There have been few programmes on the BBC recently that I have enjoyed more than Kew On A Plate, hosted by Kate Humble (minus any Springwatch animals) and Raymond Blanc.
As a child, I used to watch Gardener’s World and had my own little patch in the garden. For a good while I was set on a career in landscape architecture and Kew On A Plate brought back all of those lovely memories and passions. I am now seeing how easy it is to get allotment space and digging out my copy of Monty Don’s The Ivington Diaries.
To me there is something lovely about growing your own food, knowing where it has come from and taking the time to appreciate the processes involved. Growing your own food also has the added advantage of turning your garden or balcony into a walk in larder of goodies.
There are many obvious reasons why the BBC worked with Raymond Blanc on this project. First of all, he is the most entertaining person cooking on television at the moment – you can’t help but find him simply charming.
Perhaps more importantly for this particular theme, he runs the kitchen garden at Le Manoir, his restaurant in Oxfordshire, which is one of the loveliest working kitchen gardens that I have seen.
I’ve had more than my fair share of trips to Le Manoir, had a day in their cookery school and spent several hours wandering through the gardens and hopping in and out of their greenhouses. Every time, I am taken aback by the beauty of those rows of potatoes, terracotta pots of rhubarb and little pots of micro-herbs. What’s even lovelier is that you can often spot the produce on your plate at dinner.
Pictured above: The kitchen garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
Dinner here is a joy. A flurry of small, delicate, perfectly executed dishes flow past you in either a five- or seven-course format (though you can do à la carte, should you really want to). Even on the seven-course menu, you will get up from the table feeling comfortable, well-fed, but (importantly) not overly stuffed.
From a vibrant beetroot terrine with horseradish ice to cod with a startlingly green wasabi sauce, every single dish is beautiful, seasonal and consistent in overall style.
The food is exquisite but not inaccessible. On the night we were in for dinner in April, a Norwegian family with three young – and impeccably behaved – little girls were dining at the table next to us. While the parents enjoyed the seven-course menu, the girls enjoyed starters cleverly presented as little mice (a pale quenelle decorated with little ears and whiskers) followed by Michelin-starred burgers, fish fingers and chips. No fuss, no concern from the waiters, just three happy children and two even happier parents.
Back on our table, we had just finished the main of spring lamb with broad beans and were having a small rest before our final courses. (Very civilised.) I’m not usually one for puddings, but the simple treatment of bright red strawberries with Szechuan pepper and basil jelly was brilliant. The strawberries were tart, sweet and tasted properly of the sun.
Follow this with a delicate cylinder of tempered chocolate, filled with a smooth ganache and served with an almond milk ice cream, and you have a pudding combination so good even those who don’t really like pudding will enjoy it.
I have not once had any quibbles with the food at Le Manoir; it has been without exception stunning, much like the hotel and grounds. Le Manoir is up there with the best places to stay in Britain, whether you are going for lunch or making a weekend of it. It is effortlessly romantic. You can’t help but fall in love – with the food, gardens, hotel or your companion.