DINING OWL AWARDS: 4th – ambience; 2nd – family occasions
When I visited: June 2015
Team: Raymond Blanc (Chef Patron), Arnaud Gobuet (Head Sommelier)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 2 stars
What to wear: Men – shirt and jacket and nice trousers and shoes (must wear a jacket); women – a smart dress and/or smart trousers and a top
Ambience: Luxurious, English country garden, vegetable gardens, extensive grounds, croquet outside
Course of the meal: Free-range hen’s egg, watercress puree, Jabugo ham, toasted hazelnuts
If I could change one thing: More standout courses
Le Manoir has a bit of scarcity power in that it is quite isolated among fine dining venues in Oxfordshire, and boasts extensive vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers and a lake you can wander around after your meal. It is also very big in terms of its seating area, compared to other 2-star restaurants, another advantage it has by virtue of not being in London. I went with a group and we had champagne and canapés (salmon and yuzu, potato ball, avocado crisp, honey, goat’s cheese and beetroot) in the lounge before entering the conservatory-style dining room, then after our meal we moved outside for tea and petits fours.
My overwhelming impression was very positive but I think the lunch tasting menu (7 courses) lacks a standout course, although the vegetarian tasting menu which one of my fellow diners had looked stunning, so it may be that this restaurant is actually better at vegetarian courses.
The lunch tasting menu begin with a salade du garden: Le Manoir’s garden salad with leaves and herbs. The vegetarians got chliled gazpacho with cherry tomato and olives to begin. We then moved onto a warm confit of Cornish cod with chorizo and paprika (while the vegetarians had a delicious-looking terrine of garden beetroot, horseradish sorbet).
Perhaps my favourite course came next: free-range hen’s egg with watercress puree, Jabugo ham and toasted hazelnuts. The vegetarians got agnolotti of goat’s cheese, manuka honey and olives at this point, which also looked amazing. We then had new season spring lamb with garlic, broad beans and rosemary jus, while the vegetarian diners had a risotto of spring vegetables, asparagus, tomato essence and chervil cream.
Our ‘between’ course was one cheese (from Raymond Blanc’s native region of Le Comte) served in three stages of maturation with a complimentary glass of Vin Jaune 2007 Domaine Daniel Dugois (sherry). I don’t normally like cheeses (especially in advanced stages of maturation!) or sherry but this course was actually very pleasant. The vegetarian diners had the garden salad that we started with at this point, with balsamic dressing.
We all came together for the two desserts: coffee and chocolate Fraicheur followed by strawberry Baba with mascarpone and Szechuan pepper. We finished off in the garden with green and jasmine tea from China with petits fours: a lemon macaron, chocolate fudge, almond cake with almond mousse filling and gold leaf, and raspberry jelly … mmm.
If you fancy a non-London, vegetable-heavy posh lunch, go for Le Manoir and give yourself time to enjoy the gardens afterwards.