When my foody friend started planning her trip several months ago, we agreed that when she was staying with us we would have a no-holds-barred, fuck-the-expense, blowout meal. And I knew just the place. Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons has held 2 Michelin stars for 25 years and has won pretty much every other foody award going. And it isn't very far from where we live.
We have been there once before, but it was when Foodycat was but a baby blog and I was too shy to take pictures. No such reservations this time...
We sat in a lovely sunny bay window in the lounge, watching a host of ladybirds climb the stone windowframes. We sipped champagne, perused the menu and stuffed down the elegant canapes with a regrettable want of manners.
As well as some really lovely olives we were served two slate slabs bearing an enticing assortment. There was a piece of red pepper jelly (a bit like a fruit roll-up) wrapped around goats cheese mousse, a sort of mini pizza topped with more goats cheese, a crisp piece of almost lacy toast topped with marinated anchovies (like the Spanish boquerones, not like the canned ones you put on pizza!), a crisply fried ball of courgette risotto, a square potato crisp topped with salmon tartare and caviar, and a choux puff filled with foie gras. All the ones I tried were delicious, but I really felt that fewer would have been better! It was just too many flavours.
We chose the Les Classiques du Manoir aux Quat'Saisons - five courses of Raymond Blanc's greatest hits.
We ordered a half bottle of 2006 La Forest Chablis Premier Cru to go with the first portion of the meal. This sort of turned out to be a bad idea, because it was absolutely sublime - buttery, rich and lovely - and it would have been much better to get a whole bottle. On the other hand, it also allowed us to witness one of the subtle touches that shows why Le Manoir has kept their Michelin stars for so long. Paul asked the (absurdly young but accomplished) wine waiter to leave the empty bottle on the table so that he could get the details of the wine. The waiter, without missing a beat said "Would you like us to remove the label for you?" and in about 10 minutes the label was returned to us, mounted on a pretty postcard, all ready to be placed in Paul's wine diary (if he were organised enough to keep such a thing).
The first dish on the menu was a beetroot terrine. This was on the menu the last time we were here and it was even better this time! As well as the central beetroot terrine, there were pieces of three different coloured beetroots, some beetroot puree, two coloured crisps and some baby beet leaves. All crowned with a wonderful horseradish creme fraiche. The thing that makes it so amazing is that every element tastes subtly different, so the flavour is as varied as the colour. Just brilliant.
The next course was a wild mushroom risotto. Everything risotto should be but seldom is! It was soft and creamy, but still with some texture to the rice. It was topped with sauteed wild mushrooms, some baby leaves and some very generous slices of truffle.
The fish course was the only let down - and don't get me wrong, if I'd eaten it anywhere else I would have been overwhelmed, but it just wasn't up to the standard of the rest. A tender piece of Cornish brill, topped with the plumpest, sweetest scallop I have ever tasted, but the subtle, buttery sauce didn't add a lot and the waitress couldn't identify the vegetables with it. There were ribbons of cucumber (she said they were leeks) and something that I suspect may have been some form of seaweed. Of course, we'd finished the gorgeous Chablis by this time, and were on to a very nice red wine - but it couldn't compete with the Chablis and it didn't do the fish any favours.
The lamb that followed made everything better. A pile of couscous flavoured with preserved lemon was topped with a really delicious rare lamb cutlet, with a little pile of sticky, tender braised lamb shank meat, a half kidney that finally made me understand why people eat kidneys, a smear of the most velvety aubergine puree and half a tiny artichoke heart. I could eat that dish every day for a week.
When the dessert arrived I realised I had made a mistake. Because we were having a set menu, I didn't pay all that much attention to the details. So what I saw on the menu for dessert was "Bitter cocoa sorbet" but I had missed the all-important second phrase "... concealed in a pistachio souffle". Oh my. I adore a hot souffle, so it was a wonderful surprise. It was a very sweet, delicately green cloud, and then nestled in the bottom of the dish was a nugget of the darkest, bitterest chocolate sorbet ever. A perfect combination! The sorbet was just beginning to melt, adding a little more moisture and richness to the souffle. Divine.
We moved back into the lounge for coffee and petite fours. I had a lovely pot of verbena tisane, which is one of my more recent discoveries as a digestif. Very soothing to a full stomach! The array of petite fours was amazing - liquorice icecream covered in crisp chocolate, pistachio macaroons, pistachio sponge topped with apricot preserve, a rich salted caramel and chocolate tart, a white chocolate cup filled with cream and mango, a chocolate truffle topped with gold leaf, squares of chewy chocolate fudge.
Eventually we felt able to take a wander around the gardens. I include this picture of Paul & me looking happy and well-fed because it is a particularly nice photo of my lovely husband.
The vegetable gardens are amazing - and it was so nice to see men in chefs whites ducking through with a basket and a pair of scissors, getting ready for the evening service.
I've never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant in a city, so I just can't imagine what they can offer to make the total experience on a par with Le Manoir. Now to start saving for my next lunch there!