Is it heresy to say that I didn’t enjoy my meal at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons? Have I become totally blasé about eating multi-starred restaurants?
Don’t get me wrong. The company (old friends) was wonderful. The setting is beautiful. The service was attentive.
Two things bothered me. The first was not entirely in the restaurant’s control. A celebrity TV chef sat at the table next to ours. He spent the whole meal chatting up the staff perhaps with a view to recruiting them. He took calls on his mobile phone at the table and disturbed the whole dining room.
Okay, so the famous can get away with being bores. But when the guests at another table complained to the staff their pleas fell on deaf ears so they got up and left. Then the staff went over to Mr. TV and apologised profusely. It seems to me that the staff got their priorities wrong. In any case it could have been better handled. Just because we didn’t complain doesn’t mean that it didn’t bother us too. I guess the preferential treatment tweaked my noodles.
The other thing – more important by far – was the food itself. There were moments of brilliance: my Granny Smith sorbet which came with a soufflé, for example. It had a deep apple flavour and complemented the sorbet nicely. But on the whole, the food didn’t live up to the setting or the promise.
Let me give you two examples. I had a mushroom risotto to start. I could have made it (and I would have served it piping hot, not slightly glazed as if it had sat under heat lamps in the kitchen for five minutes). The two-star difference: truffle shavings. That’s buying a cheap present and wrapping it in expensive paper.
Similarly, my wife had sea bass with langoustine-flavoured sauce. Nicely cooked and well-presented but a fish. The two-star difference: a scrawny langoustine on top. More trouble to eat than its worth but fancy-looking. It’s good food with frills and furbelows. Great food doesn’t need them.
There were also a couple of hiccups in the service. Three trays of tasty little appetisers appeared while we were in the lounge before the meal. But there were four of us and one tray was non-dairy and one was vegetarian so two non-fussy eaters were forced to share the remaining tray. It sounds trivial but you don’t want to spend the first ten minutes of your meal negotiating with your guests: “no, you have the foie gras.” “No, YOU have it, I’ll have the tuna tartare.” The other hiccup: my wife asked for a selection of sorbets but received a selection of ice creams. Not what she wanted but very tasty (I know, I sampled them all!).
To their credit, sorbet/ice cream confusion aside, the restaurant was very attentive to our various food hang ups. They produced a complete complete vegetarian menu for me – a delightful surprise – and dairy-free options for my friend’s wife.
Am I quibbling over triffles and soufflés? Perhaps. Probably. But for £150 a head and two Michelin stars, I think it is reasonable to expect service that makes no distinction for fame and food that dazzles.
Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford, UK
Opening hours: Lunch: 12.15 pm to 2.30 pm, Dinner: 7.15 pm to 9.30 pm, Monday-Sunday
Meal for two: £250 with wine
Michelin Rating: **
Oxford Kidlington, EGTK, 15 miles by car
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