I am sitting at my computer wondering if my day could have been any better. No.... Today was one of the best days ever.
For our 10th wedding anniversary my husband promised to take me to any restaurant of my choice. My first thought ran to Le Manoir, Raymond Blanc’s place in Oxfordshire. It was fully booked. The receptionist seemed genuinely sorry, but she was also delightful, suggesting that we try instead Le Brasserie Blanc on Walton Street, Oxford. I will admit I was a little disappointed not to get in at Le Manor, however I took the opportunity to book for my birthday in November. Looking the Brasserie Blanc up online, Raymond says I am often asked what a Brasserie Blanc really is, well if the Manoir is a delicate waltz then the Brasseries are the Can Can. I pictured a rambunctious French cafe, and thought it was hardly likely to be found in England no matter how hard you try. Now, you must remember that, I have spent years in France , and I know French Cuisine. I am not fooled by francophiled English food and bad British service.. so I arrived highly sceptical of a good meal.
The instant we arrived the waiter greeted me like an old regular, and to my childish delight there was a balloon wishing us happy anniversary on the table. The room was light, airy and spacious, without feeling crowded, and yet intimate even at lunch time. I looked around with an ever critical eye. The place was spotless.
Two glasses of real champagne arrived, unbidden, along with some French bread. Ah ha. They never get the bread right I told Al. I ate my words - literally. The starters arrived; my chicken liver parfait was just that. Parfait. With toasted bread the warm crunch, buttery softness and sweet mellow onion chutney was an absolutely sublime marriage of texture and flavour.
The lamb shoulder was aromatic and tender with just the right amount of seasoning. I expected the vegetables to have suffered the fate of death by long cooking process. Not so. The carrots, in particular, were tender, bright and fresh. This meal was, so far, faultless.
The view by the window seats meant we could watch the world going by.
Observing the staff interacting and serving other customers I was stuck by their professionalism. These waiters and waitresses were seriously in tune with everything going on at every table, in a totally discrete manner. Nothing went unnoticed, except them.
Feeling somewhat relaxed and unwilling to finish my meal in any hurry we ordered a sweet. Alastair was enjoying the meal, more than he normally does, perhaps partially down to the fact that I had nothing to find fault with for once. This is a new experience for him. I am a nightmare to take out. As a former chef and one time waitress, there is nowhere I am more critical than in a restaurant.
The Chocolate soufflé and pistachio ice cream arrived. It looked seriously impressive. The top was caramelised, and dusted in icing sugar, the middle soft and voluptuous and the bottom dense and gloriously chocolaty. Eaten with the pistachio ice cream the flavours blended creating a perfect contrasting combination of cold cream and oozing warm chocolate. It was a superb sweet, don’t get me wrong.. but it could be improved on. The soufflé could have done with a tad more sugar. Not much .. just a little. The ice-cream was, on its own single dimensional. My suggestion would be that a cardamom base behind the pistachio would take it up another level and add some top notes between the chocolate and pistachio, and finally, I was a spoon of ice cream short .. just a tiny bit more needed next time
I finished the meal acknowledging that Monsieur Le Blanc had indeed done what I believed impossible. He has brought a real French brasserie to England, every tiny detail and aspect, right down to the apron and even the attitude worn by my waitress.
As I asked one of the waiters for a copy of the menu, as I wanted to write up the meal on my blog, assuring him that it was indeed a wonderful meal we had eaten. He smiled and suggested I tell Raymond myself. There... eating a meal right behind us was Raymond Blanc, his beautiful partner, Natalia and guests. You can imagine my absolute delight as the waiter interrupted Raymond’s meal to ask if I might say hello and Raymond sign a menu? I grinned insanely at my unbelievable luck and chattered nonstop in a jabber of nervous French .. explaining, without pausing for breath, that I am writing a book, and that I follow him on twitter, ( yes.. I honestly said that .. Duh!) and that I will be visiting Le Manoir in November. I did forget to tell him about the variety of pumpkin I grew that he recommeded.
Despite having his family lunch interrupted unexpectedly, Monsieur Le Blanc was charming..... No.... He was more than charming, he was the perfect French gentleman, asking his colleague to take a photo of us and writing good luck with the book and à bientôt on my menu. Can you dream up any better ending to Lunch ? Parfait. À bientôt.