A short break in middle England

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Last week we went to stay near Buckingham wth friends Anna and John to celebrate Moira's birthday. She had long wanted to have  lunch at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, which is near Oxford,  just 30 minutes from Buckingham. It is a world famous restaurant which has built a reputation for sourcing the best produce avaiable including most ot its own vegetables and fruit from its own 2 acre garden ajloining the restaurant. www.belmond.com/le-manoir-aux-quat-saisons-oxfordhire/

The main house includes a restaurant, reception area and lounge and the orangery is also a restaurant where we dined



Moira and Anna strolling in the the vegetable garden



We went expecting the highest standards which were more than satsified by the warmth of the welcome we received, the relaxed atmosphere. the attentive. impeccable service and of course the food and wine,  the like of which we have never experienced. We took the 5 course tasting menu with wines selected to complement each course. Exch plate of food and wine was explained and when we came to the cheese course all of which were sourced direct from the producers in France and the UK it was pure theatre! The overall impression was of love on a plate and in a glass and an exquisite blending of flavours, textures, aromas and colours. In addition what struck us was how simple and fresh each dish was beling the skill and care that went into each dish.


A selection of some of the dishes we enjoyed, all plates immaculately composed. It was interesting how frequently the humble radish in various forms turned up in the dishes.





The master of cheese gives a masterclass! He absolutely loved hs job.



And a plateful of his finest selections to enjoy with celery figs and grapes. When asked what the French enjoyed with cheese he said, rather tersely in true Gallic fashion - BREAD!!



Coffees and petit fours were taken on the lawn in much better weather than had been forecast 


After nearly 4 hours at the table we took a tour of the gardens (almost as much of a highlight for me as what we had experienced in the restaurant!)



 In the polytunnels and greenhouses a considerable range of micro greens were being grown



Some superb statues of cranes in the Japanese Garden perfectly captured the spirit of the place



And this brilliant design using more statuary, created an otherworldly effect



Needless to say Moira had a wonderful day and had a signed copy of  cookbook by Raymond Blanc and birthday card to take home with her as momentos of a special day.


I can't wait for Moira to get started on these recipes!!



But all too soon it was time to go home as Moira, Anna and John made their way to the waiting executive car. Well why not it was a day of unashamed luxury.



After Monday's stellar experience it was going to be difficult to match it but we chose to keep the Manor theme going when we visited Coton Manor in nearby Northamptonshire and what a great decision it turned out to be. The house and gardens have been in the same family for almost 100 years and have that comfortable feeling that comes with age and the benefit of continuity, each generation building onto what the earlier ones had created. The house in golden yellow stone and the 10 acres of immaculate and supremely planted gardens are as good as any I have ever seen anywhere and that is saying something! when you think of all the gardens we have visited over the last 40 years or so. www.cotonmanor.co.uk

Coton Manor at the start of the recommended route around the gardens



The small lake which is home to a wide assortment of wildfowl



The summerhouse and terrace and some of the 100 large pots of tender plants used to great effect all over this part of the gardens. All of them absolutely immaculate with not a leaf or flower past its best 



Quite an unexpected sight to see this pair of flamingoes grazing on the lawns untroubled by all the visitors. This garden is so perfect that even the border plants colour coordiate with the birds!!



And from the exotic to this simple old stone urn with a blend of carefully chosen semprevivums. This is typical of the sort of juxtapositions that take place all over the gardens and which makes them so interesting.






Lovely lunch, using local ingredients, an unbeleivably comprehensive nursery packed with many of the plants seen in the gardens and a long chat with the owners who clearly love the place and still are very hands on in so many ways. It is a long jourmey but one I am certain we will make again soon! We spent 5 hours there which just flew by,

Part of the well stocked nursery sitting comfortably amongst old brick built outhouses



And so to our last day - how to finish it off in style -why not another Manor? This time something entirely different: the huge edifice and grounds of Waddesdon Manor  near Aylesbury in Bucks. Still owned by the Rothschild family of banking and the wine trade fame, and philanthropists around the world, but leased to The National Trust. A huge visitor atrraction it has its own bus service to ferry visitors from the endless car parks to the Manor and grounds.  www.waddesdon.org.uk





Look at the scale of just part of the manor with Moira trying to stand tall!!






Carpet bedding with 11.000 succulent plants designed by computer and nursery grown  as a carpet to be laid out on a pre-prepared bed. Here the bed is being piched out to keep it dwarf.



Built in the style of a French chateau the craftsmanship defies belief and is just so unbelievably ornate. This continues into the formal gardens which are all in a style that perfectly matches the Manor. Not my style but undeniably impressive and exhibiting the highest level of horticultural skills to keep the displays in such a pristine condition. Visitors from all over the world including an American gentleman from Boston with whom I shared some good conversation and some very elegant Chinese.



Further away from the house is this 8 feet robin manufactured on a stout metal frame using succulents to provide the colours. It takes 3 gardeners over a week to complete it.


 Then onto real birds: there is a large number of aviaries containing a wide variety of birds from all over the world in superb condition, some of which are being bred to restore to the wild where native populations are being threatened. A lot of the work is being funded by the Rothschild Foundation



One of the aviary residents is this striking bird about the size of a blackbird whos name iI did not record . However it had the sweetest, loudest and longest lasting song



This one I did record as it is a quite rare south Asian bird called the "Rothshilds Mynah" and is one of those that the Foundation is hoping to return to the wild .





And just as we were leaving we came across this wonderful creation, one of a pair, formed from Chateau Lafitte bottles from the famous  Rothschild wine, designed by a Portugese artist, Each of the bottles has its own LED light  for night time events at the Manor. And the elegant Chinese lady was dressed perfectly to compement the sculpture


Only a short break but so many great memories to bring home with us and to sustain us as we returned to our daily routines at Cilgwyn.