Friday, 27 January 2017

Food: A sunny winter's day at Le Manoir with The White Company

Last month, a brilliant thing happened. Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire – the hotel, restaurant and cookery school owned by Raymond Blanc – is an all-year-round incredible destination but isn't everywhere better in the summer? That's my usual stance on things, wedded as I am to the sharp sunlight on a midsummer day or the orangey glow of a September Indian summer.

Well, turns out I'm also partial to a bit of apricity. Apricity is one of my favourite words, its meaning – 'the warmth of the sun in winter' – having the same etymological root as apricot, where it shares the notion of objects being warmed by the sun.

At Le Manoir, we were beneficiaries of the most sunny of winter days, ideal for our wander around the extensive (two acre!) organic vegetable garden. Raymond Blanc (or RB as he's known to everyone at the Manoir) works closely with the gardening team to design a system that provides so much of the produce that ends up on the dining room plates – 90% of the kitchen's vegetables, herbs and salads. That's a massive achievement.

And as well as the plots, greenhouses and cloche tunnels, RB has designed landscaped water gardens, including the tranquil Japanese tea garden, accessed over stepping stones. The planting is designed using mainly evergreens, which makes for a beautiful garden all year round.

Guests of one of my all-time favourite brands, The White Company, our tour of the gardens was followed by a couple of hours at the cookery school. Here, we learnt some top tips and tricks of the trade, such as using ghee to roast potatoes and using temperature rather than time to cook a roast chicken.

I also got to make an amazing blue cheese, walnut and chicory starter, followed by the most tasty leek and Jerusalem artichoke salad. The fondant chocolate puddings were a little on the temperamental side and refused to leave their little moulds but when we finally tried them they were dark, rich and delicious.

Our meal was a lazy, relaxed afternoon of slow cooking and learning, fuelled by champagne and canapés, all styled up with the most beautifully styled tableware from The White Company. This is my kind of cookery school. If you fancy having a go, check out the courses. They come highly recommended.

Thanks to Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons and The White Company for a perfect winter's day
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