On one level, starting university on the other side of the world puts a bit of a dampener on the running of a food blog, especially if good food is somewhat limited in your particular location.
Still, there are glimmers of salvation. Not too far from Oxford is one such glimmer, in the form of Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, a restaurant famed for its usage of organic produce, much of which is grown on site in the two-acre vegetable and herb gardens.
Being a highly-recommended Relais & Chateaux hotel-restaurant, we took our seats at the dinner tables of the Manoir with great expectations. The restaurant is a lovely place to come for a meal, whether at dinner or lunch. Naturally if you come in the afternoon in summer, you'll be able to see the gardens in all their splendid lushness.
We started with an amuse-bouche that, oddly enough, came only on two plates, which meant we had to share. Decidedly artisanal and wonderfully refreshing, this set the tone for the meal to follow.
As we had the menu classique, there was no need to choose; instead we were treated to the best-loved dishes of Le Manoir. The first was a fresh tartare of salmon, wasabi and cucumber, topped with Oscietra caviar. I really enjoyed this, despite not usually liking salmon tartare. All the ingredients were so robustly fresh and bursting with flavour that it was really difficult not to inhale this dish. The cucumber, in particular, was very interesting; firm and juicy, it was nonethless soft and pliable enough to be wrapped around the entire starter.
As an alternative starter, my parents had a pumpkin soup, which, though it seems unexciting, was executed perfectly. The sweetness of the pumpkin really shone through, the cappuccino foam adding to the lightness of the otherwise full-bodied soup.
Following that, was a risotto of new season pumpkin and chestnuts with wild mushrooms, topped with a quenelle of mascarpone and toasted pumpkin seeds. This was one of my favourite dishes; I really loved the golden hues of the risotto, contrasted with the reds, greens and whites on top of it. Creamy and sweet, the risotto was perfect, with the crunchy pumpkin seeds providing a contrast of texture and taste.
Next came the pan-fried Icelandic halibut with citrus fregola, scallops and lemongrass braisage, on a light bed of lentils. I'm not a great fish-lover, but I did like the use of lemongrass and citrus to lift the dish to some unusual heights.
We then had the meat course - a roasted fillet of Angus beef, served with Girolles mushrooms and shallot and celeriac purees. The filet was a little firmer than I expected, but extremely flavourful and well-complemented by the smooth, creamy purees.
The only dish I didn't really enjoy, the pan-fried apricots in nougatine and poached meringues served with Kirsch vanilla cream was too sweet for me, which was strange since I enjoy much sweeter foods than my family, all of whom polished off the dessert.
What I did enjoy were the petits fours and chocolates at the end of the meal, as well as the guided tour of Le Manoir's kitchen before that (suggested by the waitress when she heard I was a food blogger). Service was generally excellent, and the food, with its strong emphasis on organic produce and full flavours, was quite exceptional.
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (French)
Oxford OX44 7PD
Tel: (01844) 278881
International: (44) 1844 278881