And yet, when we pull our thesaurus off the shelf in search of synonyms, we find: completeness, exactness, excellence, exquisiteness, faultlessness, integrity, maturity, precision, purity, sublimity. This to us sounds a lot like Le Manoir. In fact, it doesn't just sound like Le Manoir, it is Le Manoir and following a visit there to celebrate a special day, we again reflect with wonder how they can get everything so right every time.
While the question 'any dietary requirements' for us is usually met with the straightforward answer 'no', on this occasion we said yes: being truffle season and a special occasion, we would like truffles incorporated into every dish please! We should add that advance notice was given to the kitchen on this request, rather than surprise them on the day, and our thanks to Chef Gary Jones and team for working so hard to make this happen.
Still in the car, the pulse always quickens slightly as Le Manoir comes into view and as you pull up the drive to the front of the house. After the warmest of greetings at the door (Le Manoir team are unrivaled in knowing how to make you feel welcome on arrival), we have a drink, canapes and time to view the menu in front of a real log fire in one of the Manoir's sitting rooms. Through to the dining room, we feel excited about the experience to come and so it seems do the staff. The staff at Le Manoir have the highest professional standards and yet are able to engage without awkwardness at a very personal level which again is really very special and while all members of staff were amazing yesterday, James and Brad who specifically looked after us deserve their own mention: thank you.
Truffled eggs start the menu and immediately send you into sensory heaven. What we discover throughout the menu is that it's not just a menu where truffles are shaved on top (which of course is still perfectly nice), but it is a menu where truffles have been fully integrated through the dish so that with our egg, you initially taste the light creamy eggs and the shaved truffle on top, but as you spoon lower into the shell, new layers of truffle and something like a mushroom ketchup awaits, increasing the potency as you discover new depths. Having also selected from the bread basket their bacon bread, it feels like the ultimate breakfast.
Scottish langoustine with tender leeks is a characteristically beautiful dish from Le Manoir with splashes of colour, truffles on top and again worked through the dish together with some of the plumpest langoustine you could ever hope to find on your plate. A risotto of Alba truffles is insanely good, loaded with truffle and chanterelles, oozing rich, earthy complex flavours that please in the profoundest way and leaving you torn between satisfaction and devastation as you finish what's in the bowl: more please? Scallop and turbot 'forestiere' continue to deliver exceptional cuisine for your fish course, and then...
If you want to bring a dining room to an inquisitive silence, you could do worse than walk through it with an inflated pig's bladder in a copper saucepan. Our main course was Cotswold chicken breast 'en vessie'. Brought table side, the near perfect hemispherical bladder is punctured and the chicken breast on the bone removed from the bladder, the dark truffles tucked under the luminescent skin clearly visible. With each breast taken off the bone, sliced, then plated, further truffles are shaved on top at the table. In case that's not decadent enough foie gras runs through the sauce and a substantial cep sits on the plate anchoring this chicken in the forest also. It is possibly the best chicken dish we've ever had in a restaurant, the chicken so incredibly moist it's like a rediscovery of what chicken can be.
Brillat Savarin cheese, always amazing in its own right is made more amazing laced through with truffle and almost cascades off the board it's so runny. It's served with a celery salad and hazelnut for crunch. Our two dessert courses see profiteroles encompassing truffle ice cream followed by millionaire shortbread with black truffle toffee. Both are beautiful and remarkable, a more difficult challenge to encompass truffle into dessert but very smartly done and truffle ice cream is definitely something to crave when executed as cleverly as this. It's a perfect end to a perfect meal and we're too full to even finish petit fours taken in front of the sitting room fire (fortunately they are boxed and make the journey home with us).
Le Manoir offers a remarkable experience at every possible level. The menu we ate was simply incredible, the hotel itself romances you into submission, the staff are without doubt the very best in the industry, and all that means the sum of these parts is a giddy achievement. But above all that, Le Manoir connects with you emotionally, joy and comfort when you're there, separation and longing when you're not, while each visit fuels memories that last a lifetime and cumulatively deepens the bond you feel towards the house and the people who run it. Popular wisdom might say that perfection doesn't exist in the hospitality industry but even if that is true, it doesn't really matter, because Le Manoir is close enough.