How Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons changed British hotels

It's been 40 years since Raymond Blanc's pioneering property opened
It's been 40 years since Raymond Blanc's pioneering property opened - Heathcliff O'Malley

Strolling through Le Manoir’s flourishing gardens, I spied a familiar figure darting between guests enjoying an elegant afternoon tea. Chef Patron Raymond Blanc greeted everyone warmly, asking: “What can we do better?” Not the obvious question from a lauded industry veteran, but he is refreshingly free of bombast and ego.

Some 40 years since this pioneering property opened, Blanc’s exuberance and boundless energy is remarkable. Even more so considering how gravely ill he became a few years ago. Floored by Covid, he spent a month in intensive care, fighting for his life. Aside from a little shortness of breath, today he is a force of nature, his passion for hospitality undimmed by the decades.

A case in point: our interview, scheduled for two hours, ended up lasting more than six, concluding only when dinner could no longer be pushed back. From inspecting the myriad varieties growing in the greenhouses (Blanc was an early adopter of organic produce and sustainability) to explaining the stories behind numerous sculptures scattered around the 27 acres, Blanc animatedly recounted the genesis of Le Manoir.

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons was awarded its first Michelin star within a year of opening - Mattia Aquila

Recalling his first visit in the early 1980s, bleary-eyed from a long shift helming predecessor restaurant Les Quat’Saisons, he said: “I was leafing through Country Life magazine and saw the house for sale. After numerous espressos, I got into my old Vauxhall to speak with the owner, Lady Cromwell. I explained that I wanted to buy her house.”

Somewhat cynical that this overly caffeinated young man would have the funds to buy her rambling property, which was desperately in need of repair, “she became flushed when I told her my name and left to make tea. Returning, she said: ‘Yes, Monsieur Blanc. I will sell you my house’. Her decision was based on a previous family visit to my restaurant, when she was impressed by the kindness and knowledge of my team”.

At that time, Britain was deep in recession. Using his renowned reputation to fundraise, Blanc retained 51 per cent of the business. By the time the old manor house had been renovated, the cost was more than £1 million over budget. It initially opened with 10 bedrooms. Within a year, the restaurant had been awarded a Michelin star; the second followed soon after.

Blanc quickly realised that the bedrooms were generating twice as much profit as the restaurant and decided to triple the size of Le Manoir. His friend Martin Skan, one of the two brothers behind the luxury New Forest’s hit hotel Chewton Glen, recommended surrounding himself with the best in the business, leading to the recruitment of head pastry chef Benoit Blin, who he wooed away from France in 1995.

Le Manoir spearheaded the growing trend for innovative restaurants in a luxury hotel setting. Esteemed chefs who have followed this template include Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in the Lake District, Lisa Goodwin-Allen’s Northcote in Lancashire, Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow and Gareth Ward’s Ynyshir in Ceredigion, Wales.

Blanc's passion for hospitality is undimmed by the decades, says Rubenstein
Blanc's passion for hospitality is undimmed by the decades, says Rubenstein - Lucy Pope

Simon Rogan says: “It is staggering to think of all the names that have come out of Raymond Blanc’s kitchen and he massively inspired me as a young chef. His spectacular, innovative cuisine raised the bar considerably. Then came his obsessive desire to grow his own perfect quality organic produce” (something Rogan implemented at three Michelin-starred L’Enclume). He continued: “For me, he was the trailblazer in this field; a farm-to-table visionary who influenced a whole generation, including myself.”

Showing me around a selection of his favourite bedrooms, Blanc explained: “I am very much involved with the design. The rooms are all different, inspired by my travels”.

I spent the night at L’Orangerie, an accomplished blend of limed oak, stone and marble with a French chateau feel. Although the majority of rooms were designed more than 20 years ago, they are in pristine condition. Even so, they will soon be undergoing a facelift; the costs are no longer Blanc’s responsibility since selling to high-end hotel group Belmond in 2014 (which was acquired by luxury behemoth LVMH five years later).

Reception area of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Blanc: 'I am very much involved with the design. The rooms are all inspired by my travels' - Mattia Aquila

There are plans to add another dozen or so bedrooms – the number changed each time Blanc mentioned it; his brain not always in sync with his zeal.

Further innovation is afoot. Although the vines have yet to be planted, Le Manoir’s own wine blend is already in the throes of creation with local vintners. In the same way Blanc partnered with scientist Nicholas Kurti to investigate molecular gastronomy – which one of his protégés, Heston Blumenthal, famously went on to develop (with his blessing) – they have been working on revolutionary methods of speeding up wine production.

When I enquired about the Belmond buyout, Blanc became overwhelmed. “I lost most of Le Manoir through a bad recession and a transition period of buying and selling. It’s hard, complicated and personal, and it hurt me”. Does he still feel a sense of propriety? “Emotionally, intellectually, in terms of vision and the context of everything, yes, but it isn’t my place. To be honest, it doesn’t matter. I am the custodian and we are fireflies, passing by. The whole point is to leave something beautiful behind, not for yourself”.

Couple sitting down to eat dinner
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons offers a superior gastronomical and theatrical experience - Chris Terry

It could be argued that part of his legacy is the vast inflation of hotel room rates we have seen in recent years. While prices at Le Manoir officially start at £690, a quick look at its online booking tool tells you there are no rooms for under £935 between now and the end of this year. A Saturday night in mid June will set you back £2,855 for a one-bedroom suite, including breakfast. Dinner comes in at £245pp.

But Le Manoir has always been expensive, and Blanc makes no apologies for the high prices that accompany this level of luxury. With a large staff (including former disciple Marco Pierre White’s daughter, Mirabelle, in the pastry section) providing exemplary service and the current economic climate, profit margins are nowhere near as high as one might imagine.

So what do these prices really get you? When I finally sat down to dinner, it became evident that not only was this to be a gastronomical experience par excellence, but also a theatrical event. My fellow diners were a mix of regulars and those celebrating a special occasion; all were treated like VIPs. The menu is a love letter to fresh produce and features Blanc’s classic beetroot terrine with horseradish sorbet; a dish so perennially popular, he will be serving it at this year’s Royal Ascot by popular demand.

As his 75th birthday in November draws closer, does stepping back hold any allure? “I am not interested in retirement. I will do less crazy long days, but I want to see Le Manoir continue to grow and evolve.”

Shelley Rubenstein travelled as a guest of Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons (01844 278 881;, which offers doubles from £690, including breakfast.