Paris House restaurant

Paris House brings out the 'Big Guns'

by Isaac Parham 14 May 2014

Phil Fanning has introduced a powerful six course tasting menu for May. Titled 'Big Guns' it parades an array of luxurious and seasonal ingredients. Discover what's in store as Isaac reviewed the dishes from the intimacy of The Chef's Table.

Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

Isaac Parham is a freelance food writer and editor from South London. When not browsing Borough market or watching his beloved Portsmouth FC, you'll find him travelling the country to find the nation's best food.

Everybody knows that the food writer and the chef are like chalk and cheese. One has a vocabulary as coarse as sandpaper, drinks too much, tweets too much and works hideously long hours; the other is the chef.

Ok, so maybe they are not that different, but they have been known to clash on certain occasions (one famous example being when Gordon Ramsay threw AA Gill and his guest, hmm, Joan Collins, out of his Royal Hospital Road restaurant after a bad review). Luckily, some bright spark decided to invent the concept of the ‘Chef’s Table’ – which means the two can get all close-up and cuddly, for better or for worse…

But, joking aside, the Chef’s Table has undoubtedly been a great thing for the restaurant industry. And while I’m not sure how much the chefs can enjoy it (there’s enough stress on them during service without having to worry about some idiot taking notes in the corner) it is always fascinating for the voyeur.

And so it proves at Woburn’s Paris House – where Phil Fanning and his team of merry men conjure mesmeric dishes while I sit and enjoy the full panorama of the kitchen from plumped up seats opposite.

Fanning has been at Paris House since 2010, previously working at Danesfield House and for Alan Murchison at L’Ortolan. In fact, it was Murchison’s 10 in 8 group that acquired the restaurant and entrusted Fanning with Head Chef duties at the tender age of 29 - a decision vindicated by a cacophony of critical acclaim and the winning of a Michelin star just a year into his tenure.

But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses, and when 10 in 8 ran into financial difficulty just a couple of years later, Fanning was posed with a tough dilemma: lose Paris House or stump up the cash to take it on himself.

Luckily, Fanning - with the help of his in-laws - managed to find the necessary cash. And after some initial teething problems, is now managing to stamp more of his own authority on this majestic destination.

The food is certainly authoritative. Playful, modern and big on flavour (Fanning would make a great contestant on Great British Menu), his exuberant cuisine seems well suited to a six course tasting menu – titled ‘Big Guns’ - parading luxurious ingredients.

We start with a witty take on high tea. Served in porcelain, the chamomile-flavoured broth is crystal clear with textural notes of Abalone and scallops for company. This is followed by a touch of rare decadence – princely foie gras coated in Iranian pistachios and paired with a tarty pink Champagne jelly.

As we eat, Fanning stands at the pass putting the finishing touches to the dishes while whistling the tune of Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Most of the night he is calm, and he seems to be enjoying working with Head Chef Paul Lobban – the Lennon to his McCartney (“I’m the boring one, he’s the creative one,” Phil Fanning tells me).

The partnership results in dishes that are imaginative, restrained and always clear in concept. Take our next wonderfully eclectic preparation: dreamed up by Lobban, it pairs langoustines from his native Scotland with pasta made from his Italian Grandmother’s recipe, garnishing with some fragrantly floral Thai basil.

Our fourth dish showcases wild boar - the go-to protein for a celebratory banquet in Roman times, according to Fanning - which has a flavour somewhere between pork and lamb and comes creatively paired with ‘puffed up’ wild rice, shavings of asparagus and a tannic oak sauce.

The menu ends on a high – a double header of brilliant desserts. First up is my favourite course of the night, a stunning strawberry dish with a delicious, ‘mini-milk-esque’ clotted cream parfait and enough lime to keep things interesting. Then we sample ‘GOLD’ - so-called because of the large bauble occupying the centre of the dish – which includes a riveting array of ingredients; from Nevado white chocolate, to locally sourced honey and white peach.

It is hard to understand the idiosyncrasies of a professional kitchen without having seen its workings first hand – the anachronistic use of ‘Oui, chef’, the gentle ribbing of waiting staff and so on. And, put simply, it looks bloody hard work; a nimble-fingered performance of panic liable to fall apart at a moments notice.

But despite the cuts, sweat and stress, there is a lot to be said for working in a kitchen like Fanning’s - the camaraderie and resolve in the face of adversity is impressive. I’m almost tempted to put down my pen and join the dark side myself. Almost.