|Paris House, Woburn|
Visiting Michelin-starred restaurants set in acres of picturesque parkland is most certainly not a regular pastime of mine. Yet last Saturday I was fortunate enough to join my best girl friends for a very special lunch at Paris House in Woburn, Bedfordshire. The only Michelin-starred establishment in the county, the restaurant is delightfully hidden away in the huge deer park next to Woburn Safari Park; accessed via an ancient stone archway and long winding driveway through lush green countryside dotted with grazing deer, giving an air of exclusivity even before one's first glimpse of the stunning black and white Tudor-style house. At the front of the restaurant a simple paved terrace with wrought iron tables and chairs offers spectacular views across the park. Inside, the contemporary styled dining room seats ten or so parties comfortably at tables covered by spotless white tablecloths and modern, angular wine glasses. Venture upstairs to the sumptuous washrooms - with lovely touches such as a string of pearls hung on the door to the ladies' room and a single, silk tie denoting the men's - and you can gaze out of the huge leaded windows at the well-tended kitchen garden, from which fresh produce is picked for the day's menu.
We couldn't wait to take a look at the restaurant's menu and, whilst sipping a glass of chilled Champagne, we were given plenty of time to do so. Very tempting dishes awaited us on the a la carte, set lunch, and tasting menus. As I explored the menus, I found a good selection of classic and modern dishes, combinations of ingredients that instantly made me want to try them, and none of the frills and pretenses often associated with fine dining. An impressive wine list accompanied the menu featuring a few wines by the glass, a good number of white, red and sparkling wines on offer by the bottle, covering many wine regions and grape varieties, some of which we could afford and many which we most definitely couldn't! The prices of the food menus were reasonable, including a generous six course lunch tasting menu for just £36 per head or £65 per head (plus service charge) with wines matched to each course, which we noted one could easily spend on a 2 or 3 course lunch at any upmarket restaurant or bistro these days.
We all opted for the six course tasting menu and to say we were absolutely delighted by the arrival of every course of beautifully presented, fine quality fresh ingredients doesn't really do the experience justice. The composition of flavours, textures and colours on each plate was exquisitely good, without fail. We selected a bottle of 2010 Domaine de Claude Écuelle Chablis to drink with the summer menu, which we found refreshing and a good 'all-rounder' to drink with a variety of fish and meat-based courses. The service was at all times polite, considered and seamless with the exception of slightly too long a wait between our dessert courses. Paris House is not a place for those in a rush, however, and we all relished the opportunity to take a long, lazy afternoon to enjoy the lunch and the restaurant's setting.
|Tomato and Red Pepper Amuse Bouche|
The first course was a delicate, frothy amuse bouche of tomato and red pepper, topped with a tiny sprig of fresh basil. The portion was generous, but frothy and light, and full of flavours which whet our appetites for the following courses. We also enjoyed some soda bread and rye bread, both of which were expertly baked and cut into thin slices to enjoy with the sea salted butter.
|Smoked Haddock, Scotched Egg and Pea Risotto|
Next up came the smoked haddock, served in a pea risotto with a scotched egg. The dish looked and tasted superb. One of the highlights of the menu for me, I was particularly impressed by the simple flavours in the risotto - not too plain but not overpowered by either the pea or the fish - and the scotched egg, which at first seemed in stark contrast to the delicate risotto but when eaten was deliciously light, fragile, with a gorgeous soft yolk inside. With the generous pieces of firm smoked haddock holding its own flavour, the dish's overall impact was spot-on and definitely one that I will daydream about when browsing menus in the future.
|Duck Terrine and Smoked Breast|
The duck course followed and I'm afraid beat the risotto in the presentation stakes hands down. It was so pretty that I think we all gasped when it arrived. A good terrine is one of my favourite things to eat. This one was served with some fine quality smoked duck breast slices, a refreshing summer melon salad, and garnished with a pretty chilli flower. The dish in its entirety was perfect. Slicing through the neatly formed terrine we found soft, smooth duck pâté and caramelised mini onions. The miniature melon ball cut through the strong flavours and was delicious with the smoked breast and glistening slither of tomato-skin relish.
|Chicken Caesar Salad|
For the fourth course on the tasting menu we were given the choice of a Chicken Caesar Salad or Chowder. Both were so fantastic that I must give a full mention to each. I had the roast chicken with parfait croutons, braised lettuce and warm Caesar dressing. Delivered to the table on a charcoal-grey piece of slate was a beautifully arranged and intriguing salad of leaves, chicken, bacon and Caesar dressing. Other establishments aiming for this level of fine dining would be tempted to describe the dish as 'deconstructed'. Not here. The humble simplicity of the individual components, then the resulting genius of the dish as a whole, required no fancy descriptions. The tender roast chicken on its bed of wilted, buttery lettuce was almost forgotten as I discovered the rich flavours of the melting crouton of soft, liver parfait and minute cubes of strong Parmesan and salty anchovy hidden amongst the sauce.
When the chowder arrived, served in a simple white bowl with the sauce poured at the table, I had serious plate envy. The dish was a beautiful feast of plump mussels, cockles and an intensely creamy scallop and razor clam mousse, with a slice of sweet caramelized corn. Decadent and very pretty, the chowder was a million miles from the plain old fish soup I've been served in the past. The vibrant yellows, charred sweetcorn and tastes of the seaside gave this traditional dish a lovely summery touch.
|Summer Fruits dessert|
After a simple and refreshing pre dessert of dried strawberry and crunchy meringue with cream (not pictured), I eagerly attacked another lovely arrangement of ingredients laid out on a piece of slate. Regular readers of the Blog will know that I don't really do desserts, opting for savoury over sweet every time. However, on a gorgeously sunny day whilst in the throes of a feast of a tasting menu I am, of course, happy to give one a try. We had a choice of two desserts as part of the tasting menu: summer fruits or a chocolate, cherry and marshmallow creation. I opted for the charming combination of summer berries set in hibiscus with raspberry sorbet and Chantilly cream, thinking it reminiscent of the pretty pink and red fruit tarts found in Paris patisseries. The sorbet was the best I've ever tasted: a smooth, instantly refreshing curl of concentrated raspberry with a scattering of crumble to cut through the icy temperature. The fruit set in jelly was fun, slipping down very easily with the generous serving of naughty Chantilly cream.
|Espresso and Petit Fours|
Finally overwhelmed by the heat in the dining room, we moved out to the terrace for some coffee and sunshine. The finest finale to a flawless meal was a selection of the Chef's take on the classic French petit four, including devilishly sweet vanilla fudge, soft mini muffins drenched in lemon and sugared fruit jellies. As we all found room for 'just one more bite', we agreed that it was exactly these classic, exceptional touches which had made the whole experience so special. The best thing about visiting a restaurant like Paris House is that it is a treat, one to be anticipated and indulged in and then cherished and talked about for weeks afterwards.
I highly recommend a visit. Enjoy... :-)
Tel: +44(0)1525 290692