Raymond takes to the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside in the Peugeot 308 Convertible and discovers a smooth, sleek performer. BY WILL GRAY
Whether it is designing a signature dish for his group of Brasserie Blanc restaurants, selecting an artwork for one of the individually designed guest rooms at Le Manoir aux Qaut’Saisons or choosing the right car for his daily commute, the overriding requirement for perfectionist chef Raymond Blanc is quality.
For years, Raymond admits, driving was a form of escape, a step away from everyday life to a fantasy world where a love of speed often got him into trouble. Now, however, his passion for cars, like his passion for all other elements of his life, is in the finer details – in the touch, the feel, the smell and the comfort.
Which is why the new Peugeot 308 CC proved an immediate hit.
A short drive out from Le Manoir allows Raymond to form his first impressions of the car’s performance and handling before a stop for tea and scones at one of his favourite local landmarks, The Swan Restaurant and Antiques Centre at Tetsworth, where he buys many of he beautiful pieces that adorn the rooms in his wonderful hotel.
Absorbing the variety of pots, clocks, mirrors and ornaments as we wander the labyrinth of rooms, it is clear Raymond is enthralled by tradition. “I particularly like this piece,” he says, inspecting the texture of an off-white French mirror on which he was about to make an offer. “It has a great history, is a wonderful size and has a very nice shape.”
The modern design of the sparkling pearl white convertible outside could not provide more of a contrast.
The look, like it or loathe it, makes it stand out from all the other cars in the car park. The wide open-mouth grill and lion-filled snout lead into a pleasingly curvaceous bonnet line, but the dropped side windows and increasing rearward bulk, building in a wedge-like shape towards the long and bulbous rear, has left some critics undecided. What about Raymond?
“I like tradition,” he begins. “But being a modern car doesn’t make it a bad car. I like modernity, but I like a quiet modernity. I don’t like a modernity that makes a statement of design, because often that undermines the very reason why something has been designed. To me, we live in a world that is all about the outside, about aesthetics, but what I liked about this car was when I went inside, when I touched the inside of the car, that is when I drew most the pleasure.”
If the outside of this Peugeot 308 Convertible is designed to shock, to turn heads and, perhaps, to generate its real appeal in growth over time, its interior is immediately pleasing. The bucket seats wrap around and fit the body like a glove while an innovative air vent in the neck of the seat, which keeps you warm with the roof down in cold weather, shows an impressive and appealing attention to detail.
“I feel comfortable,” enthuses Raymond with a satisfied smile. “There is quality all around me, it is an experience, touching it, looking at it, smelling it, it engages all your senses. At Le Manoir, we constantly consider design, whether it is creating a dish, designing a room, choosing a fabric or positioning light on a painting, so I can see a real effort in the design element of this car, which is successful, and which does deliver.”
The high-spec and very spacious cabin offers excellent all-round vision (making the front and rear parking cameras almost a little over-the- top) and Raymond adds: “I am a medium-sized guy, and in some cars you feel cramped but this is very thoughtfully designed. It is an intelligent design and it is really great to see intelligence and real thought to create an aesthetic but not compromise comfort.
“For example, this is a bucket seat, but there is space for your shoulder to move and your hand can easily reach everything you need, the back settles nicely in the seat, the pedals are in the right place, everything sits around you. It is a bit of a small four, but it’s a realistic four. For long, long travel I would be a bit unhappy in the back, but for 10-15 miles it is reasonably comfortable.”
The opulent white-stitched red leather of the GT spec is more in line with the luxury market and the JBL premium audio stereo is also high end, offering a thumping all-round sound when Raymond tunes it into classic opera on Radio 3. But one thing that perhaps makes one of the biggest impressions on Raymond is the well- designed 465-litre boot.
“I opened the boot and it was pleasing,” he explains. “I want to put a suitcase in here, I want to go on holiday, because it’s a great boot! Some boots are uninspiring, they are functional, whereas that boot was a big space and was beautifully done inside, great curves, it was almost a room of its own.”
Back on the road, Raymond, now a more leisurely driver converted from his speedster ways of the past, is perhaps not the man to push the Peugeot 308 Convertible to its limits, but even he is tempted by the power delivered by the throbbing turbocharged engine. “I love the note,” he says as he pushes the accelerator to the floor. “It has a great engine note, and it can move when you ask it to.”
It is a heavy car, with a kerbweight of more than 1.5 tonnes, and that showed a little in its handling, but it can still accelerate well and Raymond added: “The steering wheel has a great feel and when I pushed it a little it handled quite well. It was firm and you could feel a good grip with the wheels following the contours of the road. But I don’t push cars now, I enjoy the ride better, and in this car the ride was very good.”
So, back at Le Manoir, what is the conclusion? “It’s like food,” ponders Raymond in his rich flowing French accent. “Whenever I think of food, I never think of just food. Boring. It is food connecting, from the very act of the seed that is put in the soil, that seed has been selected as being the best, so I can give you a beetroot experience, a bean experience, then there is the craft of the gardener, the miracle of the sun and rain, the cold, it is what gives a plant its character. “Then it comes to my kitchen fresh from the garden, and gastronomy must start from its soul, so you cook the food, you use fire as a medium to transform this raw material into a beautiful dish and all the foundations of the food, creativity, the honesty, to create a sublime dish, and you design it beautifully so it is attractive and all the gastronomic juices flow, and you create a whole environment around it to make that dish, ah, wow.
“And it is not over yet. Then you have the craftsman, the waiter, who truly looks at you when he gives you that dish, he is happy to create a special moment for you. Food is all that. It’s about ethics, environment, architecture, nutrition, the way you give it, joy, celebration, space, light, pouring into the room to make the experience as close as perfect.
“All these things must happen – in the same way as designing a bloody good car. Millions of details must be piled up together lovingly and intelligently with your team to create something, ‘wow’!” I think that meant he liked it.
- Vehicle: Peugeot 308CC 1.6 THP 150 GT
- Price: £23,495
- Engine: 1.6 litre 4-cylinders producing 150bhp
- 0-60mph: 10.5 seconds
- Top speed: 134mph
- Economy: 37.7mpg
- CO2: 177g/km
- Equipment: leather upholstery, JBL premium audio, air-con, Airwave heat scarf, 18-inch alloys, cruise control, parking sensors