Freshly arrived from our epic trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train from Venice to London, it was clear that I needed a little bit more Belmond love in my life. One should always have as much Belmond (the new brand name of Orient Express hotels, trains and cruises) as possible in their lives.
And luckily for me, I have one of the UK’s most special places, the fab Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, the home of chef Raymond Blanc, almost around the corner from me. OK, it is 30 minutes away, but it is a place we have visited quite a few times before for epic meals with friends and family, and we know very well. So it is always a pleasure to go back.
On this occasion, we were invited to Raymond Blanc’s Festival of Music 2014, which consists of three very special evenings where fine wining and dining are paired with music in exceptional surroundings (I really like this place, as you can probably tell). This year’s line up included Russell Watson, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Tasmin Little. I did actually have a choice, but due to other commitments, we could only attend on the Saturday, and we were delighted.
We arrived at around 7pm, just in time for the Laurent Perrier Champagne Reception, which is a staple in all the events organised at the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. We also enjoyed stunning canapés (which were seriously out of this world) – my favourites were the foie gras and apple (of course), and the mini beef carpaccio bites. Uber simple but oh so good.
It was a black tie event (comme il faut, mais oui), and everyone without exception looked fab. The reception took place at the various sitting areas of the restaurant, which are so homey and comfortable I cannot tell you. Every time we visit this venue, we feel transported to France immediately (ze sexy French accents help too, of course).
We relaxed and chatted to other fellow diners for around 45 minutes, until we were directed to the chapel, a short walk away from the hotel, so start the second part of the evening.
It has been a while since I had been to a classical music concert, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I do go to a lot of concerts throughout the year, to be fair, but not classical. Tasmin Little is one of today’s leading international violinists and in 2012 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday Honours list, for services to music.
At 7.30pm we went on a torch lit walk to the very pretty St. Mary’s Church, and enjoyed the performance, also illuminated by candle light, which lasted around 1 hour. Tasmin was accompanied by Martin Roscoe in the piano and played 4 songs, from Kreilser, Beethoven, Arvo Part and Franck.
At around 9.15pm, we made our way back to the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, where a 5-course meal, with wine pairings awaited.
We started with a consommé of winter game with wild mushrooms, followed by a salad of Devonshire crab, smoked salmon and caviar. The third course was a ravioli of butternut squash, blue cheese and toasted almonds and the main course (le yum, kill me now!) was pot roasted guinea fowl, with cep, bacon and potato gnocchi. We ended this fab evening with a bang and Raymond’s ‘Millionaire Shortbread’, made with soft toffee with bitter chocolate on crumbly shortbread AND salted butter ice-cream. Heavenly indeed.
Obviously, being where we were, we indulged in some lovely French wines (the cellar has over 1000 bottles) namely a Blanc de Viognier 2013 by Domaine Grand Veneur (from Vallee du Rhone), a Pinot Noir Veilles Vignes 2011 by Vignoble Guillaume (from Franche-Comte) and ended in style with a 2009 Les Lions de Suduiraut, by Chateau Suduiraut, from the Bordeaux region (which I visited earlier this year and adored!).
We had a fantastic table, with really interesting people, and the conversation flowed easily all night, as did the wine and the laughs. Everyone was truly happy to be enjoying this special evening at such a lovely place, and the atmosphere was fantastic.
Before we knew it, coffee had been served, and everyone’s taxis were waiting. It was a brilliant evening, and needless to say, I shall be back for my Le Manoir fix very soon.
Disclosure and Fact Box: I was a guest of the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons on this occasion, and I loved every minute of it. Tickets for the Raymond Blanc Festival of Music include a Laurent-Perrier reception upon arrival, the evening’s concert performance at St. Mary’s Church, followed by a 5-course dinner, with accompanying wines, and cost £395 per person for non-residents, and £370 for residents.
The Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons organises many special evenings throughout the year, and it is worth checking their website to see the upcoming events (which are good value for money, as drinks are included. I am saying this because as I stated earlier, I have been a few times before).