I've been eating out quite a lot recently, no, make that all the time. Friends have been visiting, so we've been trying new places and revisiting tried and tested crowd pleasers like Lobster Noodles @ Mandarin Kitchen or Roast Duck @ Gold Mine at Bayswater. The return of Wan (for a short visit) also means that all the crazy eating that stopped half a year ago has restarted.
And so the Fat Duck gang got ourselves a reservation at Le Manoir to mark Wan's return. Together with another visiting friend, the 5 of us drove down to Oxford last Friday night in search of Raymond's house. We arrive in this quaint English village following Google's directions but just could not find it. Thinking that it's probably tucked away somewhere, we park the car and get off to ask for directions. Only then did we realise that Google had given us the WRONG DIRECTIONS! Lesson learnt in not treating Google as gospel truth. Luckily, the real location was just a short 10 minutes away in the neighbouring village of Great Milton.
After the long arduous journey, we finally arrive at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. It was beautiful. Words can't describe how pretty the gardens and grounds were so I'll let the pictures do the talking. Fortunately, it was still light when we arrived and it was nice to sit outside in the garden taking in the beauty. Yay to long summer days!
While we sat in the garden sipping our cocktails, they served us the amuse-bouches. They gave us 3 platters to share among 5 of us, which annoyed us a little. How were we to share since each platter consisted of different items? Minus points.
We moved indoors after we finished the amuse-bouches, where they sat us in a smallish drawing room adjacent to the main dining room (which looked really gorgeous). The place is set up like a house (if you couldn't already tell by the name) and is also a hotel if you so wish to stay over. Immediately as we walked in, we noticed this group of loud old Englishmen. The loudest among them seemed drunk, or even stoned as he slurred and struggled to string together sentences the entire night. They had very posh accents and looked like the sort who were rich and didn't work a day in their lives. Their conversation provided for our 'entertainment' throughout dinner, gems such as "I won't call her a prostitute BUT....", "She is very well-connected, with ministers and the Taliban", "I put to you that there is no evidence that the Silk Route existed", "I'm a retired womaniser" kept us highly amused and a little annoyed (seeing how 4 out of 5 of us were chinese and they were denying the existence of the Silk Route?!). We always do seem to get seated next to weirdos at posh restaurants (cf precocious Eton boy at Fat Duck).
As for the food, we chose the Menu Classique as we figured those would be the all-time favourites as opposed to seasonal experimentations in the Menu Decouverte. The first course was a Salad of Cornish wild crab with mango and caviar. I wasn't all that impressed by this dish as it tasted like, well, a crab salad. This was followed by a Risotto of summer vegetables, tomato essence and mascarpone. Now this dish was outstanding. While a risotto might not be all that special, you could taste the freshness of the peas, beans, tomatoes with bite of creamy goodness. I also loved the toasted pine nuts that added that extra crunch and helped cut the cream and cheese.
The first main course was a pan-fried Cornish sea bass, served with a hand-dived scallop, cauliflower puree and star anise jus. The fish was perfectly cooked, as was the scallop and the whole dish was vaguely familiar as there were many elements of Asian cooking (bok choy, star anise, ginger, soy). The star anise jus was surprisingly not overpowering and managed to pull together the dish. The second main was a trio of slow-roasted rack, braised shoulder and pan-fried liver of lamb, with aubergine acavier, plancha potatoes and roasting juices. I'm not usually a big fan of lamb but the slow-roasted rack was melt-in-your-mouth goodness and the braised shoulder had a lot of flavour as well. Liver's not really my thing, and so I left it although the rest said it was overcooked anyway.
The dessert was another star, simply named A theme on the Gariguette strawberry, it was a play on various textures and forms of strawberry desserts. There was a gelee, a sorbet, a cream, confit, puree, caramel, marshmallow and of course both big and small wild strawberries. It was a refreshing and delightful end to the meal. We also had coffee, tea, hot chocolate plus petit fours in the lounge area (to escape from the loud crazy old men) after the meal and went back to London very well-fed and happily drunk (for the rest who did wine pairings) in the wee hours of the morning. Overall, a satisfying meal though I think the mains could have been a little more wow. The surroundings were beautiful and I can imagine it being the setting of a really romantic evening or even wedding (as long as you don't have drunk old men spoiling your evening) on a beautiful day.
Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons
Church Road, Great Milton
Oxford, OX44 7PD, England
Tel: +44 (0)1844 278881