It took a Frenchman to lead the revolution in British cuisine and an Indian company to show us how to build our own iconic sports cars, and they have both exceeded all expectations.
Since The Vintage Magazine first appeared in 2012, we have gained a reputation for combining hotels with car reviews, and we have had some pretty impressive ‘combinations’, but our latest must rate as one of the best yet.
One sunny day in July we were fortunate to travel to the internationally renowned Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in a very pretty, head turning, French racing blue Jaguar XKR ‘S’ cabriolet. Expectations were high!
Le Manoir is set in rural Oxfordshire, so a SatNav was most welcome to help us find the hotel which is located on the edge of the impossibly pretty village of Great Milton. On arriving at Le Manoir’s car park we were amused to see not only one but three hardtop models of the Jaguar XK , so we knew we had chosen the right ‘partner’ for this review but smugly thought that ‘our’ model was much prettier.
Driving this Jaguar XKR ‘S’ cabriolet to Le Manoir was a rare pleasure, not just because of the admiring glances it attracted, but because its a joy to drive. It’s impossible to start the XKR quietly, because it springs to life with an impressive roar, and then you become ‘hooked’ on that sound, so much so that it is virtually impossible to drive it sedately and the temptation is always to open up the throttle, just to hear that sweet sound.
One little criticism is that in spite of the firm yet not too hard ride and road holding it can be quite lively on uneven road surfaces, and the tail has a tendency to flick out on corners, probably because the steering is too light for the power being generated.
The exterior has been beautifully styled, and the canvas hood can be dropped and stowed in 18 seconds, but the space required for this means that the convertible model lacks almost any space inside the car, but has a passably sized boot, into which you could just about fit a small set of golf clubs, but precious little else. Thankfully our trip to Le Manoir just required a well packed overnight bag.
But to be fair this is not a grand tourer, it is an aggressive, impatient driving machine and sounds like a British Sports car should sound and is an all-round fabulous car.
The Jaguar XKR-S is the most powerful production sports car that Jaguar has ever produced, with a 5.0 litre V8 Supercharged 550 engine that can achieve 0-60mph in just 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 186mph where permitted. Yours for a mere £104,490.
Our first impression of Le Manoir was a stunning lavender lined path in full bloom leading us to this epitome of an English Country Manor House. There was no formal booking in but a warm welcome from reception as if we were regular visitors.
We were shown to our room, a junior suite named Vettriano after possibly the most successful commercial artist of the past 50 years. The room is decorated with two of his original pieces of art and the deep red walls, Venetian masks and seductive bodice displayed on a mannequin created a dramatic effect. The same dramatic decoration continued into the stunning dark marbled bathroom. The room had all the latest in-house entertainment systems and little finishing touches like a fine carafe of Madeira, a glass of which was imbibed whilst relaxing in the bath watching the television – as an aside this is the first bathroom television that we have found to actually work, unlike in a few other establishments we have stayed.
A lot of the credit for Jack Vettriano’s success must go to Tom Hewlett of The Portland Gallery in London, an old friend of mine, who represented him from 1993 to 2007.
Jack Vettriano’s work The Singing Butler was rejected in 1992 by the Royal Academy for its Summer Exhibition but the public thought differently which is often the case, and have embraced his work. Sales of prints of this work have made it the best selling image in Britain to this day, with the original canvas selling for £744,500 at auction in April 2004.
However back to Le Manoir, the other rooms each have an interesting theme and are universally tastefully designed and beautifully equipped, making this hotel so much more than a Two Michelin star restaurant with some rooms, but very much a five star act in hotel terms. Le Manoir is a testament to Raymond Blanc’s permanent search for perfection.
Raymond Blanc’s background was not necessarily the common route to becoming one of the greatest restaurateurs and hoteliers in Britain. Obviously he is French but it was his sisters who were nurtured in the kitchen by Maman Blanc whilst he and his two brothers were taught to work in the kitchen garden. These skills were to be influential in his plan for the magnificent kitchen gardens at Le Manoir.
Raymond started is formal training as a waiter and it was during this training at the Michelin starred Le Palais de la Bière in Besançon, in 1972 that he was fired for upsetting the head chef – he had the temerity to offer him advice on how to cook! Fortunately for him, the manager knew of a job in England.
He arrived on our shores with little English and went to work at The Rose Revived in Newbridge, Oxfordshire, eventually marrying the owner’s daughter, Jenny and they had two sons together. He also worked under chef patron André Chavagnon, who had opened a French restaurant, La Sorbonne, in Oxford High Street.
He and Jenny finally struck out on their own in 1977 by mortgaging their home and with backing from eighteen other people, they opened Les Quats Saisons in a row of modern shops between a lingerie shop and Oxfam in Summertown Oxford and in spite of its unglamorous setting, it became an overnight success . Awards followed – Egon Ronay Guide, Restaurant of the Year“, two Michelin stars and a host of other distinctions, and it and Raymond Blanc’s reputation spread far and wide.
When the time came to move on he had in mind a small house in the country but he fell in love with Great Milton Manor, set in 30 acres. With the help of a few friends and backers like Sir David Napley, the distinguished solicitor who defended the rich and the famous, he purchased the Manor House in 1983 and transformed it into the magnificent Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
The restaurant swiftly earned two Michelin Stars which it has held now for a staggering 29 years. This is a testament to Raymond Blanc’s passion for seasonal, organic produce, and when it comes to sourcing food for his restaurant, he makes sure to know everything about its provenance. Rarely can a chef tell you exactly where the milk on your breakfast cereal came from.
Although the hotel and service is of the highest standard one might be forgiven for assuming that with luxury comes waste but this is not the case at Le Manoir. Their initiatives are too numerous to list here but they are comprehensive from banana leaf wallpaper in the bedrooms to, a first for us, the sensible idea of providing a small soap bag so that guests can take home those small soaps which otherwise would be just thrown away! In the kitchens, coffee grounds are recycled along with wine boxes cut up for kindling, all food is responsibly sourced from local farmers and suppliers where possible and of course vegetables and fruit from the quite magnificent kitchen gardens which are not just practical but a thing of beauty in their own right.
The walled gardens supply the restaurant with the bulk of its vegetables and fruit and are looked after by a team of enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardeners who have cultivated herb beds in which 70 traditional and exotic varieties thrive.
A two-acre vegetable garden produces over 90 types of vegetables, and a mushroom garden sprouts around 20 edible species, and an orchard brings in beautiful apples, pears and quinces.
So having slept in the most sumptuous bedroom, eaten food to delight the palate, visited the gardens and spoken to the ever patient gardeners who are keen to share their expertise and tips with you although I am sure they have had to answer the same questions over and over again without showing a glimpse of annoyance at being interrupted, what else to do? – well there is always the Cookery School which they opened in 1991 to hone your culinary skills.
Whilst Le Manoir was increasing its reputation Raymond Blanc was keen to spread his passion for fine food and service. Le Petit Blanc in Oxford was opened in 1996 with the express aim of bringing the French philosophy of “good food being central to good living” to a wider audience. His desire was to create and serve food that could be enjoyed by everyone – “from the time-conscious business person to those looking for a welcoming family restaurant. Le Petit Blanc was the first in this small chain of restaurants which became known as Brasserie Blanc.
Unfortunately it has not all been a bed of roses. Raymond suffered two mini strokes at the young age of 42 through the stresses of overwork and he nearly lost his restaurant chain when he and his wife Jenny divorced in 2003 but you can’t keep a good chef down and the present state of Le Manoir is testament to that.
To quote Raymond Blanc OBE, ” Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is the fulfilment of a personal vision, a dream that one day I would create a hotel and restaurant in harmony where my guests would find perfection in food, comfort, service and welcome.”
What can one add to that? We think unquestionably he has fulfilled his vision.
A visit to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is not cheap which is probably an understatement but rarely can one say with hand on heart that it is worth every penny and an experience that has to be added to The Bucket List of life.
The Raymond Blanc Festival of Music 2014
Now in its 23rd year, The Raymond Blanc Festival of Music is well established, showcasing many internationally acclaimed artists from the worlds of opera, classical music and jazz. It is a unique gastronomic and musical extravaganza.
An event that promises to be very special is a Music Evening which The Vintage Magazine would like to recommend to be held over a three day period from 2nd October to 4th October 2014. Please see below the press release from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons:- “I am delighted that you are sharing this wonderful experience with me. For 2014, each of our performers combines their remarkable talent with elegance and grace. I have great pleasure in introducing you to Russell Watson, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and Tasmin Little.
I am honoured that they will perform for us in the intimate setting of our neighbouring 12th Century St Mary’s Church. For such a prestigious occasion, you will be welcomed with a Champagne Laurent-Perrier reception, served with the most delicate canapés. After the performances, I have created a wonderful dinner for you to savour with some of my favourite wines, I hope you enjoy the evening.” Raymond Blanc OBE
6.45pm:- Reception with Champagne Laurent-Perrier and canapés at Belmond Le Manoir
7.30pm:- Torch lit walk to St Mary’s Church for the evening’s concert performance
9.15pm:- Return for a celebration dinner, created by Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones for the occasion, with selected wines from the extensive cellar
Thursday 2nd October – Russell Watson
Back by popular demand, Russell will adorn our beloved stage to open this year’s festival. Salford tenor Russell Watson never imagined he’d someday be one of the world’s greatest classical singers. Yet to date there have been ten albums, each one winning more praise than the one before. His first, ‘The Voice’, went to No. 1 in the US and the UK classical charts and won two Classical Brit awards.
SOUPE DE CRESSON ET POMMES DE TERRE, NOIX DE ST-JACQUES, LARDONS FUMÉS – Watercress and potato soup, seared scallop,smoky bacon
SALADE DE HOMARD, SALICORNE ET POIREAUX – Salad of Cornish lobster, samphire and baby leeks
RISOTTO DE CHAMPIGNONS SAUVAGES, CRÈME DE TRUFFES – Risotto of wild mushrooms, truffle cream
MAGRET DE CANARD RÔTI, CLÉMENTINE ET GINGEMBRE, SAUCE AU DE THÉ JASMIN – Roasted “Goosnargh” duck breast,clementine, ginger, jasmine tea sauce
UN THÈME SUR UNE SAVEUR: LA POMME – A theme on one flavour: apple
CAFÉ PUR ARABICA, PETITS FOURS ET CHOCOLATS DU MANOIR
Friday 3rd October – Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Join us for an extraordinary opportunity to meet Dame Kiri in person. When she was six years old, Kiri stood on a chair and sang into the microphone of a provincial radio station. Twenty years later, international audiences were standing up from their chairs and giving ovations to one of the most beautiful soprano voices on the world music scene. Besides conquering opera houses and concert halls on every continent, her prodigious recording output includes Christmas music; classic and folk songs; oratorio; concerts with the world’s principal orchestras, seventeen major operas and music theatre
SOUPE À L’OIGNON, “WELSH RAREBIT” – French onion soup, Welsh rarebit
MAQUEREAU, POMMES, SOJA, MIEL, GINGEMBRE – Cornish mackerel, compressed apples, soy, honey, ginger
OEUF DE POULE, PURÉE DE CRESSON, NOISETTES GRILLÉES, JAMBON DE JABUGO – Hen’s egg, watercress purée, toasted hazelnut, Jabugo ham
FILET DE BOEUF ANGUS, CÉLERI-RAVE, SAUCE BORDELAISE – Fillet of Angus beef, braised Jacobs ladder, celeriac, sauce Bordelaise
AMANDINE DE POIRE DU MOMENT, CROUSTILLANT CARAMEL ET SON SORBET
Seasonal pear Almondine, caramel croustillant and its own sorbet
CAFÉ PUR ARABICA, PETITS FOURS ET CHOCOLATS DU MANOIR
Saturday 4th October – Tasmin Little
We are thrilled to welcome back Tasmin Little. She has firmly established herself as one of today’s leading international violinists. Tasmin has performed on every continent in some of the most prestigious venues of the world, including Carnegie Hall, Musikverein, Concertgebouw, Philharmonie, Vienna Konzerthaus, South Bank Centre, Barbican Centre, Royal Albert Hall, Lincoln Center and Suntory Hall. In June 2012, Tasmin was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday Honours List, for Services to Music.
CONSOMMÉ DE GIBIER ET CHAMPIGNONS SAUVAGES – Consommé of winter game and wild mushrooms
SALADE DE CRABE, SAUMON FUMÉ ET CAVIAR – Salad of Devonshire crab, smoked salmon and caviar
RAVIOLE DE COURGE MUSQUÉE, FROMAGE PERSILLÉ ET AMANDES GRILLÉES –
Ravioli of butternut squash, blue cheese and toasted almonds
PINTADE RÔTIE, CÈPE, LARDONS ET GNOCCHI
Pot roasted guinea fowl, cep, bacon and potato gnocchi
“OUR MILLIONAIRE SHORTBREAD”
Soft toffee with bitter chocolate on a crumbly shortbread, salted butter ice-cream
CAFÉ PUR ARABICA, PETITS FOURS ET CHOCOLATS DU MANOIR
Tickets include a Champagne Laurent-Perrier reception, the evening’s concert performance at St Mary’s Church, followed by a celebration dinner at Belmond Le Manoir, with accompanying wines.
All reservations are taken on a strictly first come, first served basis.
Dress is black tie.
You will be seated at tables with fellow guests in either La Belle Époque Dining Room or the restaurant.
Thursday 2nd October
£425.00 per person non-residents or £400.00 residents
Friday 3rd October
£400.00 per person non-residents or £375.00 residents
Saturday 4th October
£395.00 per person non-residents or £370.00 residents
For those of you choosing to stay with us overnight, you will receive £25 off the ticket price for the evening.
Belmond Le Manoir has a choice of 32 elegant bedrooms and suites offering the highest standard of comfort and luxury, each with their own spark of individuality.
For further details and reservations, please telephone on 01844 277484 or e-mail email@example.com
All menus are subject to change without prior notice.