We’re all friends here so I feel that we’ve reached the point in our relationship that we can be brutally, frighteningly honest with each other. There are really only two types of people who eat at Michelin starred restaurants other than professional chefs: those who have more money than sense and those who want to impress someone else. And with no sense of shame I’ll admit that for my recent visit to Paris House, I fell very firmly into the latter category. It was my fifth Wedding Anniversary and by God I had quite a few Husband points to make up this year.
I should start this review with a caveat that says I’m going to be quite tough on Paris House. I’ll pick up on a couple of things that other places would probably got away with, but these guys have got a Michelin star and for the prices they are charging, you (and they) should expect perfection.
So, how did it go? Well, let’s start with the fact that Mrs P. has been wanting to go for aaaages, and simply by breaking the news that I’d made a reservation we were starting well*. On the evening in question, we glammed up as is only fitting and proper, then made our way over to Woburn after taking delivery of a bunch of flowers.** The weather played ball beautifully and Paris House itself was quite frankly stunning. Although of course, I was very quick to point out, not quite as stunning as Mrs P.*** Just look at it, this is here just 15 minutes outside of Milton Keynes and I’ll bet you’ve never been.
A quick drink of something fizzy and pink on the veranda before making our way inside to our table which had been adorned with a Happy Anniversary card from the team.****
The service from the Maitre D and the rest of the team was fantastically warm and friendly. This is not a stuffy or fussy dining experience; the team are there to put you at ease and this they did remarkably well. The décor in the dining room is contemporary with classic undertones, the muted colours and refined character trying to give a sophisticated and relaxed atmosphere at the same time. To be honest, the ambience is not challenging or even that memorable considering how impressive the exterior of the building is but it gets better when you go upstairs to the loo but sneak off to take a look at the private dining rooms, now they are a bit special.
Right, menu choice. There were two menus on our visit, the eight course and the ten course but the one thing I have learned about meals such as this is that the chances are you’ll probably never have the opportunity, or bank balance, to come back. If you’re going to do it, make it count people. So ten courses then. With wine pairings? Well, of course with wine pairings.*****
Were we amused by the amuse bouche? Did it delight our senses and frolic through the meadow of our imagination? Well, not quite but it did kick us off in fine style with a well crafted mix of flavour, texture and no small amount of skill. The beetroot gel lollypop was undeniably clever but a little underwhelming while the crunchy, nutty quills with coriander were utterly delicious.
Some homemade bread and butter was also lovely – I’ve always wanted to make my own butter but very much like marshmallows and crumpets, I then realise it’s just too much bother. I’ll just let these guys sort it for me.
The wine was flowing freely and while I didn’t catch all the bottles, this one absolutely knocked my socks off. I called the waiter over and had two glasses and the joke is, you can find it online at a mere £8.50 per bottle. I’ve already ordered a case of six.
Trout cured with rhubarb vodka with rhubarb gazpacho was outstanding. There is no other word for it – apparently it’s a new dish on the menu and if I had anything to do with it, it should stay for ever. In fact Phil Fanning (owner and head chef of PH) should come to my house and cook it every Wednesday. That seems a perfectly reasonable request but so far, he seems to be ignoring my invitations/demands/pathetic pleas.
Pork cheek, brocolli and morel mushroom was really rather good. The mushrooms packing a punch that went so well with the beautifully soft pork cheek – we both thought it a shame that it was over in a couple of mouthfuls.
The King crab was served on an odd wavy plate that was probably designed to bring a connection to the sea but just ended up being pretty difficult to eat off. The cucumber wrapped crab meat was OK if a bit meh and the seaweed micro herb mash-up ended up quite dull so all in all, it just didn’t do that much for me I’m afraid.
The Scillian red prawn was thankfully another winner with fresh pasta and a sauce that made Mrs P wobble in her seat.****** The prawn was served raw though so if that sort of thing gets you a bit squeamish then best to be avoided.
Octopus – apparently needed no more description. Another strange one this, I usually like the odd piece of cephalopod, and I can’t put my finger on anything that was actually wrong as such but the dish just passed without comment and I guess that that in and of itself is the issue.
BOOM – and we’re back in business with the Anjou pigeon. Google doesn’t seem able to make it clear if Anjou pigeon is the source of a specific type of pigeon or if it describes a cooking type – if you know then drop me a note in the comments below. I don’t particularly care though because PH pushed the boat out on this one and although I was a touch skeptical about the addition of the almonds, they came through in magnificent style. Just look at the perfect cooking of the bird, I mean honestly. Who could ask for more?
Lots of chefy techniques and not a little bit of ponceyness came out to play in ‘Beetroot’. Crumb bed? Homemade wafer? Caramelised vegetables bridging the sweet/savory gap with an outrageous level of skill and annoying sense of achievement? Check, check and check.
Puds were a sensuous and nicely mixed bunch with a oozy, creamy fruity mousse cup described simply as ‘Cherry’. It also had the added delight of containing burnt white chocolate truffle ball things. Both Mrs P and I thought there was too much lavender in there until we were told very firmly that no lavender was present, rose water on the other hand was a principle ingredient. Either way, in our opinion whatever floral seasoning you wish to use, there was too much of it.
Rhubarb and custard was everything you would expect from a Michelin pudding masquerading as a old English favourite. Deconstructed, precise, delicate and technically faultless; if you like rhubarb (and let’s face it, if you’ve noticed how many times it’s appeared on the menu and you made it this far then you will have an appreciation for it by now at the very least) once you bung in the jellies, crystals, stewed slices and flawless quenelles then this is pretty much rhubarb perfection.
I’m sorry what? Thai Green Curry for pudding? I wouldn’t think twice about seeing it as a starter or even it’s addition at breakfast at a push, but for pudding? No, no, no. No. Or maybe yes? Because when it looks and tastes like this then you have wonder what else you have been prejudice about having for your dinner. See that massive green blob? That’s a sphere of sauce that is. Break through the skin and out gushes a river of sweet coconut, a touch of coriander and plenty of surprises. Then, once you get some of the flavoured, compressed pineapple and doughnut in a spoon alongside that sauce then prepare yourself for some real fireworks to finish off the meal. This my friends, is where it’s at.
Just to add insult to injury the petit four macarons and jellies were also delish. Everyone loves a good macaron and as expected, these were certainly that. The wine gum jellies were great and reminded me of the whiskey gums we had at the Fat Duck, all those years ago…
Speaking of the Fat Duck, just like eating there if you read through this review and think that £350 for two (with wine paring and service charge) is a absurd price to pay for a meal that isn’t stuffed full of sustainably sourced rare breed puffin eggs, individually hand reared pork massaged daily by a personal attendant/concierge and eaten off plates made of solid gold. However, the food is undeniably excellent (whether you actually like it or not is a completely different question), the quality is excellent and the service is excellent so I’m afraid that you just have to accept that the price is what it costs for this kind of meal. Not everyone will like it, you might think that it’s too fussy, too formal or just too damn expensive and that’s OK. But if you are tempted, then please believe me when I say that very much like being married to your best friend and partner in life, the universe and everything: it’s very much worth the effort.********
*Point one in the bag.
**Technically these weren’t actually from me but they put Mrs P. into a very good mood so I’ll happily ride that wave for an easy second pointer.
***Back of the net! That’s three.
****Again, not from me but Paris House clearly telepathically had my back for the evening. Much appreciated guys. Four points in and I hadn’t even busted out my killer lines yet. This was going well.
*****You don’t come all this way to cut the corners. In for five.
******Wobbling while already sitting down? Good work boys, that’s a strong six points
*******And I’m done for another year, thank you and good night.