When it comes to blogger treats, give me a beautiful old house and gardens plus great food and company and I’m there. I recently got together with The White Company and a few other bloggers at Raymond Blanc’s amazing Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire and the result was a very festive day.
It was one of those perfectly crisp, frosty mornings when leaves crunch underfoot and the lawn has a sprinkling of fairy dust but the sun’s rays warm your face and make everything sparkle. In short, it was pretty much the perfect conditions for exploring the grounds of Le Manoir during the winter months and just the sort of weather to get you excited for festive fun and food.
Myself and a bunch of bloggers (never sure of the collective term) met at Marylebone train station clutching hot coffees, cameras and enough knitwear between us to start a small but lovely boutique, before jumping aboard a train to escape to rural Oxfordshire. I love London at Christmas time but it was also really nice to be transported to a bit more of a winter wonderland for a few hours. Since I went freelance and made this blog my full time gig, one of the things I miss most is the camaraderie of an office and especially a work’s Christmas party, so an event like this one really is a special treat.
I was particularly pleased to finally meet the lovely Amanda from The Online Stylist, who I’ve chatted with online as well as the fab Eva from Poppy Loves who started blogging about the same time as me I think. I also found some lovely new blogs too including Rhyme & Ribbons and Miss Katy English – go check her lovely instagram. After a hot drink, freshly baked pastry and a little mingle with everyone including the lovely White Company team, we headed out into the gardens to learn more about the plot to plate system at Le Manoir and how they endeavour to use as much home-grown, seasonal produce as possible in their menus. Aside from the fruit and vegetable patches, there are some beautiful grounds to explore including the tranquility of a Japanese-inspired water garden, which was specially designed by Raymond himself to engender a sense of slower stillness and peace within visitors and guests who enjoy it. Lots of frost-nipped fingers were busy with their cameras as you can imagine, trying to capture it all. I also couldn’t help but imagine how gorgeous it must be to hold an event like a wedding there as some lucky couples do. It’s not cheap but my goodness it’s beautiful and I expect the food wouldn’t be half bad too! Speaking of which, it was time for us to head back inside and begin our festive cookery class with Raymond’s head chef. Le Manoir prides itself on the standards of its cookery school and one taste of the exquisite canapés we were served proved why.
I’ve never been the most confident cook (I much prefer the eating part which I am expert at!) but we were immediately put at ease and reassured that it didn’t matter what our level of expertise was, we were there to just watch, learn and enjoy some amazing food. For Le Manoir, it’s not so much about fancy, complex processes. Their ethos is more about really good, flavoursome ingredients which should be allowed to shine as naturally as possible.
Chicory, Roquefort & walnut salad
Pan fried salmon in a champagne sauce
Duck breast with spiced red wine sauce
Chocolate fondant and ice cream
And the menu was surprisingly simple and do-able, even for me. I love this kind of food and it’s just the sort of thing I’d order in a restaurant. In fact I’d quite like it for Christmas dinner itself. Who needs turkey? Or if you are a stickler for tradition on the big day, I think this menu would be perfect for a pre-xmas or New Year’s dinner party (heck any time of the year really). After watching (and tasting) a couple of dishes to see how it’s done, we split into pairs and had a go at cooking our own salmon dish, which we then devoured with indecent haste and washed down with more champagne. This cooking lark doesn’t half give you a hunger (and a thirst). Okay so mine doesn’t look quite as good as his, but it tasted really good and that’s the main thing. There was a really intimate, fun and festive feel to the cookery class, which surprised me. I was expecting it to be quite formal and, well, Michelin standard. And while there’s no denying that Raymond’s wonderful team care deeply about food, they also wanted us to enjoy ourselves, while picking up some useful hints and tips, and were so helpful and attentive. Check out the range of classes on the website – they’d make an excellent Christmas gift for the foodie in your life (or maybe that’s actually you) to enjoy next year.
A big thank you to The White Company and all the staff at Le Manoir for an incredible day.