Thea Lewis-Yates enjoys lunch in the country
Approaching Paris House, we couldn’t help but be struck by its eerie beauty. Set within Woburn Abbey’s 22 acres of parkland – where wild deer roam freely – and just 30 minutes by train from London Euston, Paris House looks like a chocolate-box illustration. The slightly surreal feeling continued when we had to ring a doorbell for entry, a touch that felt personal and intimate in the rural setting.
Greeted with welcoming smiles and glasses of Champagne, the tone was set for a thoroughly luxurious lunch. We opted for the tasting menu, wanting to enjoy the surprise of each dish. My date chose the Wine Flight – where a glass is matched to each course – and our instantly likeable, eccentric sommelier delighted in talking us though the flavour-enhancing qualities of each grape.
As for the food, I can honestly say this was one of the best meals I’ve eaten in the past year. Blending the finest local produce with ingredients from around the world, executive chef and owner Phil Fanning created food that was at once exciting, intriguing and utterly delicious. It’s no surprise that Paris House has retained its Michelin star since 2011. We started with an amuse-bouche (the direct translation here is totally apt) of beetroot and salmon lollipops, with some sort of popping wizardry. Beautiful, odd and delicious. Each course that followed was more intriguing than the last, and used rare culinary techniques (often Japanese, as Fanning explained to us after our meal) with classic
Smoked halibut with brown onion jus and Cardigan Bay prawn was overflowing with flavour, a great opener for the earthy pork gyoza with tom yum that followed. Ravioli filled with an almost raw but piping hot egg yolk, flavoured with sage and truffle, was staggeringly rich and unctuous – one of several head-scratching ‘just how do they do that?’ moments at Paris House. The duck was some of the best I’ve eaten, butter-soft and just the right side of gamey. And, of course, we had not just one pudding but two – mandarin trifle with black bean, coriander and sake plus a Horlicks cheesecake, served with citrus and pistachio, to finish. The latter was our clear favourite of the two. The loveliest touch of all, though, was the dessert sake the sommelier brought out for me. The meal came full circle with a fabulously humorous lollipop, this time in the form of banoffee pie served with nostalgia-inducing Vimto jellies.
Our meal ended with a visit from Fanning, who is as warm and hospitable as he is talented. With news of a refurbishment of the interior in the offing, he gave us the perfect excuse to revisit later in the year – as if we needed one. Paris House is a rare gem set in beautiful countryside, staggeringly close to the capital. It’s a truly special restaurant.
Woburn Park, London Road, Woburn, MK17 9QP.
01525 290 262. www.parishouse.co.uk