Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to Raymond Blanc’s beautiful Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. I’ve wanted to visit for ages, so I was beside myself with excitement. As I drove up, I dithered outside the front gate in my car, not really knowing what to do, and instantly, a friendly gentleman in an immaculate suit rushed out to help, escorting me to the reception and driving my car off to park it for me. First impressions? Pretty darned good.
Inside Le Manoir, the staff are warm and friendly, saying hello politely as you pass. The decor is out of this world beautiful – I lingered in the divinely decorated bathroom far too long – we were led to a small lounge with a roaring fire and given champagne and delicious canapés. Heaven:
Next up, we met Head Tutor of The Raymond Blanc Cookery School, Mark Peregrine. Mark is absolutely lovely, so approachable and friendly, and we all headed off for a guided tour of the gorgeous gardens:
Mark explained that although the gardens are maintained (by SEVEN gardeners!) to be decorative and attractive to guests (some things are grown purely for aesthetics), the main focus is on supplying the kitchens with fresh produce for the restaurants. And then suddenly, a new guide appeared:
Raymond Blanc is ADORABLE. I’d heard before that he was lovely, but oh my goodness. He greeted us all like old friends and was so chatty and friendly as we wandered around the garden together. I must confess to a bit of a crush. He just has the loveliest ideas about food – he really feels passionate about simple, fresh food. At one time he was enthusing about how simple it is to cook an omelette and looked absolutely perplexed that people would put a microwave dinner in the oven rather than crack three eggs and cook them in a frying pan. I was riveted. His passion is completely infectious.
So next, then, it was on to the Cookery School, a beautiful building just across a small courtyard from the hotel. It’s very high tech, full of stainless steel and efficient chefs bobbing about all over the place, but again, we were warmly welcomed and I was delighted to meet Raymond Blanc’s Development Chef, Adam Johnson (‘ADAAAAAM!’ if you’re familiar with Raymond’s TV cookery series) who is equally as lovely and very patient. His patience was well and truly tested when I teamed up with lovely Lou from Crumbs and Corkscrews in what was to become known as the ‘naughty corner’ to use the Kenwood Chef Sense to make pastry for a delicious Comté cheese soufflé tart (we got there, but it was touch and go for a while). He loved us really…
Raymond Blanc also showed us how to use the Kenwood Chef to make a delicious chocolatey crumble mixture to go underneath a rich chocolate mousse – part of his incredible reverse chocolate crumble:
For the crumble base, we mixed
35g butter (unsalted)
35g demerara sugar
A tiny pinch of salt
1.5 tsp cocoa powder
…in the Kenwood Chef Sense until the mixture just formed a crumble. This was layered finely at the bottom of a lined tart tin and baked at 170 degrees C for just 10 – 12 minutes then allowed to cool.
We then made a chocolate cream (note the combination of cream and milk – Raymond wants all his recipes to be as light as possible):
155g good quality chocolate (Raymond uses Valrhona)
1 egg (medium, free range, very fresh of course)
The cream and milk were combined in a saucepan and brought to boiling point, then this was poured into the Kenwood Sense where we’d already beaten the egg. The final touch was 155g of good quality dark chocolate. This was then poured over the crumble base and left to set.
The finished result was INCREDIBLE. Rich, yet light and silky, with the chocolate crumble adding delicious crunchy texture. I managed to get my tart home in one piece in the car but it was instantly devoured. I practically had to wrestle to get a small slice. For some reason, out of the hundreds of photos I seemed to take, I didn’t take a single one of the tart – I’ll try and track one down.
As for the machine itself, I was really impressed. There’s a touch sensor to start the machine and an easy one-touch lever at the back of the machine to lift the head. Combine this with a brilliant soft start action with gradual speed increases – brilliant if you’re often startled by the start of your mixer and enveloped in clouds of icing sugar. It’s also lovely and smooth – none of that clattering across the work surface when you’re whisking flat out. I’m not sure of the technical words, but it has a special sensor, so if it’s struggling with heavy ingredients, it will adjust itself and slow down.
The attachments clip on with an easy half turn, and the new splashguard fits snugly right over the top of the bowl, making it much cleaner to use. I loved it (I hope you’re reading this, Father Christmas?!). Massive thanks to everyone at Le Manoir, especially Monsieur Blanc himself, lovely Becca, Mark and Adam. Oh and of course, Kenwood!