Future food: The culinary absurdity at Paris House
"Like a scene from Breaking Bad, I dutifully weighed up white powder by the decimal point and blitzed it with the fruit in a Thermomix heated processor"
Ultratex, LT100, Gellan F, Sodium Alginate. These bizarrely-named compounds might not sound like delicious ingredients, but at Paris House, attitudes towards the inner workings of a professional kitchen are a far cry from the norm. Having honed his craft at acclaimed institutions ranging from Danesfield House to L’Ortolan, Michelin-starred executive chef Phil Fanning has harnessed the recent trend towards ‘molecular’ cooking to quite spectacular effect.
Needless to say, Paris House itself is a pleasure to behold. Originally built in 1878 off Quai d’Orsay in Paris’s 7th arrondissement, the 9th Duke of Bedford had the building physically dismantled, shipped piece by piece and rebuilt in its current location within the grounds of Woburn Abbey. If that’s not commitment to aesthetic satisfaction, then I don’t know what is.
On the subject of aesthetic satisfaction, some of the techniques Phil uses to construct his more outlandish courses are visually stunning in preparation as well as in presentation. As I entered his immaculate, stainless steel kitchen on a bright Sunday morning, the flurry of steaming liquid nitrogen, culinary powders and intensely focused staff would’ve given the distinct impression of a well-managed chemistry lab, were it not for the glorious red leather booth that serves as the ‘chef’s table’, which you can book to appreciate the true artistry behind some of Phil’s sizeable repertoire directly from where it’s prepared.
As you can probably imagine, Phil isn’t just pushing the boundaries of edible virtuosity to serve up a really decent fish and chips. The dish that we prepared, “a ravioli of Horlick’s cheesecake, syphonated pistachio sponge, kalamansi skin and nut clusters”, might not be found on the Sunday lunch menu at your local pub, but the occasionally impenetrable language of modernist cooking belies the stunning use of flavour, texture and form that are inarguably present on the menus of Paris House.
So where do you start with such an ambitious dish? Surprisingly enough, with a very simple cheesecake base, made with the usual suspects of cream cheese, caster sugar, vanilla seeds and whole eggs, blended together until aerated and smooth. This is about where the traditional techniques end, though, as the cheesecake mixture is shaped into a mould, flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen then coated in citrus gel, which is synthesized from orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice and a futuristic-sounding culinary compound. So, like a scene from Breaking Bad, I dutifully weighed up white powder by the decimal point on a digital scale and, rather than sealing it in Ziploc bags and selling them to street dealers to build my drugs empire, I blitzed them together with the fruit in a Thermomix heated processor and watched a zesty citrus glaze appear before my eyes.
“Syphonated pistachio sponge” is an equally impressive part of what was gradually becoming a tremendous exercise in forward-thinking cuisine. After blending the dry ingredients with eggs and bergamot zest, the mixture is charged with nitrous oxide and then microwaved so that the nitrogen bubbles expand and then sponge rises up like a science-fiction Bake Off episode played in fast-forward. After carefully layering the parts of the dish together, with sugary nut clusters and slices of blood orange for good measure, the piece was complete and I felt a completely undeserved sense of accomplishment.
Returning now to a vaguely normal level of awareness, it was time to taste some more of Phil’s inventions. In this case, though, the word ‘taste’ isn’t really the correct choice, because each course brought out to the chef’s table is an all-out assault on each of one’s senses, from the indescribable aroma of a ‘thai green curry’ dessert fashioned from spiced pineapple, coconut and lime to the tactile miracle that is ‘ 桃’, a mandarin-based dish adorned with black bean, coriander and sake. I’d imagine that it’d be very easy for a ‘modernist’ chef to simply resort to wacky techniques and synthetic additives to make the mundane appear extraordinary, but it’s apparent that Phil’s robust training and hair-trigger palate mean that Paris House’s brand of East-West fusion is absolutely faultless, leaving the impression of genuine passion and sophistication, rather than the pretention and pompousness that this level of high-end cooking can often exude.
As I climbed back into my car and saw the charming black and white Tudor structure disappear from my rear view mirror, my brain was still attempting to process the sensory onslaught that Phil Fanning had just put it through. As customers, we visit restaurants for myriad reasons, from noisy evenings catching up with friends to silver service luxury in the company of prospective business clients, but if you’re looking for a dining experience to just blow your idea of what makes good food out of the water, book yourself in at Paris House. Incredible.
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