Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saison in Oxfordshire…2 Michelin Stars

After a quick weekend in London staying with our friends, our road trip to the English countryside was when we really started to feel like we were on holiday. This is an amazing Relais and Chateau property.

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You realize the caliber of such a place when this is what you see in the driveway. It was the kind of place where you drive in with a Range Rover and you actually feel embarrassed.

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What a sexy beast. Muscular vintage Jag XK 150.

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Damn..

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Look at that color combo, orange-brown leather seats, brown ragtop on top of a glossy black body. Absolutely perfect grand touring dream car. Impeccable taste and elegance.

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This reminds me of a photo I have at home.

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We stayed in the silo-shaped suite called Dovecote. This was our own little private garden area.

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Here’s a video of the suite. Such a quaint and intimate place. The gardens and grounds were immaculate and so peaceful.

After a nice bath and nap, it was time to get dapper and walk to the garden area before dinner.

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As we go deeper into the magic garden all our troubles seem to float away.

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Amazing bronze artwork coming out of the lake.

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I couldn’t get over how life-like they looked.

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More bronze surprises as you walk deeper into the garden.

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What a kick-ass Japanese garden. Not bad for England. Painstaking upkeep. Like every leaf was in just the right place.

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Another amazingly realistic looking bronze crane.

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Again, I cannot emphasize the complete serenity you feel walking through this garden listening to the birds.

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I usually don’t take this long getting to the main post of the food, but this was part of the experience leading up to dinner that really got me into the right mindset. I just wanted to bask in every moment.

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Ok, last of the nature pics before we go on to our natural habitat of the dining room. This was the tunnel that leads to the herb garden.

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Here is the menu for the night. Look at that wild garlic soup. I was walking around eating wild ramps from their herb garden left and right. It was strange eating blades of grass that taste like pungent garlic. I gave me new insight into imagining the sheep and cows that graze on these wild plants and how that flavor gets into the milk and meat of these animals. Again, we decided to pace ourselves as we are eating like this every night. Forget going for the 12-course option this time.

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The words that come to mind when I think of this place are intimate, personalized service. Everyone is spaced properly apart, the lighting spotlights each table so that the restaurant looks like a sea dotted with a constellation of islands. Again, locality of produce is king here, but not at the OCD level of geekery as L’enclume. It had more of a private lovers ambiance. Like the UK version of Napa in the US. More of a place for people on their honeymoon, or getting away with their mistress. We saw a bit of that here too, it was funny gossiping about the different couples we saw there. There was one couple where the woman was 6 feet tall and her man was like 5’5 and portly. Some other guy there was getting paranoid and kept looking around to make sure no one recognized him. If only I could text his wife photos of him with his little debutante.

The overall process here was very French and elegant, but it was casually friendly at the same time. They really struck the right balance in both approaches in their service. The host Elroy was a one-man charm machine. We liked the transition to dinner in the main room after having tea and appetizers in the living room area, where it felt like we were at an awkward dinner party at someone’s home. The dishes were creative but within the bounds of tradition. Whereas The Man Behind the Curtain broke all the rules, this place was like going to a museum where you are one of the few patrons sparsely filling the space.

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OMG, look at this freaky clown! His hairstyle was 100 years ahead of its time.

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They walk you into the living room area for the first flight of bites with an aperitif.

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Some nice amuse bouche of smoked fish with caviar on crackers, cured beetroot bites with beet sorbet, croquette exploding with cheese and cold goat cheese with truffle and honey with jasmine flower buds. I must say, the goat cheese, truffle, and honey is such a classic funk fest combination. The wild honey has that fermented bee gut flavor to it, the goat cheese has that gamey musk, and the truffle has that dank forest floor component that makes you feel like a dirty goat herder that pulled a snack out of his animal skin fanny pack.

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Here was their amazing wild garlic soup. I could drink this all day, every day. I have never had a green garlic soup like this, so intensely umami’ed. The sweet peas cigar next to it balanced the sharp pungency of the garlic. I can’t help it, being an Armenian man, I can eat garlic raw like candy, bath in it, you name it. It’s my desert island food that I cannot be without.

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I opted out of the wine pairing and just looked through the wine list finding the oldest wine they had at a reasonable price point and I hit the fucking jackpot with this 80’s Rioja. I love the fact that since Spain is so close to England, there is probably a lot of old back-stock of very good older Spanish wines in well established Michelin restaurants across England, as they tend to be more affordable than their French counterparts, yet a lot of these wines probably don’t make it to other parts of the world like the US or Asia. So, I had a theory that the UK is a great place to hunt for old Spanish wines that restaurants have on their menus that they may have acquired a while back and are flying under the radar in demand. This was the wildest pay off of a hunch I had.

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Best wine I had the entire UK trip, hands down. Anares 1988 Reserva Rioja. Surprisingly affordable for this kind of age. It was still very much alive and probably at its peak. The intense nose just radiated funk for hours, I was inhaling this shit like crack all night, just sucking in the fumes. Very smoky, smoked meat, pastrami notes, animal hides, earth, just dirty funk the way I like it. Also had some wild jammy blackberry notes.

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Next up was the cured seat trout, beetroot, and sorrel. The English and Scottish really know how to smoke fish. I guess if you have been doing this for eons, you know a thing or two.

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Look at that intensely red flesh of the sea trout. It paired nicely with the bitter sorrel.

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Nice plating, a lovely contrast with the black plate and different colored beetroots. Next was the soft-boiled hen’s egg.

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Look at the ooze. On top of white asparagus and morels from their garden. It was covered by a parsley sabayon, which basically begs to eaten alongside some sort of egg yolk. Like a carb-free eggs benedict. I love morels. especially fresh ones, not desiccated ones that they rehydrate.

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Following this was another light dish but packed with flavor. Cornish turbot, lemongrass, wasabi and poached scallop with caviar.

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There was a bit of a wait between dishes here, but at this point, I was starting to get distracted by all the noise in the main room. I realized that it was due to the large party reservation. I am disgusted at the fact that this kind of crude behavior and rowdiness was tolerated at a 2-star establishment. Nearly everyone in the room was grimacing at the level of rudeness that the big group of ugly Americans was stirring up in the room next door. Erika could not take it and just walked into their private party and told them that she was not sure if they realized how loud they were being and that they can be heard next door. They sounded like a bunch of meatheads from Pittsburg or something. One of them was making donkey noises, it was obscene. Bunch of frat boy fucks.

This was during the height of Brexit when Trump was soon scheduled to visit the UK. I’m sure they didn’t like a Mexican-American walking in the room and telling them what to do. I was worried that I was going to have to throw down in my suit if they cussed her out or something. Erika’s efforts were futile, and the noise continued, but the back room people all gave Erika a wink and a nod for her effort. Then the ringleader of one of these douche bags was headed to the restroom and Erika stopped him once again to confront their noise, and this guy in a backhanded way to get back at all the other Europeans in the room loudly said that “everyone in the room would all be speaking German if it wasn’t for ‘us’ “, whilst looking at Erika and me as if we were going to collude with his ass. Just because we are both Americans, it doesn’t mean I have to defend you if you pull down your pants in the middle of the room and shit on the Persian rug.

The disturbance was saved by the charm of our host Elwin. A very classy handsome guy who made it up to us with special treatment, complimentary cheese plate, tour etc.

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The next course was my favorite that paired so nicely with my dirty Rioja. The duck came with mango, papaya salad, and peanut. Nice Thai influence here, not trying to do molecular summersaults, just presenting a medley of flavors.

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Look at the cross section on that piece below, mmmmarbling.

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Here’s an aerial view. Again, nothing too exotic, very classic, but done well. You can’t go wrong with a heavy/earthy wine with a nicely cooked piece of duck. You just don’t fuck with perfect pairings sometimes.

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Finally some light and palate cleansing dessert before the ‘close down the house’ chocolate sultry finale. Here we have the rhubarb carpaccio with custard ice cream. The flesh of the rhubarb not only looked like raw meat, but it was cured in a way that gave it a similar texture. This was probably the creative highlight of the night.

2018-04-30 22.26.18Then the chocolate dessert with Earl Grey tea and milk chocolate cremeux with passionfruit and banana ice cream.

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Oh good heavens!!! Look at my face on this one. This sat very well with me and my fat stomach.

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The texture of the creamy chocolate, crunchy cacao nibs, and passionfruit seeds was a match made in heaven with regards to textures and acid with sweet all balancing each other out in a yin and yang concoction.

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Just a perfect marriage of the tannic bitterness and spicy notes of the Earl Grey infused chocolate, with the gritty dark chocolate cacao nibs adding to that earthy bitters flavor. Balanced by the acid of the passion fruit seeds, the soothing creamy butteriness of the banana was just perfect in contrast to the aforementioned flavors.

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Here was what we woke up to the next morning. Continental breakfast, done properly, with a classic English breakfast as the main dish as well.

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Here is the passion fruit from last night making a come-back for breakfast.

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What a proper English breakfast. One of the best of the entire trip.

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Black pudding, which was basically blood sausage, charred tomato, mushrooms, and ham and sausage with egg. Good thing we are not eating until dinner.

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Ouuuuuuuze baby. Farm fresh egg to end our amazing detour in Great Milton. Off to the starting point of Meghan and Harry’s wedding, the Cliveden House.

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