Occupying a historic building in Woburn Park and overseen by Michelin-starred chef Alan Murchison, Paris House is enjoying a new lease of life under head chef Phil Fanning. Amanda Afiya reports.
As approaches go, you would be hard pressed to find anything more impressive than the entrance to Paris House. Located in the stunning 22-acre setting of Woburn Park in Bedfordshire, the half-timbered Paris House was originally built in 1878 in Paris, dismantled piece by piece and shipped to England at the end of the 19th century.
Paris House also has a rich culinary history. In the early 1980s it was bought by the late, great Peter Chandler, famously Albert and Michel Roux's first British protégé, who lovingly ran the restaurant with his wife, Gail, until 2009.
At the end of that year, Alan Murchison, chef-patron of the Michelin-starred restaurants L'Ortolan in Shinfield, Berkshire, and La Bécasse in Ludlow, Shropshire, and a finalist in the current series of Great British Menu, purchased it with his business partner Richard Pursey and together they announced plans to develop the 10 in 8 Fine Dining Group, which seeks to establish a clutch of 10 Michelin-starred restaurants in the next eight years.
Chandler had a reputation for fabulous French cuisine, and while Murchison and Paris House head chef Phil Fanning, who worked with Murchison for more than four years at L'Ortolan, wish to maintain that reputation, their food style is quite different, "encompassing the classics but giving them a modern, fine-food twist". While the kitchen is ably directed by Fanning, front of house is managed by former L'Ortolan colleague François Hardy.
"We wanted the food at Paris House to be individual and not take itself too seriously," says Murchison, pointing to the tasting menu which includes items such as "cheese and pickle sandwich" and "duck à l'orange". "By going for a tongue-in-cheek retro-style menu we can embrace familiar flavours and have some fun. We have a huge repertoire of dishes that we base on classic values and it is just about having a tinker with the presentation and cooking techniques."
Tasting menus are a big feature at the 35-seat restaurant, which includes a chef's table for up to eight and private dining upstairs for a further 14. The menu du jour, for example, which is available in a two-course, £24, three-course, £29, or six-course version, £32, starts with ham and pineapple (a smoked ham hock terrine with dried pineapple, quail egg and chips), followed by gravadlax (vodka and juniper-cured salmon, sweet dill dressing and beetroot spaghetti), pork and apple sauce (confit pork belly, sage and smoked apple purée) or fish and chips (turbot, crispy potatoes and mushy peas), and "Thierry's chocolate orange" (chocolate tart, mandarin curd and orange ice-cream).
A gourmand menu (£59 for eight courses) and a prestige menu (£89 for 10 courses) are both available for lunch and dinner.
But what does the clientele make of all this fun and frolics? "The restaurant has been busy since day one," says Murchison. "After we launched I was on Great British Menu, which helped hugely. The feedback from guests has been mostly very positive and we have noticed that the refurbishment of the restaurant has brought in younger guests, which is a good thing."
While the 10 in 8 concept may be ambitious, Murchison says that ego doesn't get in the way of striving for a successful business model. "We could have thrown £300,000-£400,000 at the fit-out, but we were restrained, while still managing to give the restaurant a quality feel. We have a fair and reasonable rent and have not gone mad on fitting out the kitchen."
Where he has gone mad, though, is with the introduction of a "big red chair" in the kitchen. Overlooking the pass in the kitchen, the chef's table features a floor-to-ceiling pillarbox-red leather banquette. "It did cost quite a lot," he concedes, "but it can generate £100,000 per annum - so it's money well spent."
Paris House, Woburn Park, Woburn, Bedfordshire MK17 9QP
Tel: 01525 290692
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
Gourmand tasting menu, £59
â- Chicken (roast chicken terrine, pickled onions, bread sauce)
â- Smoked salmon (hot smoked salmon, caper dressing, lemon purée)
â- Duck Á l'orange (roast duck breast and confit, carrot and vanilla purée, orange sauce)
â- A selection of French and British cheeses from the trolley with pickled pear chutney
â- Jelly and ice-cream (carrot and mandarin jelly, cream cheese ice-cream)
â- Lemon meringue pie (lemon curd, poached meringue, passion fruit and lemon chutney)