inside as we sat down in the lounge with the menus and a glass of champagne.
After we’d selected our food and blown the top of the fizz a small slate arrived with six Hors d’œuvres: Tartar of salmon on a shard of crunchy bread, tiny arancini, fondant something or other, a little beef tart, goats’ cheese wrapped in jelly with a dash of mint (this is the one on the spoon), and two anchovy fillets so tiny the chef must have filleted them with a microscope came on crunch shard of bread with drip of pesto.
Each of these limbered up our taste buds like Beckham’s touchline warm up in the 65th minute of an England game. And now ready for action we moved through into the dining room. We were sat in the conservatory, which given that we were eating early and the weather outside miserable lacked a little atmosphere, however is soon warmed up as more diners and guests arrived. The sommelier recommend an American Pinot Noir which was light in the mouth and just the sort of thing I like.
A amuse bouche of mackerel with chorizo and a slice of new potato came first, which was very enjoyable, though the cake fork that came with it wasn’t quite up to the task of cutting the fish, so I dove in with my butter knife. This had already been put to use like a bricklayers trowel slathering various breads with some lovely butter, chief amongst them bacon bread, studded throughout with lardons.
Starters proper duly arrived, pumpkin risotto with chestnuts and crispy bacon for me, and smooth duck liver parfait with a ‘crumble’ top for Kate. The risotto was creamy and unctuous, some seeds – were they from the same pumpkin? – came too which gave firmer bite. Saltiness was provided by some crisp ham. Kate’s parfait came in a shallow dish topped with tiny cubes of fried bread, and a salad of minted apples slices and leaves.
Mains were cod with squid, chicory and butternut squash for Kate and chicken with mash, bacon and garden vegetables. The cod dish won this round, with the squid was beautifully presented and cooked. My chicken dish suffered only from the fact that we’re all over familiar with chicken nowadays. It was however a master class in meat and two veg, with the breast juicy and the mash smooth. The thigh had been given some 2 star treatment by being boned out, stuffed, rolled and roasted. And as you’d expect the gravy was lovely. It was Sunday lunch essentially, a very good one.
But zoot alores what’s this? The optional cheese course was offered in the French way before pudding and I took full advantage. Seconds later our waitress backed into view a cheese trolly so large I’m surprised it didn’t go ‘beep-boop! Warning cheese trolly reversing’ as she did so, it was huge. On top was a broad selection, and I duly went for the stronger ones; eposse, a blue one, a goat’s, I didn’t catch all the names.
They were all French bar one or two from the UK and an Italian gorgonzola and here I feel I must reproach Monsieur Blanc. Unlike say, wine, surely with cheese Britain can at least compete – even beat – the French nowadays non? There are some lovely examples of immortalised milk available in the UK, Please Raymond, you’re cheese trolly has the room, a section of the UK’s finest would be a worthy addition.
Puds were caramelised pear feuillete and chocolate tart with coffee bean ice-cream. Now the French know a think or two about pears, England we do apples, but pears like it a touch warmer. These came in a wonderful ginger sauce, with a quenelle of pear sorbet and slice of dried pear. The chocolate dish was devine, balancing bitter with sweet, and a good kick from the ice cream.
The main business of the day taken care of we decanted once more to the lounge like people coming out of surgery into the recovery room. Here came some lovely petit fours and two coffees to sharpen me up for the drive home in the rain. A token attempt to ‘walk it off’ was made as we had a nose round the veg patch. Here was Richard Edwards ‘valley au championions’, though I couldn’t find a single fungus there. Maybe they’d all been picked?
Blanc’s just celebrated his 25th Year at la Manoir, that’s a long time in this business, and needless to say it is a very smooth and refined operation. Yet despite the history it remains a rather accessible and easy going experience. This was a very fine lunch, and I hope to return again, next time in better weather hopefully.