Once upon a long ago, I upped sticks and moved to Mexico City. I happily blended in as well as a 6 foot plus tall pasty faced Englishman can in a city of short and (mostly) dark skinned faces. I embraced the food, the culture, the people, the life and everything in between. But I missed British television. The BBC in particular. But that was no problem. There are several neferarious ways to pick up British broadcasts from around the world.
And so it came to pass that I would sit back of an evening with Mrs P on the sofa and indulge in the latest and greatest programming from the north eastern side of the Atlantic ocean. We enjoyed many shows but we each had our favourites. I would never miss Top Gear. Mrs P, on the other hand, loved The Restaurant, a show featuring the wonderful Raymond Blanc, who is undoubtedly the finest example of Anglo French co-operation since Concorde.
The concept of the show was to provide culinary challenges for a motel;y assortment of cookery mad couples, eliminating the weakest each week until finally only one team was left. And they would win the grand prize – Raymond would open a restaurant with them. Throughout the series, we’d see Raymond at his own HQ, the two Michelin starred Le Manoir. A beautiful little hotel and restaurant in the Oxfordshire countryside. As British as you can get, apart from the cuisine of course. And the French flag waving outside. And the owner, I guess. Although I think we can claim him as one of our own now.
It was ‘the dream’ to one day have dinner at Le Manoir. It seemed so far away back then. Well, technically, it was far away. Thousands of miles. But mileage was just one measure of how far away that little dream was. Truth be told, even when we returned to the UK in 2011, Le Manoir still seemed awfully far away. Still, you dream on nonetheless. What’s life without a goal, a target or a dream? But sometimes you have just got to take what chances do come your way and make the most of them. Now and again you have to live the dream. So on Sunday, Mrs P and I dined at Le Manoir.
To say we ‘dined’ seems a poor choice of word that does a disservice to the experience that was provided at Le Manoir. Upon entry, we were not shown to a table but accompanied to the lounge where a luxurious sofa awaited us, and where we were provided with menus and a slate of hors d’oeuvres. Our orders were not taken. Instead, our food and drinks were ‘organised’. A fancy tequila cocktail for the fancy Mrs P, and a Coke for me. To make a pretense at sophistication, I allowed them to organise my cola with some ice and lemon. Once we had been accompanied to the dining room and seated, our food arrived. The courses were introduced, not served. I smiled and nodded knowingly as each key ingredient was explained. I’ll let you into a secret. I felt quite the imposter at Le Manoir. But they kindly pretended not to notice.
An army of staff attended to every whim of the guests who were present. Their co-ordination was magnificent. There was a man or woman there to cater for every part of the dining experience. Never did you have to put in effort to attract some attention. Indeed, I became convinced that a certain degree of telepathy is a prerequisite for working there. They sense your need before you do, and are in the right place at just the right time. Always available, never intrusive. It was quite remarkable. Yet, never did there appear to be a spare cog in what is a clearly well oiled wheel. The service was as perfect as the surroundings were immaculate.
On to the food. I’d like to impress you with my wide ranging culinary vocabulary to describe the courses. I could wax lyrical about how the intricate flavours titilate the palate, how the flavoursome chicory lingers on the taste buds and how delectable twas the de-constructed rhubarb souffle. But as mentioned previously, I’m not a terribly sophisticated foodie. My description of the seven courses goes as follows: yummy, delish, tasty as heck, even more delish, by gads I could eat two of those, scrumptious and yummilicious. I did once attempt to describe to the waiter my surprise at the change of flavours in the Comte cheese, presented in ‘three stages of maturation’. I think I may have mentioned the word cheddar. I detected him wince a little, so I moved on to Plan B. Only open my mouth if I am inserting more food.
I will, though, offer some thoughts on two of the courses. The main was duck. I am not fond of duck. Mrs P simply doesn’t like duck full stop. But this, of course, was not your ordinary run-of-mill mallard, freshly shot and fetched from the local pond by chef’s golden retriever. This is a choice bird of a special breed from a nearly unpronounceable region, baked to perfection. We both finished our plates without hesitation. Which was just as well, as quite frankly I’d have felt too embarrassed to return a plate with food still on it. I’d have had to discreetly stash it in my pocket. And hope that I wasn’t chased into the local pond by chef’s retriever.
The other course I wished to opine on was the pre-dessert. I was just thoroughly impressed that there is such a thing as a pre-dessert. I think I may have exclaimed, “There’s two puddings!” So uncouth. But it’s tough to hide one’s delight when there are two desserts. Make no mistake though, this is a culinary experience not a voluptuous feast. Each dish is exquisitely presented as a work of art in its own right. Each mouthful has a unique set of textures and flavours that were, to me at least, new and delightful. This is not the sort of establishment that would suit Mr Creosote. He was not, after all, terribly fond of anything wafer thin. But nonetheless, after seven courses, I was not left hungry.
We retired back to the lounge for a post meal coffee and tea before casting a cursory glance at the bill. Staring at it too long would be a little bit…you know. One just slips one’s card in the folder and smiles, no matter how hard you’re crying inside. But truth be told, value is not always had by paying the lowest sum available. And just as our expectations of the experience were wholly met, so was the cost.
The day was finished with a walk around the gardens. There’s a map to guide you around the gardens. It’s that sort of place. It has gardens rather than a garden. It’s a fine walk to take in the evening. I imagine, come summer, it will be even more so. A fine finish to a fine day. Magnifique. So, bravo Mr Blanc and everyone at Le Manoir, a place where dreams come true.