Heading off the A40 from Oxford, Le Manoir is easy to find. And while the ever busy M40 express route to London gushes exhaust fumes only a mile or so down the road, Le Manoir itself basks in the best of Oxfordshire’s countryside with the noise outside the manor house predominantly blackbirds nesting in the treetops throughout the grounds of the estate. On entering the main car park entrance (there is another reception/valet parking entrance 20 yards further down the road), we were both struck by a more expansive Le Manoir than we had imagined ahead of arrival, and an equally expansive car park, pretty much full despite being the low season of a fading January.
Before you can even survey potential parking spaces however, Le Manoir staff are on hand to look after you, your parking needs and your bags marking the start of when it's time for you to let go and let Le Manoir take the strain. It's about 100 yards from the car park to the reception, your first taste of Le Manoir grounds and your first sighting of the grand old house, but by the time you open the front door to the manor, they're already expecting you and great you by name.
The accommodation meanwhile seeks to deliver on a par with the service and it does. We've opted for a suite that we learn is part of the old stables, separate to the main house: it’s beautiful, offering double height windows that afford an oh so relaxing view onto a majestic chestnut tree in the central courtyard outside. At one end of the room, a rustic wooden table for in room dining and at the other, a real fire place holds court, something we'll get full use of this time of year, a compensation for not seeing the magnificent gardens in full bloom. The room seems to have everything else too, from the old (wooden beams and exposed stonework) to the new (no less than three flat screen TVs including one at the end of the bath tub) to the pampering (four varieties of soap in the bathroom, a giant candle and matches by the bath and a sumptuous walk in wardrobe to name just a few). Meanwhile, on arrival, the room already offers a fruit platter, a bottle of Madeira and complimentary water.
After walking the lovely grounds in the fading light of the day and enjoying down time in our room with champagne and a log fire, dinner approached. Before sitting down however, we were invited to tour the wine cellar and kitchens. If you love wine, the cellar was wonderful to see holding something like 900 labels though the real superstars of the wine list like a 1875 Mouton they reportedly have lives in safer places elsewhere. The kitchen meanwhile is vast with the prep area alone being the size of the kitchen at somewhere like The Ledbury. Even here in the kitchen ahead of dinner service, everyone bids you hello, everybody’s nice. We're also amazed at how calm the kitchen is, no shouting, swearing or running, rather, this kitchen exudes professionalism and discipline, it's hard not to be impressed.
The dining room itself is larger than we'd expected, holding up to 100 covers at maximum capacity; tonight it is still impressively busy for a Monday in January but is still nevertheless cruising at a somewhat lower altitude. As an extension from the original manor house, the dining room is also more modern in its feel combing English, French and Asian influences. Service obeys all the formal norms but equally manages to be relaxed and friendly, a place where the focus is on the customer rather than the restaurant’s own solipsistic grandeur.
That night's dinner was not the only opportunity of course to sample Le Manoir’s cooking and we enjoyed both breakfast and dinner the following night in our room. The highlight of breakfast was smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, decadently topped with caviar. Both the quality of the salmon and superbly cooked eggs made this a breakfast treat and tasted pristine despite the journey time across the courtyard from the kitchen to our room. Similarly, an order of Beef Bourguignon delivered a slightly non tradition dish (no bacon, shallots, mushrooms, instead cauli, celery and broccoli) but it was absolutely superb with an amazing densely dark beef over which an equally dark sauce was poured which combined was probably the best of its kind we’ve tasted.
Many who go to Le Manoir will do so for a special occasion, dipping deep into savings to do so, for let’s be fair, it doesn’t come cheap. But making you feel special is very much what Le Manoir excels at and when the time came to check out and for us to say goodbyes, despite it being only a few days, it felt like we were leaving old friends. If you have a list of ‘things to do before you die’, the addition of staying at Le Manoir to the list is a must, for that way, you’re guaranteed to get a glimpse of heaven before you do.
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