Thursday, 14 August 2008

Chez Le Manoir

Oh my, this week I was one very lucky girl!  For my birthday last November, my super other half bought me a cookery experience day at Raymond Blanc's Cookery School based at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons hotel in Oxfordshire.  At last, Tuesday saw the day my course was to take place and my parents having kindly taken the munchkin off our hands, we treated ourselves to a stay at Le Manoir on Monday night.  Oh my, oh bliss...

Now it just so happens that the next stop on the train after the station for Le Manoir is Bicester North and any of you devoted fans out there may know this is the home of the outlet shopping village and, more importantly, the Cath Kidston outlet store.  It seemed silly not to pop in as we were in the neighbourhood, so to speak.

We picked up some bargains and I got quite a few bits of material for future, (as yet undesignated, of course), projects.  I've only just noticed the gorgeous union jack banner in the window (I just sort of frenziedly rushed inside when I arrived there!)

Sometime mid-afternoon, we arrived (in the naffest most ancient taxi ever) at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.  Sigh, it's just so gorgeous...

There were obviously beautiful gardens to be explored...then again the weather was not too great and so we opted for afternoon tea in the lounge.

Don't those pastries look just too good to eat? No, you're right, we dived in and gobbled them all up.  They were divine...

The Gods must have been smiling on us on Monday because although every single inch of this hotel is just gorgeous, the lovely receptionist lady even offered us a room upgrade.  This led to us being shown 3 hotel rooms, by which I mean suites, from which we were allowed to choose. Two of the rooms were in the converted stable block, one was in the main house and had wonderful old architectural details.  We chose this one in the old manor house, "Lavande".

It's just too gorgeous for words.  I think our home is pretty nicely decorated (I'm probably biased) but this was one of those places that felt so much more luxurious than home, which is just what you want when you go away, I think.  Everything was of the most wonderful quality and the attention to detail was second to none.

Obviously, the big draw of Le Manoir is the fact that its chef patron is the well known Raymond Blanc.  The restaurant has two Michelin stars.  Armed with this fact, we felt it was only fair to indulge in their "menu decouverte" for dinner.  This meant not three but ten courses.  The food was pretty great but the highlight for me was the fact that three of the courses were pudding!  We had meringue with fruits and marshmallows, berries in cabernet sauvignon (they were divine) and a chocolate concoction with mango sorbet which shall live long in my foody memory.  To top it off, these were then followed by the most exquisite and dainty petit fours. All I can say is that I still felt very full the next morning and probably didn't do justice to the fantastic breakfast display (but I tried my best!)

A lie-in would have been just the ticket but I had to be ready for my cookery course at 8:45am.  I had chosen the course "Fusion Food", subtitled "Tastes and Textures from Elsewhere" as I thought this would teach me something new.  We ten students were given chef's whites to don and led to the gleaming cookery school kitchen, located just next to the main hotel kitchen where we could see the proper chefs at work.  The kitchen itself was heaven, Smallbone units and a wealth (literally) of Gaggenau appliances.  I drooled quite a bit...

It is at this point that I realise I didn't get a very good photo of the kitchen!  This is just a little corner.

The day was a mixture of watching techniques being demonstrated then having a go ourselves. Our first task was to prepare a crab.  What a messy job!  I think we all agreed that we now know why it is so expensive to buy prepared crabmeat (but worth it!)  We then made pasta and used some of the crabmeat to make a scallop and crab filling to go into little tortelloni and ravioli that we made.  The crab shells didn't go to waste as our tutor made a bisque with them. He demonstrated his amazing knife skills (I wish I could chop like that) and we then had a go and chopped up some veg for a stir-fry, having been shown how to correctly prepare and cook the same.  Here I am with a very lethal knife preparing the stir-fry:

Our lunch, which we made ourselves, was the stir-fry, topped with our pasta parcels with some crab bisque poured over.  It really was gorgeous.  It possibly did not look quite so amazing!

After lunch, we had time to stroll round the stunning gardens. There is a beautiful old pond complete with waterlillies and ducks.

There is also a Japanese garden, complete with tea house.

And the most awe-inspiringly gorgeous kitchen garden, or I suppose I should say "potager".


I would love just one of those rhubarb forcers (but more, if possible)!

There is a lot of statuary throughout the garden. This lady is in the potager and represents the harvesting of the food.

If only all children could be this quiet!

It was soon time to get back to the kitchen and yet more cooking.  We made some sushi which we were allowed to take home with us (jolly nice it was too).  We whipped up (or rather pounded) a thai green curry paste and turned that into a chicken curry and our tutor kindly made us some fantastic tempura veggies with two chilli dipping sauces.  We finished off with a sublime rice pudding (made with jasmine thai rice and coconut milk) with exotic fruits and a guava sabayon.  Here is our tutor glazing the fruits with a blowtorch.

It was a fantastic experience which just left me wanting to go back and do more courses.  Better hope for a lottery win sometime soon!  We were allowed to keep our chefs' whites which at the time, I felt pretty cool in (but on reflection, it's a bit tent-like.)

Now I must get off to meet my sister in Birmingham as tomorrow we are going to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC and meeting Amy Butler.  Oooh, it's too much excitement for just one week!  I'll be back to tell you all about it soon...


  1. Cor..fabulous! What a time you must have had!!

  2. I just love your posts! They give me inspiration to enjoy homemaking and thrifting and gardening even more.

  3. It was soooo lovely to read that post, having been there ourselves. Hmm, I wonder what I shall be hinting at for Christmas...?!x


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