Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, Garsington Opera, Chez Gerard

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, Garsington Opera, Chez Gerard

Article excerpt

GOOD food and good music go well together, though not necessarily if consumed at the same time. In Oxfordshire an almost ideal combination of the two pleasures is to be had by dining at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons at Great Milton, staying the night in this lap of luxury and, the following day, after a substantial breakfast, wandering around the pretty Oxfordshire countryside. After the short drive from Great Milton, further along the same road, take tea in Garsington's glorious gardens and hear the first half of the opera, then dine, complete the opera and return home, sated with the civilised life. This was my good fortune recently when accompanied by the American gastronome, Laura Gee, I dined at Le Manoir and the following night saw the first-ever British production, at Garsington, of Richard Strauss's penultimate opera, Die Liebe der Danae. The expedition was a winner all the way.

At Le Manoir for dinner we decided to take the Menu Gourmand which at 72 a head for six courses, plus amuse-gueules and petits-fours, though not including coffee, represents fair value set against the a la carte prices of about 30 for starters, 35 for main courses, plus 16 for desserts. We began with some delicately soused and poached mackerel on thin slices of potato as an appetiser, followed by a delicious confit of wild salmon with flakes of salt cod, exquisite cucumber salad and fresh horseradish sauce: an admirable dish whose every component could be tasted individually. Next came a light and totally enjoyable medley of asparagus spears and young morels in a fine mousseline, and then roasted scallops with fennel fondue and red wine jus - first-class. After this we moved on to meat, with the menu's choice - roast milk-fed veal in its own jus with a fricasse of girolles -- given to me, while Laura was served, for comparison purposes, the a la carte's roasted best end of new season Somerset lamb with fried sweetbreads on sweet garlic puree. In our joint view this was the better dish, the lamb having more flavour than the slightly dull veal with its less exciting accompaniment. We declined the offer of cheese, to be taken as an extra course at a 9 supplement, and moved on to the two desserts, the first an impeccable vanilla-flavoured creme brulee, the next a sublime raspberry souffle accompanied by a gloriously smooth and intense raspberry sorbet. Good coffee and petitsfours wound up this memorable meal with which we drank first an excellent white Pernand Vergelesses, followed by a sound Rothschild-grown '95 Medoc, Chateau Clarke. After a comfortable night and well-prepared breakfast, we pottered through the countryside before going on to Garsington, taking a fine sandwich lunch -- superb fillings, plus organic lettuce and good bitter - at ex-royal chef Chris Barber's new venture, The Goose at Britwell Salome, where he appears to be thriving.

It is also worth bearing in mind for the autumn that music may be heard in Great Milton itself, at the beautiful St Mary's Church next door to the Manoir, where concerts are followed by a five-course dinner accompanied by appropriate wines, for L215 or L230 per head, all-inclusive. The first concert on Friday, 1 October will be given by the top young violinist, Tasmin Little, and crack pianist Wayne Marshall. …

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