Raymond Blanc is a perfectionist.
It’s what has made him great. And after being in the ‘biz’ for over 30 years, you can experience his utter dedication to the pursuit of serving the perfect food with impeccable service, at his beautiful stately Manoir; Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in the village of Great Milton, Oxfordshire, (easily accessible from the M40). Sounds like somewhere you can’t take your children, right? Wrong! Monsieur Blanc LOVES children, and his menu and the surroundings of the restaurant not only reflect that, but are within the very essence of the place.
This is no ordinary honey-coloured manor house, or restaurant. Yes, it has two Michelin stars, for a start. There is a helipad, for guests who require it. And, on your arrival, your car will be whisked away by a concierge and parked for you. Forget the children being impressed, this is an ‘out-of-body’ experience for most adults, too. The staff could be haughty, but they are, in fact, quite the opposite. Reassuringly warm and friendly, the welcoming staff, (of which there are LOADS), will take your party out into the garden (weather permitting) to wait in a designated seating area before your meal. You will be served drinks and canapés while you wait, then brought the menu to peruse.
Here is where the magic begins. Lavender is the first thing that may attack your senses, here. How fittingly French, mais oui? The gardens are as much a part of the Le Manoir experience as the food. The ‘kitchen garden’ alone is a two-acre vegetable and herb garden, that in produce over 90 types of vegetables and 70 herbs; which are used in the restaurant. Children and adults alike will love exploring the gardens to see exactly where the food that will be on their plate shortly, came from. You can ask the gardeners all about the seasonality and organic foods they are growing, or ask reception for an informative tour. Staff can also provide nature hunt sheets for children, who will love ticking off what they find. There is also a Japanese-themed garden, art sculptures to run around, and 15th century ponds, all waiting to be discovered.
And now for the main course… the restaurant. We sat in the conservatory area, which was bright and airy, and fairly (dare I say), ‘normal’ looking. But, the devil is, as always, in the detail. The temperature of the room was perfectly cool, the tables are just far enough apart, and no rogue sunshine is in anyone’s eyes. All very cleverly understated but obviously very well thought out.
For adults, the menu is indescribably good. Head chef Gary Jones and Raymond have created a menu of champions. Champion, fresh ingredients, cooked to succulent perfection. From the Cornish coconut crab salad with coconut sorbet, to the falling-off-the-fork braised Jacob’s Ladder, it is delicious like nothing before. It is comfort food, with a modern twist – and not in the central London, irritatingly ‘edgy’ way. The twist is in the use of the unexpected ingredients, like coconut with crab, that bring a dish to life.
Children of all ages are welcome at Belmond Le Manoir and a three course menu costs £25 per child. This includes starters such as roasted tomato soup, prawn cocktail or egg mayonnaise and main courses including goujons of sole with tartare sauce, pan-seared market-fresh fish and roasted free-range chicken breast. We also need to talk about the desert menu… The very best ice-cream (which they can to choose from a selection of flavours of), cakes and chocolates are reserved for the children, I’d say – although, complaining about my Millionaire’s Shortbread-style desert, I most certainly am not… Organic homemade purees can be made are to order for babies and highchairs provided.
There is a hotel at Le Manoir, too, and if you do stay over extra beds are available from £65 per night and cots are no extra charge.
Children between the ages of 7 and 16 can also attend La Petite Ecole at The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Belmond Le Manoir. (Classes are divided into groups of 7-9 years, 10 – 12 years, and 13- 16 years). Kids can learn about the importance of fresh produce, healthy food, and how to prepare it. Visit the website for more information, or to book.
For more information and to book, visit Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons online.