Last week, I had the absolute honour of being invited along to The White Company‘s Christmas event at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire. Manoir is Raymond Blanc’s Michelin starred hotel and restaurant. The day started off bright and early getting to meet some new faces at London Marylebone station before hopping on a quick train out to Haddenham & Thames. The event was perfectly sized – at just around a dozen I got to meet some amazingly lovely new bloggers without being overwhelmed by a huge number of attendees, or stressed at not fitting in because the group is so small.
Once we arrived at Manoir, we were greeted with a rush of Christmas smells. I don’t know how The White Company do it, but they got the candles, tree, twinkle light balance perfectly right in the private dining room and it made it obvious from the get go that we were in for a treat. Not to mention the smell: the room just oozed with Christmas charm. Scent is so evocative and the throw from these candles was perfect. (I’ve since rushed out to our local White Company to pick out some more Christmas candles for Sam and I.) After some initial mingling over pastries and coffee, we set off on a tour around the grounds with one of the gardeners.
I found their grounds irresistible: fields of locally grown produce, packed greenhouses, garden statues, Japanese-style gardens. Covered in a thick, shiny layer of frost it looked magical. I can only imagine how enchanting it is in the summer.
Once we were back inside, some brief feet stamping was necessary to warm up a touch, as was a glass of fizz. Then we headed back into the private kitchen for a lesson at the renowned Raymond Blanc Cookery School to meet with Blanc’s right-hand man, Mark Peregrine. I can say this without hesitation (as someone who has attended a fair few cookery events) Mark was the nicest chef that I’ve taken a lesson from. Charming, self-deprecating, incredibly knowledgeable: the full works.
In no particular order and perhaps not useful to others, here are some of the tips that had enough bearing on my life that I chose to write them down:
– Albert Bartlett red roosters are the best potato for roasting. And ghee (clarified) butter tends to be the best roasting oil. Though rapeseed is good too.
– If you’re making an alcohol based sauce, e.g. a wine cream sauce, always add a splash more wine right before serving.
– In a gas oven, try to keep things at the bottom.
– Forvm white wine vinegar is soooooo tasty (this is true as I sampled it.)
We started our lesson by having a few glasses of fizz and then some canapés. The best way to start. Then Mark began at the end by showing us how to prep our chocolate fondants. Next we moved on to a starter salad consisting of chicory, walnut and Roquefort dressing (which was much smoother and less salty than you’d expect!). If all salads tasted like that, I’d eat salad for every meal. Next Mark demonstrated how to cook a salmon in a champagne cream sauce. (The sauce smelled divine!) Before we broke off into pairs to attempt to cook our own; very considerately, they’d prepped another option for myself and another blogger who doesn’t eat seafood to learn. She and I learned how to properly cook leeks and artichoke hearts and had an amazing veggie dish that we finished off with a big slug of truffle oil. (Pretty much everything tastes better with a dash of truffle oil.) Everyone re-assembled to eat their salmon (or veg in my case) whilst Mark demonstrated the correct cooking for a final dish of duck breast. It smelled insanely succulent whilst it was cooking – nearly unbearably! Last but not least, he dished out our fondants, added a dash of caramel and a quenelle of ice-cream and let us dig in.
After basically licking my plate clean, they had to pry my fingers off of the doorjamb and shove me into a taxi to bundle me off back home. It’s safe to say, I could imagine spending all of my time at Manoir, and I’d thoroughly recommend both the hotel and any cookery courses to everyone.
I’d also like at add a huge shout out to the staff at Manoir and at The White Company who went above and beyond to make sure that we were all happy and satisfied.
True life goals: spend the night in one of their Garden suites after having eaten the 7 course dinner menu at the restaurant.
***I was a guest of The White Company at Manoir, but I was under no obligation to blog about the experience and all options are forever my own.***