Emptied of expectation. Relax. (tinyjo) wrote,
Emptied of expectation. Relax.
tinyjo

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Gastronomique

As well as getting my garden well and truly sorted, the other purpose for my parents visit was so that I could give my Dad his combined birthday/Christmas present - a trip to Le Manoir Aux Quatre Saison, Raymond Blanc's Oxfordshire restaurant.

I'd arranged via the restaurant for transport, although I was expecting a taxi rather than a private chauffeur service. After a nervous moment where the car was rather late (due to an accident on the road apparently) we got picked up and off we went.

The drive itself took us into the twisty country roads bit of Oxfordshire which I often forget is there - it reminds me of Norfolk in a way (although there appear to be less beet fields). Perhaps when I get a car, I'll take some picnic trips. Anyway. I digress. We progressed along these roads at something of a pace and drew up to what looked like a very good looking building. I'd like to visit again in the summer some time so that we can see what the house and garden looked like. On this occasion we were ushered in to the lounge and give the menu, wine list (book) and aperitifs.

We browsed the menu a little (there are 2 different set menus as well as a small a la carte) but decided in the end to just go straight for the Menu Classique - the 6 course set of the Manoir specials. More time had to be spent on the wine list and we regretfully passed over the £1500 bottle of claret in search of something more in our budget :P Having made our choices and demolished the canapes and olives we headed for our tables.

The room itself was very nice. There were beams but instead of being that oppressive dark brown they'd been stained a pale olive green/grey colour and the rest of the room, in cream which made the space feel rather nice. Once we were settled into place, we started on the white wine (for the fish courses) and pretty soon, the first plate arrived.

This was haddock soup with a poached oyster. I'd once eaten raw oyster in Scotland and not been very impressed - I was told to swallow it whole and that made the experience a little like taking a very large pill, something I'm not a fan of at the best of times. This was totally different though. The oyster was lovely and the flavour of the soup was amazing - the aroma that came up from it was fabulous. They served it by bringing the bowl with oyster and a jug of soup and delicately pouring it into the bowl which wafted the scent up to you amazingly.

Next up was a mushroom risotto. I'm not normally a fan of risotto but again the aroma won me over - it was like mushroom concentrated and the rice was done to perfection - smooth and soft but not waterlogged.

I should mention the service at this point because it was very impressive indeed. There was no sense of hovering waiters watching you to put down your fork but even so, the dishes were whisked away a very short while after you'd finished each dish and there was a very short wait between courses. This worked because each course itself was a pretty small portion so you were never waiting to digest an enormous weight of food. I liked the style - it meant that the meal was more of a whole thing and I thought of it after a while as a bit like food in shots - each dish was small in size but so intensely flavourful and perfectly cooked that you felt you'd had just the right amount.

After the risotto we were onto our second fish course, which was red mullet as squid on what I think was a very small potato pattie. This had a wonderful sauce, kind of orangy yellow in colour which I have forgotten the name of but tasted amazing. Unfortunately, I have never been very good at describing tastes (I can never manage to pick out notes or individual ingredients in a flavour - I seem to experience them as a whole thing) or I would try to make the foodies guess. With the help of our wine waiter we'd stretched our half bottle of white out over these courses and it matched wonderfully well (it was a Sancerre, I think). Now, we were onto the red...

Which went with the venison. I cannot wax too lyrical about the venison. There were two small medallions (I can't remember the cut - loin?), served with a lovely port based sauce, a piece of roasted celeriac, celery, a chestnut and a small group of cranberries. I had assumed when reading the menu that this would be accompanied by some kind of dish of veg and potatoes or somesuch but by now I knew that that would be missing the point - the focus was all on the intense flavours of the dish and not on bulking out with side items. The venison was cooked to perfection. Pink inside, but so tender - absolutely right. This was my favourite course, I think.

After that we had a choice. Did we want to go for the optional cheese course? We had assumed in the lounge that we'd be too full by that point, having previously only eaten this many courses in restaurants in South France where you get 6 courses the size they would be if you were only having 3 and then don't eat for a day afterwards but as we were in fact comfortably paced we decided to go for it - good move!

The cheese waiter rolled over an enormous trolley of cheeses for us to choose from. It was amazing. He asked what you liked and I said, for example, blue cheeses. He would then describe the 6 different blue cheeses on the trolley in terms of texture and flavour and you could pick one out. It was a truly fabulous selection and I was really glad we'd gone for it.

After that, all that remained was desert - caramelized apples with <something> pastry - a paper thin sheet crumpled and baked on top - and honey & ginger icecream. Finally, off to the lounge for coffee, chocs and port (or armenac in Dad's case) before getting the bill and ordering the car for home.

Although it was pricey, it really was worth every penny. They asked us if we would mind filling in a customer satisfaction thing while we were drinking our coffees and asked us to rate things out of ten. I very nearly ended up giving everything 10 across the board. Perhaps I'll suggest that Dad do a reverse treat for my 30th :D
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