Experiencing the Chef’s Table at Paris House, Woburn

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This review has been a long time coming; I visited Paris House way back in April and have finally got round to putting some words and photos together! If you are local to Milton Keynes and the surrounding areas, you may have already heard of Paris House. It's situated in the grounds of Woburn Abbey and has a beautiful tudor-style look about it. It's probably one of the most gorgeous settings I've ever visited for dining. Paris House used to have a bit of a reputation for being very elite and a bit fancy, but if you love food, I promise to dispel this! Phil Fanning is the head chef at Paris House and has worked to create a fine dining menu that is both innovative and exciting, drawing inspiration from flavours across the globe.

Each menu is seasonal using local ingredients. This post features the spring menu, but there is now a summer menu, which looks absolutely divine and features some of the dishes you'll read about...

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I took Dan to Paris House for his birthday present back in April and to make things extra special, we dined at the Chef's Table. I've wanted to do an experience like this for ages, and Dan loves food as much as I do, so this was the perfect excuse! If you prefer a more relaxed setting, sitting in a busy kitchen probably isn't your idea of fun, but for us, it was really amazing to get an insight into how all the dishes are put together, and also to chat to Phil.

On arrival, we were served a glass of champagne and they had also left a birthday card on the table for Dan which was a lovely touch. Once we were settled, we chose our drinks and it was time to get started...

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The meal kicked off with some canapés, presented on a wooden board: A shot of onion soup topped with foam and parmesan, a potato crisp topped with a salsa, and a beetroot macaron. The soup had a lovely deep flavour with the parmesan adding some texture and saltiness. The potato crisp and salsa were fresh and crunchy, and the beetroot macaron was beautifully crisp with a soft, sweet, centre.

Next up, we were served some bread rolls and butter. One was wholemeal with a marmite infused butter to go with it which was absolutely amazing! The other was a garlic focaccia served with a plain butter. The bread has a great flavour and crispy crust, and each butter had been whipped with air so it was light and smooth.

Appetites whetted and ready for more, we ordered a bottle of red wine. You can do a wine pairing with the tasting menu, but we decided to go for a wine that would pair with most. Phil recommended a Rioja, which was full-bodied but smooth and was well rounded, settling in the palette nicely. It was one of the cheapest bottles on the menu - you could end up spending a lot on wine at Paris House if you tried hard enough!

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The first course was called Leche de Tigre - it was a Peruvian inspired dish that comprised of raw Brill (a fish), green tomato, chilli and sweet potato. The Leche de Tigre (milk of the tiger) is the juice that comes from a traditional dish called ceviche. Ceviche is made from raw fish and vegetables, cured in citrus juices. This creates a very fresh, sharp flavour. Phil created his own version of this sauce, with lots of added herbs like coriander and pours it over this little composition of food. It was such a beautiful looking dish and the flavours were so fresh. The coriander came through, but not too much, and the addition of fish roe added some welcome texture.

One of Phil's favourite cuisines is Asian, so there is a lot of oriental inspired dishes on the menu. His passion for this cuisine really comes through in all of the associated dishes. The second course was asparagus served in a miso broth with smoked eel. This was Dan’s favourite dish because it was the perfect umami - the balance of flavour. The broth was packed with flavour and the asparagus was perfectly cooked and became the surprising centrepiece of the dish. The smoked eel melted in the mouth and brought the dish together.

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Next was mackerel two ways - a charred fillet along with a ball of confit mackerel belly rolled in charcoal. The fish was served with cucumber, buttermilk sauce and an Oyster leaf, a herb which tastes bizarrely like oysters when you pop it in your mouth! The buttermilk was smooth and sweet, contrasting with the smokey fish. The dish was also topped with pickled onion rings which added a bit of zing! This was a proper spring dish which was so fresh and full of flavour.

One of my favourite courses was number four – the Hua Juan Bun. Heading back to the east, this dish comprised of pork belly marinated in honey hoisin served with kimchi and a bao bun. Oh my, this was good. The pork just fell apart in my mouth and the hoisin was just incredibly sticky and wonderful. The bun was lovely and soft and I could have eaten this dish over and over…

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Next was a dish that surprised us both! Remember those signs on the beach that tell you to beware of getting stung by a weever fish? Well, turns out you can actually eat them! Weever fish are a secondary catch and often get brought in by fisherman. They can’t legally sell them to the supermarkets, so they get picked up by fishmongers – if they haven’t already been thrown over the side of the boat! Presented in a beautiful glass bowl, weever fish was served in a white miso sauce with sea kale, cauliflower and a scallop. The weever fish was incredibly meaty and tender, not like the flaky cod or haddock we might be used too. It had a really lovely flavour too, not at all fishy.

Our final ‘main course’ was lamb. This was perhaps my least favourite of all the dishes, perhaps because I couldn’t quite get my palette round the textures and flavours. The lamb was lovely – well cooked and full of flavour. It was paired with Mexican inspired ingredients: mole, chimichurri and then poached almonds and nectarine. The nectarine went really well, as did the chimichurri, but the mole – a kind of sauce made with chocolate – didn’t quite float my boat. For me, I like lamb paired with fresher flavours like mint and these flavours were a little heavier.

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The first dessert was more of a palette cleanser and a completely unexpected bowl of flavour. With tasting menus, you often get a break down of the key flavours, it doesn't actually tell you what's in the dish, so 'rose, lychee and cherry' didn't mean too much to us. We were served a delicately flavoured lychee sorbet served with cherry pieces, Turkish delight and a gorgeous pistachio ice cream. It was very delicately flavoured and light which was exactly what we needed after six rich courses. Not flavours I would ever consider putting together either, but it worked so well!

Next was my favourite dessert dish – a white chocolate cheesecake with candied blood orange and a hibiscus sorbet. Flavour matchmaking at its finest. This just worked so well. It was also stunning to look at – the orange, cream and bright pink were a feast for the eyes and everything was packed with flavour. The hibiscus sorbet was beautiful, such a delicate floral flavour that complimented the citrus from the blood orange so well!

The next dessert was very spring. A hazelnut crumb was topped with caramelised apples and a cocoa flavoured Frangelico milk bubble which popped when you bit into it. The apples were sweet but tart and married nicely with the nutty flavours.

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The final dish was visually stunning. A chocolate pudding infused with plum and sake was shaped to look like a plum, and even had a purple sheen to it! This was a very, very rich dish, which was perhaps a little heavy to finish on but it was a great balance of texture with the addition of the chocolate crumb.

We had such an amazing meal at Paris House and it was made even better by sitting at the Chef's Table. Every dish was executed with balance and you really got a sense of Phil's passion for flavour and food in each dish. Nearly everything made us smile when we put it in our mouths which is definitely one way to gauge a good meal...! Paris House is pricey, but if you are a food lover, I can't recommend making a trip there enough.

To book a table and see the seasonal menus, visit: www.parishouse.co.uk 

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