UPDATE: Paris House unfortunately lost their star in the 2017 Michelin Guide
“Chef? That’s my dad’s name!”
Judging how he bounced out from behind the pass to say hello as I arrived for lunch at his chef’s table, it seemed to me that Phil Fanning will always be a ‘young’ chef. Even though the he’s in his mid-30’s and the owner of the one Michelin-starred Paris House in Woburn.
It was a wet and woolly day in February, just after Valentine’s Day to be precise, and I’d left my chef whites at home. Today was about Phil and his six-course tasting menu. Eating at the chef’s table should mean something and for me it’s usually location, location, location. It should be intimate, jovial and practically in the kitchen itself. You should feel the heat and hear the sizzling, panic at the slight smell of burning and feel the chefs’ satisfaction at a perfectly arranged plate.
Paris House has a veritable throne for a chef's table right opposite the pass, the biggest single banquette I’ve seen. And Phil explained the reason for it being so deep red in colour.
“When Alan Murchison (the previous owner and Phil’s mentor) was designing the restaurant, he would shade using a red pen that he always had on him. The thing arrived red, and I’m not sure if it was meant to be!”
The Paris House tasting menu in all of their forms are labours of love. Phil has a deep love of seafood, and sushi in particular, stemming from his time in Canada.
“I lived there for a year, in a resort town called Banff. My wife, girlfriend at the time, was a skiing instructor, and I took a job as a snowboarding instructor as I didn’t have the right visa to work as a chef. They are big on their chefs being Canadian so it was a tough ask.
"I came across seafood there that had travelled fresh from the sea that day into town in a taxi. I remember one restaurant in particular, Sukiyaki House. The seafood was amazing, and that’s where I fell in love with sushi.”
Having been seated, or rather eaten up by the enormous chef’s table, Phil soon arrived with our first course: Tom Yum. A traditional Thai soup dish, Phil has tweaked things his way. A pork gyoza and pork and squid noodles swim in a small pool of tom yum. It was accompanied by a glass of 2013 Gewurztraminer from New Zealand.
Phil was a losing finalist on the 1997 edition of Junior Masterchef, something that still irks him today. But it certainly hasn’t dissuaded him in any way. The tom yum was but the first example of his creative flair, understated but powerful.
King crab followed, with malt, avocado and pink grapefruit. The crab comes as a mousse, reinserted into the claw and placed in freshly baked brown bread, with Phil looking to evoke memories of trips to the seaside. The brown bread and crab sandwich, in particular.
Served with a glass of the Picpoul from the Languedoc region, 2014, the dish was a balance of contrasting flavours, with the warmness of the crab, the soft textures of the avocado and sweetness of the malt offset by the bitterness of the grapefruit.
It was at this point that I took a walk around the kitchen to meet some of the brigade and hear their stories. Like with many Michelin starred restaurants, the chefs are from a variety of backgrounds.
We had Megan, a pastry apprentice, with Craig from Le Manoir on work experience over on the pastry section with two established Paris House chefs. Craig was having a spot of bother with ice cream.
“I’m not a big fan of summer in kitchens,” he said. “It’s always a little too hot, and the ice cream always melts straight after plating!”
Paul Lobban, the head chef, stood in the corner peeling potatoes. He was about to leave the restaurant and start at The Latymer. In total, around seven chefs operated at any one time out of the Paris House kitchen.
The next dish to arrive at our table was the “Pot au Feu”. A classic French beef stew, Phil’s version was all seafood, with turbot, monkfish liver, crayfish liquor and clams and an accompanying glass of 2014 Burgundy.
“We like to do things differently here,” said Phil with a smile, joining us at the table.
“A few months back we had a woman named Sophie turn up at our kitchen door with a bag of snails. I thought her mad right from the off, but she had with her a pot of snail caviar. That’s when I started to take notice”
“I’d never heard of snail caviar, but when I tasted them I realised that we might be on to something here. Something vastly different and potentially contentious, but something.”
Paris House has scallop ceviche with snail caviar when in season and, despite its peculiarity, it has been a great success.
The Muscovy duck, served with duck offal, crisp potato noodles, red miso and mushrooms, was the fourth and final savoury dish on Phil’s six course tasting menu and sees a return to his Asian influences. Rich and fragrant, it was paired with a glass of Chateau Siaurac, a 2007 Pomerol.
A quick trip outside to see the Paris House chef garden came before dessert, with Phil showing us both his thriving vegetables and plants, and a mysterious bunker.
“This is an Anderson bomb shelter from the Second World War, and we’ve had historians come and check it out a few times. They thought it might have something to do with the Enigma Machine. I’m planning to grow mushrooms down there soon!”
Two desserts completed the meal. First, a mandarin trifle with black bean, coriander and sake. A surprisingly balanced dish despite the ingredients, but then Phil Fanning had proven himself more than capable of making a little madness sing.
Which was exactly what rounded things off. A mad final dessert that was an absolute triumph. And it was called ‘Thai Green Curry’.
“Chalk and cheese. Pineapple and curry. This was a lot of fun to come up with,” said Paul, finished with the potatoes and enthusiastically joining our table to explain the veritable Star Trek set on the table before me.
“We used spherification for the curry sauce, which is a mix of sweet and sour including palm sugar, coconut, lime and chilli.”
That’s a coconut and lime doughnut,” Paul continued, pointing at the small, moist bun. “There’s lime gel, a bit of Malibu icing, lychee puree, dragon fruit and a pinch of coriander.”
An unusual attempt, but one that quite simply warrants a trip to Paris House.