I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris House a couple of times and for those of you who have also managed to find the time, and lets be honest the cash, to eat here you will know that it’s quite a special experience. The house is sat in the picture perfect grounds of Woburn Abbey with deer frolicking this way and that and who doesn’t love a good frolic every now and then? So when Phil Fanning (Chef Patron of PH) invited TwoMenAboutTown down to take a look at the newly refurbished décor and the re-imagined Spring menu, I bought a suit and asked only two questions: when and can I get covered in mandarin custard? Lucky for me, the answer was yes to both.
The Michelin elephant in the room
To much wailing and gnashing of teeth from those of us who follow such ultimately pointless expressions of culinary measurement, Paris House lost its Michelin star last year alongside a host of other venues as Michelin brutally sliced up its list in the UK. In my opinion in terms of the food and location, it was an undeserved blow as there still other entries that don’t have the same level of pull as Paris House let alone the skill in the kitchen. But fair is fair as I recall describing the décor and ambience at the time as ‘not exactly challenging or even that memorable’ so, like Rocky Balboa’s best known characteristic (apart from the amazing theme tune and chicken chasing habit), Phil and the team have taken a body blow but risen to the challenge and come out fighting.
So lucky for us more than a few things have changed and Paris House the restaurant in 2017 is no longer the exclusive preserve of the retired and/or the wealthy. These days ‘relaxed fine dining’ is the order of the day and the new design, new teal colour scheme and new menu are more than ready to get started. The last vestiges of classic French silver service are long gone and the new focus on the edible experience inside this amazing house with an implausible history is celebrated much more. The relaxed fine dining theme is right on point with places such as Nelson Street and The Hand and Flowers also taking up the mantle and running with it.
As well as a new colour scheme and furnishings, dotted through the dining room are explanations to Paris House’s incongruous existence in the middle of the leafy Bedfordshire countryside, highlighted in the framed programmes and actual leaflets from the 1878 Paris International Exhibition where Paris House was originally built. As was the way of the time, the 9th Duke of Bedford saw the building while in Paris and decided to buy it, have it packed up and then shipped home. As you do.
Paris House meets Bake Off
So other than being all approving of the re-designed furniture and layout with a much more flexible space for private dining or other corporate event type stuff, what was there to do while we drank champagne and hob-nobbed with fellow bloggers, proper members of the press, regular diners and local celebs such as Candice Brown off of Bake off*? Luckily Phil had considered the possibility that people might run out of things to talk about and had laid on a cookery masterclass in the kitchen. Mrs P and I spent the majority of the evening walking around the kitchen with a glass of bubbly in one hand and generally getting in the way of the brigade as they took what professional chefs politely call ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ through some of the easier processes of a couple of the dishes.
Alongside some steamed prawn dumplings bursting with sweet hoi sin mayo and shellfish deliciousness, tiny delicate mackerel bites with apple and yuzu let our tastebuds know we were in for a treat. Next, some pork puffs with red pepper and olive oil caviar were served alongside the compressed cucumber with moutabel (an aubergine based dip), black garlic and pine nuts. Then came the show stopping mandarin trifle. This was served as an interactive desert as the guests were asked to construct the liquid nitrogen cooled black bean and chocolate ganache, Japanese peach and sake jelly bowl themselves. Not a problem for seasoned pudding eaters such as Mrs P and I you would think.
You would think wrong. At first, everything went to plan; Mrs P poured the nitrogen on the ganache and it froze into crumbly crumbs. It was delicious. Then we placed some frangipane sponge on the top. That too was delicious. The Japanese peach and Sake jelly that followed both delivered on flavour and both were equally easy to put in the bowl. Then the custard was delivered to us in a pressurised squirty can. ‘Squeeze slowly’ was the clear instruction but we all know that Mrs P has never been one to follow instructions.
And so our evening at the prestigious Paris House, the highest seat of culinary expectation in the area ended with us covering the walls, ceiling and a brand-new suit with the most expensive yet delicious custard money can buy. Well, it could have been worse, but next time you can try explaining that the the dry cleaners. As the very enjoyable evening came to a close and we watched the team scurry around the kitchen prepping for the next days service in-between stopping imbeciles like us from totally destroying their work space, I think it’s safe to say that both Mrs P and I gained a new appreciation for the work and pressure of a top end kitchen.
Go and see Paris House for yourself; the new 6 course lunch menu is an absolute steal at a shade over £40 and they often get better than that with limited deals for those of us who love a bargain. It’s the same team, the same quality of food but more affordable so what’s not to like?! Then to get back on the food experience wagon; the 8 or 10 course dinner menus are a great way to make an impression, just don’t expect to squirt the custard yourself – they’ve decided that it’s probably best to do that themselves now.
Finally and with no amount of self-deprecation, I know it’s difficult to believe but the more astute of you may suspect that not all of these photos were taken by me. I got a couple of good ones in but generally speaking I think it’s better for all concerned if we just use these ones that I nicked from Paris House’s official press pack. We all cool with that? Awesome.
*Mrs P and I spent aaaages saying ‘We know her from somewhere….” Plus Mrs P only narrowly missed spraying her with the mandarin custard. So all things considered, I think we got off fairly lightly.