My parents both celebrated a big birthday this year. One of those ones where the number ends in a zero. Whereas such events tend to mean existential crises and gin for their daughter, they are made of sterner (and more generous) stuff and decided to take their offspring and their offspring's partners out for a slap up dinner instead, with a luxurious room within staggering distance.
I actually had my 18th birthday lunch at Le Manoir. It was, I think, my first experience of really high end dining and although I have been lucky enough to eat at many great restaurants since, it means that this one has a special place in my heart. It didn't disappoint.
Before we get on to the food itself, I just have to say a word about the overall experience. Because it is an experience, from the moment you drive in to the car park and are approached by a porter who courteously removes your bags. It is screamingly luxurious, the service impeccable, the rooms opulent, the surroundings - Monsieur Blanc's gardens and croquet lawn flank the impressive manor house - idyllic. For a brief time, you get to step behind the curtain and live like royalty. Or, at least, a Kardashian. Which is probably why an evening there costs the equivalent of a minor Kardashian wedding.
But the food, the food is what we are really interested in and it was, of course, impeccable. For all that it is rooted in a very French tradition it has a very light, modern touch, giving the lie to the assumption that French food is overly rich and fussy. There was a very clean quality to most of the dishes both in terms of flavour and presentation.
An early favourite was the goats cheese agnolotti which came bathed in a clear tomato essence with tomatoes, olives and artichokes:
This was early summer on a plate for me: the peppery sourness of the cheese singing through and enhancing the warm sweetness of the tomato and its accompanying troupe of vegetables.
The table was divided as to overall favourite dish of the night with half plumping for a fillet of brill with cucumber and wasabi:
And the others opting for a plate of lamb with asparagus and morels:
While the lamb was unquestionably delicious, for me, it was the fish that was really something special and perfectly encapsulated that clean, fresh quality that I mentioned. The balance of the dish was impeccable - wasabi is a powerful flavour but here it added zip and zing without overwhelming.
I don't think that this is a restaurant to which you come expecting startling innovation and culinary challenges. It is, at heart, a classical French restaurant, with a due respect both for classical techniques and for the ingredients it uses - many of which come from the gardens surrounding the house. But that is not to say that it is old fashioned, or dated, or irrelevant. True classics, and I think Le Manoir may well be one of those, never go out of style.