Friday, 25 February 2011

Lunch at Paris House

It is half term so, naturally enough, I am due a food treat. My schoolfriend chum Liz and I decided to visit Paris House in the grounds of the Woburn Abbey for a leisurely lunch. Liz had dined there several times before as she has a friend who was a cousin of one of the previous owners. Liz really rated it and, as it's just gained a Michelin star under the Alan Merchison team, now seemed like a good time to try it.

It is approached through a deer park and looks slightly incongrous in its surroundings. The building itself was constructed in Paris in 1878 and then dismantled and brought to Woburn at the end of the 19th century. We loved the chickens in the adjacent pen (and Eglu) and the distant deer which were mostly white. Liz thought they must be albinos. I keep meaning to look them up.

I started with my first G&T for 3 weeks. All the more yummy for being mixed with Fevertree tonic which is absolutedly the best. It was accompanied by excellent olives and coated cashews. We then moved into the dining room for an amuse bouche of (Jerusalem) Artichoke Velouté with Hazelnut Foam. I don't do foam. It looked like spit and this one didn't taste of anything. The soup was gorgeous however and you could definitely taste hazelnuts in that. At the bottom was an unexpected prune which finished the dish off nicely, although seeing that written down it doesn't sound nice at all.

We had opted for the Lunch Tasting menu and the next dish was a Chicken Liver Parfait, Madeira Jelly and Crispy Brioche. It was runnier than I'd expected and garnished prettily with thin beetroot ribbons. Very smooth, very moreish. This was followed by a Smoked Haddock Risotto with Crispy Egg (and more blooming foam). Liz had reservations about this as she doesn't do eggs (so I had to oblige) and she felt that it wasn't risotto rice and therefore lacked something. I had no complaints but wondered what kind of eggs they were - smaller than your average chicken, bigger than quail. We both agreed though that it was very tasty.

Mains were a delight. Liz's Poached Pigeon Breast, Pea Parfait, Confit and Sherry Jus is pictured. I was allowed a taste of the pigeon. Totally melt-in-the-mouth. I am eyeing up the pigeons in my garden. It really was a sensational dish.

I went for the other option of Pan-Fried Skate, Dill Gnocchi, Brown Shrimp and Cockle Butter which was also wonderful. Perhaps the gnocchi were on the hefty side but the dish was no worse for that.

We decided then, to hell with the cost, to share a plate of cheese. Totally amazing and possibly the best cheese board I have seen outside Le Manoir. Liz waxed lyrical about the various goat cheeses. I loved the Epoisses and a wonderful cider-washed Welsh hard cheese whose name escapes me.

The chef's pre-desserts were miniature ice cream cones containing lemon parfait (I think) and coconut ice cream. Fortunately for me Liz can only take a little dairy before her allergy to whey kicks in so she insisted I had hers too. Again it was really good, the balance between the lemon and the coconut just perfect.

My dessert was a Marshmallow, Vanilla and Chocolate Sauce confection decorated with gold leaf. So pretty, so fabulous. I think Liz fared less well with the Rum Baba and Caramelised Pineapple but she certainly wasn't complaining. (I had to eat her Pina Colada ice cream too and that was very, very good).

We shared a bottle of (red) Rioja. The price for lunch including service and a supplement for the cheese was £146. Not cheap but I think it was special enough to warrant it.

The ambience is excellent, the building and decor nicely quirky. We left replete and vowing to return.

Highly recommended for a special lunch but you'll have to book well in advance.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Upside-down cheesecake

When I read this recipe in last Saturday's Guardian I thought it would do very nicely for supper on Sunday as we were due at least 2 of our offspring to be dining with us. In the event they went off to play squash and had a takeaway pizza. This sort of thing is normal chez Lark!

I thought the recipe promised much and the price of forced rhubarb has dropped a little, although cream cheese is pricey. Worth a punt though and better than a tin of mandarin oranges and a can of evaporated milk!

It was easy to make and it looked very pretty when I cut into it. (My photo of the inside does not do it justice, as per usual).

But. And it is a Big But. Mr Lepard's instruction to eat it straight from the oven or warm is So Wrong IMHO. The ginger crumbs and the rhubarb were lovely at that temperature but the filling was reminiscent of warm baby sick. (Our grandson has spent a lot of time with us this weekend so I know what I'm talking about here). My husband, aforementioned Mr Fussy Eater, thought it was horrible and even I had a problem with it.
On Monday we both ate it cold. And we both had a second portion. Fridged and set firm it was absolutely gorgeous.
So I have a new food on my "I don't like" list (which is a very small list and includes most goat cheese, gravy and Campari). Warm cheesecake. Bleeeurgh.