We arrived on Sunday afternoon after a very simple train journey from London. Although we had left clouds and drizzle at home, the weather in Oxfordshire was fantastic; blue skies, warm sun and the first day that actually felt like Spring.
Le Manoir is set in some well-designed gardens including a large vegetable patch and some polytunnels where they grow their own vegetables and herbs. The first weekend of March is not a great time to see the garden at its full beauty but we spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around, admiring all the bronze statues that litter the grounds.
Our little stroll had worked up a bit of an appetite and so we retired to one of the lounges for tea and scones. Very civilised indeed.
In the evening, we had booked a table at the restaurant for the the menu 'Les Classiques du Manoir aux Quat' Saisons'; a five course meal focussing on some of the most popular and iconic dishes from the restaurant and highlighting the best of French cuisine. Well, at least that was the theory.
To start though, we headed to the bar for a cocktail. We both had a 'French 75' - a mixture of champagne, gin, lemon juice and sugar. Initially skeptical, we both actually really enjoyed this. Rather than detract from the champagne, the other ingredients enhanced the flavour making it taste like the best glass of champagne I'd ever had. I wonder whether this trick will work with a bottle of £3.99 Cava from the corner shop...
The menu we had was as follows:
Leek and potato soup
Ravioli of wild Devonshire crab, artichokes, Swiss chard, lemongrass and ginger bisque
Pan-searted wild Cornish dover sole, wild hand gathered River Fowey cocktails, cauliflower puree, essence of red wine
Roasted free-range Dombes duck breast, turnip gratin, caramelized chicory, clementine curd, jasmine tea sauce
Coeur de Guanaja chocolate biscuit, melting ginger and caramel centre; poached pear with Tahiti vanilla
The menu started off well with the soup although I have to say that I found it quite an uninspiring choice. It was a vibrant green colour and I loved the way of serving in an expresso cup. It tasted fresh and was light enough to not be too filling.
The next two courses I struggled with mainly because I really don't like fish or seafood. And I have an irrational hatred of lemongrass. There was the option to substitute something from the set menu but I wanted to at least try them (before passing them to my boyfriend when nobody was looking). He enjoyed both courses both times and I was impressed with the cauliflower puree that came with the dover sole.
We now come to the centrepiece of the meal - the main course. I was looking forward to this, particularly as it was roast duck however, ultimately, I was quite disappointed. The meat itself wasn't particularly good and the clementine curd was sickly and overpowering. That said, the turnip gratin and jasmine tea sauce were both lovely. I just felt though that there was a slight lack of attention to detail which is, I think, a pretty damning criticism of a restaurant with two Michelin stars. We also felt that the portions were really quite large for a five course meal and we were left feeling quite uncomfortably full.
Not, of course, too full for pudding which did, at least, round of the meal well. The chocolate pudding was light and the ginger and caramel sauce that finished had just the right amount of heat to balance the sweetness. The pear was soft and juicy and served alongside an almond ice-cream which really helped to lift both the paid and the chocolate.
We didn't have tea of coffee after the meal and I noted that we weren't offered the petits fours which other tables got and which were included with the menu; normally I have been offered these even when we didn't take coffee and it felt like another example of the staff not quite taking the care they should have.
After dinner, we retired to our room to recover from the excesses and watch Match of the Day. Classy eh?
In the morning, we got up in a fairly leisurely manner and went down to breakfast. I don't really like to eat that much in the morning so I contented myself with some pastries that were fine. My boyfriend had a cooked breakfast which looked okay, nothing more really. We were, however, both impressed by the colour of the apple juice we had:
So, all in all, we did have a wonderful time. The hotel is super and it was exactly the break that I was hoping it would be. Whilst my problems with the food were only very small, I do feel, however, that at the price, and with the reputation of Le Manoir, that I was right to expect more.