From the flat, oak-lined fringes of the Oxfordshire countryside emerges a star of tan and terracotta. Its abundance of steep chimneys and golden gables peek over the timber, earlier than the drive offers option to good-looking stone gates and weather-washed plaques that proclaim your arrival. Welcome to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a Belmond Lodge. 

Describing its driveway could also be my solely bid for originality as a result of, properly, what hasn’t already been written about Le Manoir? Raymond Blanc’s labour of Anglo-French love has acquired extra-stellar opinions since its opening in 1984, the place it shot into the stratosphere with two Michelin stars and by no means got here down once more. 

A decade of accolades adopted, with awards and TV exhibits liberally sprinkled throughout its clean-cut lawns like wildflower seeds. Most not too long ago it added a inexperienced Michelin star to its ranks, to utterly nobody’s shock. Le Manoir was made for Michelin’s eco-friendly gong.

Every little thing right here sings of seasonality and sustainability. Plates are full of foraged, home- and locally-grown substances. They’re normally picked from the recognisable potager gardens the place “TV Raymond” roams, waxing lyrical about haricot and beetroot. The seafood is hand-dived or caught by creel and pot, whereas greater than half of the wine menu is natural and biodynamic. 

It isn’t simply the meals both. The encircling lodge is a Belmond blanket of subtle inexperienced rusticity. Devoted to no waste and low-impact, there’s a zero landfill coverage, all of the facilities are 100% recycled and also you’re even inspired to steal the non-reusable toiletries. It’s all spectacularly self-aware which, for the eye-watering price ticket, it in all probability must be. 

Raymond Blanc

Opulence with out smugness

Stepping below the French and British flags on the entrance door, ever-accommodating employees supply the primary of many, many drinks: Veuve Clicquot or Hundred Hill’s Preamble No 2 – an area glowing made simply up the street – is a deliciously dry fizz with a touch of candy stone fruits and almond. Eschewing the siren name of Cliquot seems to be a smart alternative: the room comes with its personal bottle, which is the star of the lodge’s recurrently held champagne evenings. It’s one of many multitude of items and nibbles the room holds. There are truffles, Blanc’s lemon cake, madeira wine and a fruit cornucopia, all with take-out bins available.

The glass of sparkles and I settle within the backyard, the place music percolates on the breeze over sunbaked grass, a palette of sand and gentle greens surrounds the fifteenth century manor home. A handful of day-trippers, diners and visitors natter and all of it feels delightfully civilised. Across the nook, tonight’s menu grows from the mulch and vegetable beds; beans path up bamboo poles, golden courgette flowers emerge behind bristly leaves, and rows of vibrant chard await their close-up within the kitchen.

Drinks start in one of many reception rooms, a platter of soppy squishy seats and partitions hand-painted lemon and gold that embodies the which means of “lounge”. From each window right here there’s some candy side. The angled roofs, creeping fingers of fig, laurel and wisteria, and the legendary lavender path that results in the manor. 

With the likes of island umeshu or Pineau de Charentes handy, it’s simple to admire the atmosphere. Le Manoir is laidback luxurious, all opulence with out smugness. Diners are inspired to put on comfy, informal garments. Beside the sofa is a portrait of Blanc dressed as Napoleon, brandishing a baguette. Other than the service, nothing right here is taken too critically.

Mentioned service could be very a lot a part of Le Manoir’s expertise. Heat and welcoming, every little thing that may be accomplished for you is completed with allure and care. Each need, want and beneficiant top-up anticipated with out being overbearing. Blanc’s employees are as spectacular as his menu.

Ingredients come from the gardens of the property

Sentiment thrown out of the window… 

Ushered into the conservatory eating room, aglow with candles and dialog, the present lastly begins. My server for the night time is launched and the Blanc-designed present plate is whipped away to get replaced with canapés. The tuna loin tartare dressed with kimchi and cherry is a superb mixture of supremely gentle tuna stomach, seaweed crunch and a hovering warmth, whereas the melon verbena is a refreshing natural hit of lemon and plush melon.

Canapés aren’t thought of one of many menu’s seven programs for the night (£220 per particular person). They be part of the nebulous listing of extras, alongside vegetable crisps, olives and the bread basket, which drifts its manner between tables wanting unspeakably tempting. It’s a basket to soliloquise over; the sun-dried tomato and confit garlic roll might have shaped all the menu and nonetheless earned its rave assessment.

The accompanying wine flight alongside is supposedly elective, however your means to refuse something could be very a lot checked on the outdated oak door. A tart, grassy Riesling with a terrific end accompanies the primary act: Le Jardin. A elegant pistou soup that takes three days to make clear into an intense, basil-infused broth; it units the usual straight out. It’s stunning, the soup poured on the desk right into a bowl of child herbs, croutons and essentially the most absurdly good beans. They appear to be they’ve been formed and sanded by hand. 

Additionally below the Riesling’s watch is the second course, Le Crabe. Fond childhood reminiscences of in search of out the scuttling creatures makes crab quite arduous to swallow – I by no means eat it. One chew of Le Manoir’s providing is all it takes, nonetheless, to have me throwing a long time of sentiment out the window. The meaty, creamy Devonshire crab has actual chew and the wealthy bisque under is divine. Satellites of kaffir lime sorbet, passionfruit jelly, coconut gel, succulent sea beans and finger lime caviar create a mixture of textures and temperatures that’s pure genius. Two programs in and I’m already choosing favourites.

Le Jardin is a sublime pistou soup

‘My stomach is blissfully brimming’ 

One of many tangerine colored blooms noticed within the backyard has discovered its manner onto the following plate, Fleur de Courgette. Filled with a luminous inexperienced mousse of herbs, mushroom and scallop, the show-stealing courgette flower shares the plate with a fantastically fats Orkney hand-dived scallop poached in girolle liquor. The 2 sit atop pickled cauliflower fungus, wild mushrooms and vibrant orange enoki: a melange of salt and umami, tang and a whispered breath of truffle. Courgettes are grown purely for his or her flowers at Le Manoir: in summer season they harvest 100 flowers a day.

The accompanying Mersault is gorgeous: crisp, citrus, with toasted barrel notes that linger on the palette. I might write odes to it, nevertheless it’s quickly changed with my favorite wine of the night time. The exceptional Bandol overturns long-held emotions of rosé’s inferiority with hints of strawberry, raspberry and rose petals. It pairs with Les Saveurs de Bouillabaisse, an attractive marriage of pan-seared Cornish sea bass, sea herbs, fennel and saffron rouille. The Cabinero prawn – the pinkest, plumpest, most completely cooked prawn – was nothing wanting exceptional.

By the point the meat comes, my stomach is blissfully brimming and but the Aberdeen Angus fillet and Jacobs ladder has me salivating. Served with chicory, onion purée, beetroot, nasturtium oil and an excellent braised child gem lettuce, its earthiness balances with wealthy crimson wine sauce. The flavours are extraordinary, the meat past perception. Washed down with a smoky Margaux of ripe berries and nice bitterness, it’s a moody and marvellous plate after the lightness of fish and backyard greens.

Shortly after, a veritable gurney of cheese arrives, virtually groaning below the burden of lemony goats, tangy washed rinds and nutty, spruce-wrapped cheeses. The wares change each three months, excepting the Comté, which shares its area with Blanc so earns a forever-home amid the dried fruit, grapes and chutneys. With a server like Edward Scissorhands, each slice getting a brand new set of cutlery, and I order with daring abandon.

Le Manoir is laidback luxury

Nearing full capability 

By this level it is turning into ever extra evident that I am biting off greater than I can chew. The gentle slice of fig bread might need been a mistake, however its jammy sweetness says in any other case. I can not remorse a chew, although I’m nearing full capability. Fortunately, a much-needed breather earlier than the primary dessert helps you to sit again and be ineluctably drawn into the atmosphere. 

The quiet, glittering hubbub of the conservatory is an array of individuals, from the once-in-a-lifetime birthdays to common patrons. There’s cross-table dialog too, glowing smiles and shared laughs over the beneficiant wine parts, glances over to preview the following course. We’re all cheek-apple completely satisfied due to sensible meals and it’s simple to neglect each my fullness and goal. The server is simply too charming, the wine so plentiful, the dimmed lights making note-taking even more durable. I’m helpless to withstand because the Pêche Melba made its manner in entrance of me. 

Reader, I ate it. I embraced candy defeat and let elasticity do its job. The melba is an almondy crème frâiche panna cotta with compressed yellow peaches, lavender sorbet, redcurrant and raspberry jus, topped by a handy guide a rough tuille. It tastes like summer season, of the scorched grass simply exterior and daylight. Le Cassis et Chocolat follows, a wealthy chocolate cremeux with ethereal blackcurrant meringues and sorbet that’s elegant. The vanilla and tonka espuma softens the berry tartness and the Grenada 65% chocolate would not battle the fruit for the highest spot. Plate-lickingly pretty and the perfect finish to Britain’s most good meal. 

Besides that it isn’t, as a result of we’ve got espresso and petit fours but to come back. I nonetheless have a full glass of the dessert Banyuls to drink – a treacly wine of spices, caramel and berries – however that doesn’t cease our server. Two complimentary digestifs seem alongside it: a wonderful apricot liqueur and quite much less fabulous inexperienced chartreuse that may strip the shine off a Blanc hardback (a signed copy of which has been left gift-wrapped within the room).

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons opened in 1984

The decision 

By the point I slope as much as my suite, doing my best impression of a waterbed, the mallow-soft mattress is a really welcome sight. A final glimpse into the restaurant exhibits a battleground of empty glassware and demolished plates. I spot somebody about to expertise their first chew of tender beef and watch bliss blossom throughout their face. I’m virtually jealous.

After a number of hours of indulgence and epicurean ecstasy, my very own long-awaited dinner at Le Manoir is completed. Was it ridiculously costly? In fact. Incomprehensibly, unaccountably, unthinkably so. Was it additionally exceptionally, stupidly, mouth-meltingly good? Completely. And for that, it stays totally priceless.

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a Belmond Lodge, Church Street, Nice Milton, Oxford OX44 7PD. In a single day stays begin from £1,040 per room, together with breakfast; belmond.com