One such is Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons’

I dread ‘hotel breakfast’, as a general rule they are all froth with no flavour! - elaborate buffets of poor quality ingredients, not a single item of real honest food. Of course there are exceptions, where everything is fresh, home made, and as far as possible local.
One such is Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons in Great Milton outside Oxford. I woke up on a glorious Autumn morning full of the energy one feels on a bright sunny day, I am not a jogger but I so wanted to walk through the gardens before breakfast. The gardens were so beautiful in the dusky haze of the early morning, I particularly wanted to see Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden. It was a splendid sight, rows and rows of organic vegetables and herbs and a new Asian vegetable garden. 
Raymond in pristine whites was already out there, gesticulating excitedly as he explained some new ideas to a high-powered looking chap in a suit – I later discovered he was Tom Lewis, the general manager of Le Manoir – a country house hotel with nineteen luxurious rooms and renowned for its food.
Raymond is passionate about the quality of the ingredients he uses. Several gardeners were already snipping and harvesting vegetables, herbs and micro greens for the day’s cooking – Raymond practises what he preaches – he is single-minded in his search for the best varieties, not the highest yielding but the most intensively flavoured, we exchanged ideas. I got so carried away I almost missed breakfast – what mistake that would have been.
The breakfast buffet had all the usual breakfast foods, except the quality of each item was superb – crusty sourdough and pain de campagne, flaky croissants, pain au chocolat, and sticky Danish pastries all made in the bakery. Thick sheep milk yoghurt and a diced fruit salad made with ripe seasonal fruit. Half ruby grapefruit, ready to eat with an Autumn raspberry perched on top, Bircher apple and oatmeal muesli with plump yellow sultanas.
The choice was unbearable, would I have the poached plums or the quince, or perhaps some blueberries. Would I scrape the seeds out of those perfumed passion fruit onto the thick sheep milk yoghurt or would I drizzle it with one of several honeys, or three or four types of Fair Trade sugar. Around the other side of this lavish buffet there was a basket of ripe fruit and some plump dried fruit arranged in symmetrical rows, Turkish figs, Moroccan apricots and my favourite Medjool dates – what a feast – so glad I did a few ‘rounds of the garden’ before I came to dine. Would I have coffee and hot milk without the froth, hot chocolate, tea or maybe a lemon verbena tisane and some orange juice. It was of course freshly squeezed in the true sense of the word - a rare thing nowadays when freshly squeezed usually comes out of a litre plastic container or a tetra pack! 
I rarely eat a cooked breakfast on a ‘working day’ but couldn’t resist trying the ‘Le petit déjeuner Anglais traditionnel’, all in the way of research. Again it was real, great dry cured Oxfordshire bacon, fresh free range eggs, a huge Oxfordshire sausage and a sweet juicy Sicilian tomato. Also on the menu were Scrambled free range eggs with tomato and smoked salmon from the Isle of Orkney, also Oeufs Florentine – poached with sautéed spinach and Mornay sauce and Oeufs Bénédicte – poached with some of the delicious Oxfordshire bacon served on an English muffin with Hollandaise Sauce and garden herbs. Grilled Scottish Loch Fyne kippers and Smoked Scottish haddock also featured and traditional French black pudding with apple puree and a selection of French and English farmhouse cheeses…..
This quality doesn’t come cheap but its so refreshing to be able to find a place where they actually deliver what they promise.

Here are some of Le Manoir breakfast recipes

Banana & Honey Smoothie

Serves 2
1 ripe banana, peeled and roughly chopped
200ml Soya milk
2 tbsp honey

In a blender, puree the banana, Soya milk and honey for 30 seconds. Pour into glasses and serve.

Mango, Pineapple & Orange Smoothie

Serves 2
120g 1 ripe mango, peeled, stone removed, roughly chopped
120g pineapple, skin & core removed, roughly chopped
100 ml orange juice
150 ml water
10g fructose

In a blender, puree the mango, pineapple, orange juice, water and fructose for 30 seconds. 
Pour into glasses and serve.

Smoked Salmon Omelette

Serves 1
1 dash of olive oil
10g butter
3 medium organic/free range, fresh eggs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
30g smoked salmon, roughly chopped

In a mixing bowl gently beat the eggs together with a pinch of salt and pepper. In an omelette pan heat olive oil and butter till it begins to foam. Pour in the mixture and cook for a few seconds, with a fork stir the omelette repeat the process until the eggs are cooked to your liking (rare, medium rare and well done) Add the pieces of salmon in the middle of the omelette. Roll the omelette and turn on to a plate. With kitchen paper give form to the omelette. Brush the omelette with olive oil and serve. 

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Serves 8
This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – its such a good recipe to know about because its made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Egremont Russet in the Autumn. 
At Le Manoir they add pistachio and brazil nuts and a variety of seeds like linseed, amaranth, alfalfa, and raisins and dried blueberries and some natural yogurt – all organic.

6 heaped tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)
8 tablespoons water
110g (8ozs) fresh strawberries
2 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.
Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.

Winter Breakfast Fruit Salad

Serves 8
Breakfast cereals that can be made ahead and kept in the fridge are a terrific standby, 
we love this one and often eat it as a Winter dessert with a few pistachio nuts or toasted almonds added.

185g (6 1/2 oz) prunes
170g (6oz) dried apricots
1 handful of raisins
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tablespoons pure Irish honey
225ml (8 fl oz) freshly squeezed orange juice
3-4 bananas

Soak the prunes and apricots in lots of cold water overnight. Next day, put the prunes, apricots, raisins and freshly grated lemon rind into a casserole. Mix the honey with 110ml (4fl oz) warm water and enough of the fruit soaking water to cover the prunes and apricots. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes approximately. Allow to cool and keep in the refrigerator. Just before serving, add a little freshly squeezed orange juice and some sliced bananas to each bowl. Serve with pouring cream or natural yoghurt.
Keeps for 1-2 weeks in a kilner jar in the fridge.

Top Tip: Wash the lemon well before grating unless they are unwaxed lemons.

Proper Breakfast Kippers

Raymond Blanc serves Scottish Loch Fyne kippers, but at Ballymaloe House we serve kippers from Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery and Frank Hederman of Belvelly Smokehouse near Cobh who smoke the best kippers I have ever tasted. I like them best cooked for breakfast by what I call the jug method.
Serves 2

2 undyed Kippers
Maitre d'hotel butter (see below)

2 segments of lemon
2 sprigs of parsley

Put the kippers head downwards into a deep jug. Cover them with boiling water right up to their tails as though you were making tea. Leave for 2-3 minutes to heat through. Lift them out carefully by the tail and serve immediately on hot plates with a pat of Maitre d'hotel butter melting on top. Garnish each with a segment of lemon and a sprig of parsley.
Maitre d'hotel Butter
4 ozs (110g) butter
4 teasp. parsley, finely chopped
a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cream the butter, stir in the parsley and a few drops of lemon juice at a time. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tinfoil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker. Refrigerate to harden.

American Buttermilk Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup

Seves 4-6 depending on the size or helping
Makes 14 – 3” pancakes

We love to cook American pancakes on the Aga for Sunday brunch – it’s so difficult to know when to stop!

250ml (8 flozs) buttermilk
1 free-range egg, preferably organic
15g (½ oz) butter, melted
85g (3ozs) plain white flour
Good pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bread soda
Crispy bacon
Maple syrup or Irish honey

Mix the buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a large bowl, until smooth and blended. Sieve the flour, salt and baking soda together, stir into the buttermilk until the ingredients are barely combined, don’t worry about the lumps. Do not over mix or the pancakes will be heavy.

Heat a heavy iron or non-stick pan until medium hot. Grease with a little clarified butter. Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of batter onto the pan, spread slightly with the back of the spoon. Cook until the bubbles rise and break on the top of the pancake. Flip over gently. Cook until pale golden on the other side. Spread each with butter.

Serve a stack of three with crispy streaky bacon and maple syrup.

Glebe House Eggs Benedict on a bed of Creamed Spinach on toast

Serves 4
8 freshly laid free-range organic eggs
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Creamed Spinach – see recipe below
4 thickish slices of homemade white yeast loaf

Creamed Spinach
900g (2lb) fresh spinach
salt, freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg

Put the leaves in a heavy saucepan on a very low heat and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. When the spinach is cooked after 5-8 minutes strain off the copious amount of liquid that has been released and press between two plates until almost dry. Chop roughly and return to the pan.
Add 225-350ml (8-12fl oz) cream to the spinach and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the spinach has absorbed most of the cream. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. 

Poach the eggs. 
Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, add a little salt, reduce the heat, swirl the water, crack the egg and slip gently into the whirlpool in the centre. For perfection the water should not boil again but bubble very gently just below boiling point. Continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until the white is set and the yolk still soft and runny. Lift out gently on a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly. 

Meanwhile toast the bread.
Heat 4 plates.
Butter the hot toast.
Spread 2 large spoonfuls of Creamed Spinach over each slice of the toast. Top with two plump poached eggs.
Serve with freshly ground pepper and Maldon sea salt – divine.

Hot Potato Cakes with Creme Fraiche and Smoked Salmon

Serves 8
900g (2 lb) unpeeled 'old' potatoes eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
30g – 55g (1-2 oz) butter
55g (2 oz) flour 
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, chives and lemon thyme, mixed, (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
creamy milk
seasoned flour
bacon fat, clarified butter or olive oil for frying
crème fraiche
8 generous slices of smoked salmon or smoked trout
chopped chives

Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the peel and mash right away, add the flour and herbs. Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Mix well. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shape into potato cakes 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and then cut into rounds. Dip in seasoned flour.
Fry the potato cakes in clarified butter until golden on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side, 4-5 minutes approx. they should be crusty and golden. Serve on very hot plates.
Put a blob of creme fraiche or Jockey on top of each potato cake. Top with slivers of smoked salmon and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

Alternative serving suggestions
1. Smoked mackerel or trout instead of smoked salmon.
2. Serve hot crispy bacon instead of smoked salmon.
3. Serve chorizo sausage instead of smoked salmon.

Tobys Hot Chocolate

This is the recipe for Hot Chocolate that my son Toby makes. It’s wickedly rich and absolutely scrumptious: the flavour of ‘proper’ hot chocolate is a revelation if you’ve never tried it before.
Serves 4

3½-4 ozs (100-110 g) best quality dark chocolate
2½ fl ozs (62 ml) water
1 pint (568 ml) milk
1-2 teasp. Sugar
4 large teasp. whipped cream
grated chocolate

Put the chocolate and water into a heavy saucepan and melt on a very low heat. Meanwhile, bring the milk almost to the boil (what we call the 'shivery' stage) in a separate saucepan. When the chocolate has melted, pour on the milk, whisking all the time; it should be smooth and frothy. Taste and add some sugar. Pour it into warmed cups, spoon a blob of whipped cream on top and sprinkle with a little grated chocolate. 

Foolproof Food

Orange, Mint and Grapefruit Cocktail

Serves 4
2 grapefruit
2 oranges
2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint
1 tablespoon sugar approx.

4 sprigs of fresh mint

Peel and carefully segment the oranges and grapefruit into a bowl. Add the sugar and chopped mint; taste and add more sugar if necessary. Chill. Serve in pretty bowls or, alternatively, arrange the segments of orange and grapefruit alternatively on the plate in a circle: pour a little juice over the fruit. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Hot Tips

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Church Road, Great Milton, Oxford OX44 7PD, UK
Tel 0044 1844 278881 email and website:  

Blackwater Valley Farmers Market which is the umbrella group for Kilavullen, Fermoy and Lismore Farmers Markets will launch their market in Fermoy on Saturday 29th October at 11.00am on the Quay in Fermoy, and on Sunday 6th November in Lismore from 11.-3.30 in the GAA and Community Centre – enquiries about these markets to Michael Walsh at 086-8377590

Serving a City – The Story of Cork’s English Market by Diarmuid and Donal O’Drisceoil – published by Collins Press – a wonderful read – put on the Christmas list – essential reading for any Cork person.

Winter Food on RTE 1 on Saturdays at 7.30-pm starting today 29th October. 
This is a new food series which focuses on the foods which are available to us seasonally. The programme will be presented by food writer and presenter Clodagh McKenna and produced by Aoife Nic Cormaic.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes