Jane and Phil Harris visit the luxurious Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, celebrated as one of the country’s finest gastronomic hotel experiences
It’s a special occasion, my birthday, and I couldn’t have wanted anything more than a trip to Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
As we drive into the sleepy village of Great Milton, Oxfordshire, and turn into Le Manoir’s drive, we know we’ve arrived. At reception we are met by a warm, friendly team, roaring fires and soft décor, and our journey begins.
Created by renowned chef Raymond Blanc OBE, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, ‘Four Seasons Manor’, aka Le Manoir, part of the Belmond brand within Orient-Express Hotels Ltd, is set within an historic manor house.
The accommodation is luxurious and creative with each room focusing on different themes inspired by France and Raymond’s travels.
These include the Superior Rooms; ‘Bluebell’ – featuring wall-to-ceiling Toile de Jouy wallpaper with matching soft linen, window seats overlooking the courtyard and a sense of classic France, and ‘Passion Flower’ – with a private terrace and dark wood antique furniture. Deluxe rooms include ‘Amethyst’, decorated with shades of violet, mirrored bedside tables and a closet painted with a bird scene.
Deluxe Courtyard Rooms include ‘Crystal’ – a light, contemporary room with modern art on the walls and bright scatter cushions and ‘Snow Queen’ – enchanting with rich, purple silk over printed with silver snowflakes, a four poster bed and mirrored furniture. Junior Suites include ‘The Dovecote’ – a romantic suite housed in an original 15th-century dovecote with claw foot bathtub and original beams.
Most of the suites are set in the luxurious gardens including our ‘Opium’ suite, inspired by Raymond’s trip to the Orient, with a walled garden and oriental pond. It features culture and art displays around the luscious walls with an opium den-styled curtained bedroom with oriental lattice work.
The hotel was awarded two Michelin stars in 1985 after being open for just a year and incredibly Belmond Le Manoir has held them ever since. It’s surrounded by lawns, flower borders and a two-acre kitchen garden producing 90 types of vegetables and 70 varieties of herbs, providing the kitchen and the acclaimed Raymond Blanc Cookery School with super fresh, best quality and organic produce. A garden and kitchen tour is a must and can be booked in advance. We toured the secrets of the gardens and delighted in the statues and ponds, all Raymond’s designs. He’s proved to be an inspiration and talent not just in the kitchen.
The Raymond Blanc Cookery School allows students to embrace their passion for food and learn how to create delightful cuisine in a relaxed and supportive environment with courses appropriate for all levels of experience, from half day introductions and dinner party master classes to children’s courses. Private tuition is also available, tailored to your own needs and interests, starting from £450; advanced booking is essential. For Michelin star wannabes it’s a chance to work with the very best.
Dinner reservation made, I’m thrilled to be spending my birthday enjoying the best that fine dining can offer. Our evening begins with champagne in the lounge, a warm welcome with personal photos of Raymond and his past guests of celebrities and royalty, then dinner in Raymond’s restaurant overlooking the gardens. Our table is set with a gift of flowers from the hotel florist, a nice touch to start our gastronomic journey. Our choices tonight are all down to the chef’s recommendations. The anticipation builds as we are served mushroom and truffle risotto, salmon and seabass and the sommelier produces wines from all over the world.
Dining at the Belmond is unforgettable; the possibilities are endless. Some dishes taken from the sample menus feature the ‘Les Saveurs de Hiver’, a five course menu of intriguing flavours, £79 per guest, including maquereau grillé, pomme, soja, miel, gingembre et citron vert – Cornish mackerel, compressed apples, soy, honey, ginger and lime and cullen skink, beignet d’èglefinfumé – cullen skink and smoked haddock beignet. The á la carte menu gives you the opportunity to create your own seasonal culinary experience and there’s plenty more delicious foods to choose from, plus an exquisite wine list to enhance your gastronomic experience. The hotel’s wine cellar is home to around 1,000 different wines from around the world and around 60 per cent are of French provenance. For cheese connoisseurs, the fromage offering is a trip around Europe and beyond, described and presented by passionate cheese-lover Laura.
To celebrate 30 years of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, throughout 2015 Raymond Blanc will welcome back members of his brigade to host a series of Diner des Protégés in the Belmond restaurant. Guests of the evenings will be able to savour the acclaimed chefs’ signature creations during an evening of gastronomic excellence. The food of Belmond Le Manoir will be reflected in each menu, which will include an introductory course from Raymond Blanc, as well as one from Executive Head Chef Gary Jones and Pastry Chef Benoit Blin. Confirmed chefs taking part are Michael Caines MBE: 18th March, Ollie Dabbous: 15th April, Martin Burge: 27th May, Paul Heathcote MBE: 24th June, Adam Simmonds: 15th July, Eric Chavot: 16th September, Bruno Loubet: 21st October and Alan Murchison: 25th November. The evenings will include a champagne Laurent-Perrier reception with canapés and a signature dinner with accompanying wines, coffee and petits fours, from £225pp.
Raymond Blanc officially opened the brand new La Belle Époque Conservatory at the heart of the hotel and restaurant in May 2014. La Belle Époque Conservatory adds a fourth distinct area to the hotel’s private dining facilities, a bright and open space for guests to relax and enjoy. It’s a great post-dinner lounge and a perfect place for a wedding reception offering guests both a bar and terrace area. The conservatory is a beautiful addition to the hotel and restaurant and can host a maximum of 50 guests. Room hire starts from £750 and a four course menu from £95pp.
Weddings at the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons are beautiful from small and intimate to booking exclusive use of the hotel from £57,500. It’ll most certainly make an unforgettable day for you, your loved one and guests.
There is so much magic at Le Manoir, one evening in Raymond’s beautiful hotel just isn’t enough.
Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford
Telephone: +44 (0)1844 278 881
For reservations and further information visit www.manoir.com