Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons featured recently in the semi-finals of British Masterchef: The Professionals. It was once our “go to” place for celebratory occasions, particularly at lunch-time which, as at many fine dining establishments, is particularly good value. But the sight of those ivy clad walls and wonderful gardens didn’t evoke memories of when we’d stayed or dined there on our own. No, it evoked memories of the first time we ate there en famille for Fathers’ Day.
We’re going back over 30 years, not long after it first opened in 1984, when the executive chef was none other than Raymond Blanc. My parents had recently spent a long week-end there and, consequently, suggested we meet up to celebrate Fathers’ Day where we could enjoy their set Sunday luncheon. My beloved and I were the first to arrive and over a plateful of nibbles, gave the extensive menu the once over. My menu didn’t have any prices, but my beloved’s did and the colour had drained from his face. Typically, in those days, we’d pay around £150.00 for Sunday lunch for seven of us. The set Sunday luncheon was £32.95 a head, or £80.00 over our budget without a drop of alcohol!
The rest of the family arrived and everyone, except my youngest sister and I, plumped for the set menu. She wanted something simpler, opting for steak and chips – she’s never been a respecter of Michelin stars! I was going through my vegetarian phase and had fresh asparagus, followed by stuffed courgette flowers, finished with a truly sublime coffee mouse in an edible chocolate cup and saucer. We sat at a large table in the window and took our time, enjoying every wondrous mouthful. One of the first tables to be seated, we were among the last to leave. Even then we walked around the hotel’s magnificent gardens, not wanting to put an end to such a splendid day.
I’ve long-held that pre-dinner (or lunch) nibbles and petit fours say so much about the calibre of a restaurant and these were top-notch. The meal had been delicious. I doubt the kitchen had needed to wash our plates, they looked as if they’d been licked clean. We’d opted for the cheapest wine on the menu, a white Sancerre, but the bill still came in at a whopping, budget busting £400. My mother was so cross with my Father for suggesting such an expensive venue (for us), while my beloved and my brother-in-law were praying that they had enough credit on their cards to pay the bill. In the end, Mother settled the bill with a flourish, while my beloved and brother-in-law heaved a sigh of relief.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. When she got home, Mother demanded Father reimburse her! Tough when you have to pay for your own present but I know he didn’t mind. We’d had a truly enjoyable day out, all together, which had been the real point of the exercise. That was the first of many meals and visits to Le Manoir, a truly relaxing place to stay. It’s about time we revisited!
All images courtesy of the hotel website