Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons is one of those locations whose reputation proceeds it. Foodie aficionados are longtime devotees of the multi award-winning (two Michelin stars, AA Rosettes a plenty) Raymond Blanc, but my big question was could it also boast ‘child-friendliness’ among its accolades. As Grace and Joe cuddle the Raymond Bears they’ve just been given (cute teddies sporting chefs’ apron, hats and checkerboard trousers), We are fortunate enough to have a brief chat with Raymond over afternoon tea. He admires Joe’s fleet of toy cars and insists Grace and Joe try some “glaces” (ice-cream) and patisseries. The Frenchman does not let his native stereotype down and is charm personified: despite living 35 years in the UK, his accent is still almost comedy French. In fact, when he leaves, Grace asks me which language he was speaking (it was English). As the children order apple juice, Raymond checks the credentials from the waiter: “Is it organic?” The waiter nods, “Bien sur.” “From where?” he asks. When the waitor replies, Raymond gives a nod of approval. It’s this kind of attention to detail on which Blanc prides himself. I ask whether there are any special meal times for children. He tuts and shakes his head. “No,” he says. “It’s important that children eat with the family, no?”He’s absolutely right, of course, but I can’t help feeling a slight sense of trepidation at the prospect of taking Joe into the refined setting of Blanc’s haute cuisine restaurant. Our table for three is booked for 7.15pm. The children certainly look the part. Grace is wearing a floaty little dress and Joe has a shirt and smart trousers on, and both are smiling dutifully and acknowledging any admiring glances. Funnily enough, it’s Grace who is more nervous about the whole dining prospect than me – perhaps something to do with the softly dulling effects of my aperatif G&T. I am already observing the fellow diners in the bar, with a half smile as they look at Joe and gesture how cute he is, but I can’t help feeling at least some of the them are hoping that he is destined for bed rather than the restaurant!
It’s still relatively early when we are seated at our table. All seems fine as Joe takes a piece of French bread from the plate that is offered, giving an unprompted “Thank You”. But just as I am secretly congratulating myself on his good manners, the next thing I see is his bread winging its way over my head, landing on the table next to us. Joe has also picked up his cutlery and is banging out a noisy tune on his huge china plate. Thankfully, our waiter is swift to remove the offending plate (leaving the offending child), and we quickly get on with the business of ordering. For Joe, a simple Egg Mayonnaise and goujons of sole with homemade ‘Mayan Gold’ chip and fresh vegetables. Grace opts for the Scrambled eggs and smoked “Glenarm” salmon and Grilled Angus Fillet Steak and chips. The food on the special children’s menu all sounded fairly standard fare, until Joe’s humble egg dish arrived – on a splendid long platter with four little ‘mice’ made from boiled eggs with delicately piped balsamic vinegar eyes and whiskers and a long green, wispy chive tail. Ah, you see, this was not just any old Egg Mayonnaise: this was egg mayonnaise Le Manoir way.
As the restaurant got busier, we made our way (just a little nervously) through our delicious meal. The staff are all incredibly attentive, smiling and patient (picking up Joe’s napkin every time it was dropped!) but as I looked around me, I can’t help hoping that none of our fellow guests had been saving up for a meal-of-a-lifetime experience that might just be sullied by the antics of an exuberant two-year-old. When it came to desserts, I made the rather foolish decision – clearly guided by my stomach rather than my head – of having one of those melt-in-the-middle puddings that took 20 minutes to prepare: I know, what am I? Crazy? As Joe continued to get more boisterous and difficult to contain, I was just about to gesture to the waiter to forget my dessert, when he came over and said: “Would you prefer to have your dessert in the lounge?” What a perfect idea! A huge sigh of relief – from me, from the waiter, and from the rest of the restaurant as we sojourned to the lounge and my dessert was promptly served and Joe, released from the confines of the restaurant, magically became all sweetness and light again.
Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Church Road
, Great Milton
Oxford. La Petite Ecole runs April 11–13 (£225 per child), April 14–15 (adult and child, from £495); classes also run 29 July. For information, visit www.manoir.com or telephone Le Manoir on 01844 278881