Cooking up a summer storm at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
The genius of Raymond Blanc’s famous Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – and there are many instances of genius, this just being my favourite one – is that it’s not stuffed full of rich people treating it like their local. The prices are steep, don’t get me wrong, but despite all the TV shows, despite all the press clippings (maybe even because of them), instead of it only attracting the super-wealthy, it’s packed with normal people (read: people like you and me) celebrating.
From couples toasting engagements over a few glasses of Pimm’s out on the croquet lawn, to noisy families wolfing down birthday dinners in the conservatory (children being positively encouraged rather than sniffily declined here), everyone’s having a fabulous time and looks genuinely over the moon to be there.
There’s been even more reason to grin lately with the addition of a number of beyond gorgeous suites, designed by Raymond and some of his friends (he refuses to employ designers, insisting they deliver rooms without soul). For the celebration to end all celebrations, I’d recommend (and not just because it’s apparently Raymond’s favourite) Blanc de Blanc – an all-white haven with stunning chandeliers, four-poster bed and the world’s biggest bathroom.
The celebrations, however, aren’t reserved solely for those dining or sleeping at Le Manoir, there’s also plenty of good cheer on the famous cookery courses – the reason I was there soaking up the chic interior design and eating all Raymond’s food in the first place.
On our ‘summer dinner party’ course there were two birthdays, one retirement, one 25th wedding anniversary and me, the ‘I’m 30 and should really know how to cook something other than pasta’ member of the party. And, thankfully, given a huge gulf in knowledge between all of us (you can probably guess which end of the spectrum I sat upon) everyone got on famously.
During our 9-to-5 day, we got through six – count ’em – different dishes, with plenty of time for tasting and a leisurely lunch (taking in three of our culinary masterpieces), in-between. Dishes ranged from the relatively simple, think summer vegetable soup, to the extravagant, including an impressive looking fraisier patisserie, which I was so proud of I insisted photographs were taken to commemorate its existence.
All in all, I finished the day feeling rather full and just a little bit pleased with myself. Have I recreated any of the dishes at home? Well, not yet, but give me time. When I’ve finished attempting to turn my bathroom at home into a mini version of Raymond’s Blanc to Blanc, the roast seabass is top of my list.
Details: Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is situation on Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford OX44 7PD. One-day cookery courses start from around £325 per person. For cookery courses with dinner, bed and breakfast included, expect to pay from £1015 for two.