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A trip to Paris House

15/04/2014

It would probably qualify as mild insanity to say of a meal that is far and away the best food you have ever eaten, food presented so beautifully that the Tate would have been happy to display it as an installation, that the food itself was not necessarily the surprising hit of the evening at Paris House. So I won’t say that – but there is some truth there.

As far as first impressions go, it does not get much grander than driving up the pathway through the magnificent archway in the grounds of the Woburn Estate, towards the small but elegant house –lifted from Paris and rebuilt in the grounds of Woburn, as you do – with its immaculate gardens. We were awed into the kind of silence that denotes that you are far out of your usual realm of experience, and mildly terrified about it. There was a moment of panic that we would have to ditch our old and bashed up car somewhere in the dark fields and walk through a car park stuffed full of Jaguars and Porsches. But to our intense relief, the car park was full of much more normal cars, with just the odd smattering of Aston Martin.

Paris House

Paris House

Because Paris House comes with all of the expected grandeur of Michelin starred eating. We’d long heard its name whispered in lofty tones, and assumed that it would have the atmosphere of the House of Lords, and we would only be spoken to by pious-looking butlers. Luckily, we were entirely wrong. Greeted by a smiling and smart, reassuringly normal young man, we walked through the restaurant – also full of very normal sorts of people, enjoying their meals and not a butler in sight – and into the kitchen. Sitting at the chef’s table in a kitchen producing food of this magnitude is the sort of treat that only comes about once in a blue moon, so after a couple of minutes of gawping, we decided to stop being awestruck and just to enjoy it. The chefs certainly seemed to be having a great time – none of the Ramsey-esque shouty kitchen behaviour that on TV has become synonymous with great food and top restaurants, instead there was an easy companionship between the team, and the busy kitchen exuded calm.

Since arriving at Paris House in 2010, Phil – head chef and now manager  has scoured the local area to find the very best artisan producers, and now he and his team wanted to celebrate their ‘local heroes’. Their thoughtful and elegant Bedfordshire’s finest menu  makes these hyper-local, carefully produced specialities sing. The eight-course tasting menu is a curated map of these specialities; the finest tastes in Bedfordshire.

The bread and butter course was a fine example of this: bread made from flour ground at Stotfold Mill,  rapeseed butter from Mrs Middleton’s Oil.  A restaurant may go on to do all kinds of fancy things with world-class ingredients, but if they take the time and effort to get the basics as right as these were, you know you’re eating somewhere really special.

The snails – ‘the very best I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with’ Phil told us, are the handiwork of Sophie, of Aylesbury Escargot. They were served alongside chicory, onion and were tender, meaty and perfectly complimented the delicate pansies on the plate.

The pork, rich and tender, is an homage to Ben, the local farmer who runs the farm attached to Redbourne School in Ampthill. The rare breed pigs are bred to the specifications of Paris House by the students, and the taste of the meat is a testament to their care and dedication. The ‘poshest, and tastiest fry up ever course’ included bacon from this hallowed pigsty, and was spectacular. The egg, boiled at 63 degrees C for 4 and a half hours, was like a creamy, buttery sauce.

The rapeseed that was presented with the locally fished, cured trout is the produce of the Dickensian sounding Whizz Middleton, who must perform some astonishing alchemy on a crop that you rarely think very much about; the stalks were tender and tasty – not unlike sprouting broccoli. The seeds added a slight smoky bitterness to the dishes, and to the butter and the oil itself was divine.

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Sophie’s Snails. Photo: Paris House.

For me, the meal had three particular highlights. The first being the salmon lollipops in beetroot gel (how does one even go about making that?) that came as a starter along with pork skin puffs, venison kofta and duck egg tartar sauce. The lollipops – dusted with samphire and wasabi, summed up the menu perfectly: understated but tasty, fun but not showy. And they were insanely delicious. I could have eaten eight plates of them alone, which I know is not the point of this kind of dining…

The second was the Ivy honey and blackcurrant cheesecake, the best sort of deconstructed cheesecake made with Wally’s Ivy honey – I told you these local suppliers had wonderful Dickensian names – another supreme achievement. The eye-watering sharpness of the blackcurrants and the mellow sweetness of the honey, with none of the stodginess of some cheesecakes made it the best kind of dessert. The third was the venison, bred on the Woburn Estate: -‘like eating Bambi,’ whispered Phil. ‘Served in a sauce of tears.’ Sorry Bambi, but you do taste VERY good. It was cooked to perfection, so tender you could indeed cry, and with a taste I will never ever forget.

The team at Paris House have done something wonderful and built a menu of staggering quality around the flavours of the local area – a menu which ensures that the local suppliers really are the stars, not overshadowed by the Michelin-quality touches. We’d never eaten a meal as good as this one, and although Paris House is more expensive than a meal out at our regular haunts, it’s well worth saving up a bit for. Everything – the food, the service, the setting is majestic but understated. At no point did the restaurant feel stuffy. The whole place resonates with the passion of the staff, and the relaxed atmosphere is a testament to their obvious ease with one another. We’ll certainly be back – with food of this quality a mere twenty minute drive away, we’d be mad not to. Oh, and the plates! The starry food is served on super, not-at-all pretentious crockery made by Phil’s friend.

BOB-Trout

The trout course, Paris House

And so the astonishing thing was that we came away from the best meal we’ve ever eaten talking about the food and the menu and the service, but mostly about the people. The passion and the dedication of Phil and the team, and their aspirations, not only for the restaurant but for the suppliers they can support, and the staff they can nurture. Under Phil’s directorship, the highest quality food is combined with a real desire for Paris House and its staff to become a part of the community here. And the fact is, that actually, Paris House is not just for the rich and famous. It’s just for people who like good local food, even if they have to save up a bit to go somewhere that special. I mean, the aristocracy moved that house here from Paris. It’s worth the wait.

 

 

 

Street Champions bring a splash of colour

11/04/2014

Thanks to some of Bedford’s Junior Street Champions, the play area in Milburn Road off Norse Road received a makeover on Tuesday 15 April.

To celebrate the second year anniversary of the Junior Street Champions, over 30 of the Junior Champions along with local children painted the brick wall that backs the play area with a colourful mural in the theme of ‘children at play’. They also painted some of the equipment in the play area as well as litter picking the local area too.

Before...

During...

After!

After!

 

Councillor Sarah-Jayne Holland, Portfolio Holder for Community and Regulatory Services, said: “There are nearly 200 young people now involved with the Junior Street Champion scheme, all of whom are making a real difference to their local community and Bedford Borough.

“The Junior Street Champions have given the Milburn Road play area a new lease of life and really spruced up the play area in time for the busy spring and summer months!

“Any young people who are interested in getting involved with future events should get in touch as soon as possible as we have plenty of opportunities coming up!”

Jim Playle, bpha Community Officer, added: “The artwork the children have produced has transformed a drab, graffiti strewn wall into a colourful work of art. The aim was to brighten the area up and create a little bit of pride in the neighbourhood. I think we’ve achieved that and the children can be rightly proud of what they have achieved.”

 

The event was made possible thanks to support from BPHA Community Development Team who supplied all the paint and materials and Waitrose Community Matters Fund.

 

The Junior Street Champion scheme currently has just over 190 members aged between 5-16 years of age. The Borough Council run scheme encourages children to take an active role in their community, earning pin badges and taking part in community litter picks, planting and improvement events. At previous Junior Champions events they planted daffodil bulbs, litter picked and tidied in the Foster Hill Road cemetery grounds.

 

If you are interested in becoming a Junior Street Champion please contact the community Volunteering Team on 01234 718276 or email volunteering@bedford.gov.uk

Calling out around the world – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

29/03/2014

Motown pioneers Martha Reeves & the Vandellas are coming to Bedford on April 7th ! You’ll be sure to know the girl groups hits, which include Dancing in the Streets, Heatwave, Nowhere to Run

Martha Reeves

We had the opportunity to speak to Martha in Detroit, prior to the UK shows.

C: Anything you like about playing in England?

M: The wonderful fans! Many great memories of playing here…

C: Do you prefer recording or performing?

M: I’ve been singing since the age of 3, I’m just happy to perform in any situation, so I have no real preference…

C: Most interesting country you performed in?

M: There is no one place, it’s about the people, the audience, the music at that moment in time, so the place doesn’t matter – I’ve never played Switzerland, I’d love to perform there…

C: Any favourite people you’ve worked with?

M: Little Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Supremes, Edwin Starr, Freda Payne, Tony Bennett

C: Anyone you would still like to work with?

M: I’d be open to any collaboration, but would love to perform for the Royal Family one day

C: Favourite decade for music?

M: Well, I’m in my 5th decade of music well and enjoyed all the scenes that were around – my time was the Hippy era…

C:  What do you enjoy outside of music?

M: Golf -I’ve won some trophies for longest tee off! It’s great to be outdoors, the menfolk are a great help on the green, made some good friendships out there. Also, I like sewing, altering and customising costumes. Plus visiting schools – conducting motivational talks and explaining that it’s hard work getting into music; dedication, is what you need.

C: Any new acts that excite you?

M: No, not a whole lot. There’s way too much profanity and the artists just aren’t distinguishable. There’s a lot of music about nowadays without musicianship. All machines, pro tools and voice enhancers doing it for them. Music needs to be learned – I take singing lessons every year, as my voice changes over the years, so I need to deal with how to use it.

Martha2

C: How have you seen the industry change?

M: Well it’s changed a lot, like I said, with the technology, Hitsville, where the Motown records were recorded was open 24 hours a day! People coming in and out, recording including James Jameson (a previously uncredited session bassist) and The Funk Brothers (Motown’s superb session musicians) were always there…The competition was tough, with people like Stevie Wonder around! That’s one of the reasons for the high quality of the Motown sound. When I perform the songs now I get total recall, back to the time when the song came out.

C: What did you think of the David Bowie & Mick Jagger version of Dancing in the Street? (recorded for Live Aid in 1985)

M: Well, I was very flattered! I had one regret that I wasn’t in the video! That song’s been covered dozens of times by The Who, The Grateful Dead, Dusty Springfield & of course The Mamas & Papas. I was in the NBC studio when that was out and some kids were asking Mama Cass about the song, and she had to tell them it was by Martha Reeves!

C: I see you’re on Twitter, do you tweet (or does a Vandella do it for you?!)

M: No, I don’t twitter myself (laughs). Admin does that, but I do Facebook myself. It’s a good way of communicating with fans and friends.

We went on to talk about the Motown Museum in Detroit; the original Hitsville recording studio, which Martha recommended I go to.

If you’re in that neck of the woods, it’s at 2648 West Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48208 USA

Or you can virtually check it out

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas play Bedford Corn Exchange on April 7th. Tickets available here

Fishwife’s Broadside @ Holy Moly’s

20/03/2014

Fishwife’s Broadside play Holy Moly’s at Bedford Esquires this Saturday, to celebrate the release of their new single. Manager Billy Stupid has finally stumped up the wedge for a pressing; a very limited, numbered version of which will be available at the gig.

FishwifesBroadside

I spoke to bassist Bard about being in the band. Together for 5 years, he explained how they were bestowed the name Fishwife’s Broadside after Billy Stupid won it in a raffle and couldn’t think of anything better to do with it. Being 8 members strong, influences are many and this helps the band to defy categorisation and complacency. Bard opts for Skiffle Punk when pushed to define a ‘sound’, and he’s in the unique position of being the only band member who plays an electric instrument.

Bard explained the decision to go acoustic as a desire to return to basics.

‘We just wanted to get away from all the rock posturing. I’ve got nothing against rock music….but we thought we’d just try to go a different way and try and do something that’s a bit more challenging. You can’t just say ‘ok, let’s chuck some fuzz on this and you can use your whammy bar’. I think you have to use your imagination a bit more when you limit yourself. We had a year without a drummer before Terry came in, but we don’t class him as a drummer because he’s not allowed to sit down.

With some roots in punk, and a fundamental approach to music, are they political ?

That’s very difficult because we are all political people but we don’t have a specific band politics. Basically, we’re humanitarian. I wrote a letter to a bloke from an anarchist band called The Mob, and he’s now the drummer of Blyth Power. I wrote asking a couple of questions about being in a band and he wrote back saying ‘I’m sorry, today is not a band day so I can’t answer any of your questions. If you write again and it arrives on a different day I will do my best to answer your questions’ and I thought it was brilliant. That was about thirty years ago and I’ve spoken to him about it since. He said he was like that in those days. I like to think he had a smile on his face when he posted the reply.

I wondered about the practicalities of transporting 8 band members to each gig

‘We played the Ian Lee show on 3 Counties Radio and only just fitted in the studio’ said Bard. Some of the gigs are quite challenging, but we don’t have any amps or a full drum kit. If we have space to move around then we do. If we haven’t then we just tend to keep still. Apart from (vocalist) Andy who tends to wander off the stage and to walk around’

The bill is completed by The Bitter Springs and Rastko. The Bitter Springs are no strangers to either Fishwife’s Broadside or Bedford. Formed in 1985 as The Last Party, they then changed name to The Bitter Springs in 1996. Rastko are a relatively new acoustic duo, but also have previous as half of  The Singing Loins. Bedford will be one of their first gigs as Rastko. Bard went to see them last week in London and rates them highly.

Theatre Choice: Pocket Henry V by William Shakespeare

14/03/2014

by Paula Walker @pauliwauli2

Bedford theatre lovers, don’t miss the opportunity to see the award-winning Propeller Theatre Company’s production of Pocket Henry, a condensed version of Shakespeare’s military classic, Henry V, at the Place Theatre. Watch how Henry V prepares to lead England into battle against a mighty French opponent, as this legendary English story is brought to the stage in a pocket, sixty-minute reimagining. In a world where loyalty and courage are put to the test, will Henry V and England prevail and win the day?

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Under the direction of Edward Hall (son of RSC founder and former National Theatre artistic director, Peter Hall), Propeller is an all-male company that brings Shakespeare’s texts to life with their trademark clear, humorous and enlightening style. Following their successful, well-reviewed tour of Henry V, their pocket version provides an inspiring introduction not only to Shakespeare, but also to high quality theatre.

At the end of the hour, there will be a question-and-answer session, in which young audience members will be invited into the performance space with the actors. Suitable for anyone, from eight to eighty, why don’t you grab your sword and shield and join in?

The Place Theatre, Bradgate Road

Tuesday 1 April at 7.30pm

Tickets: £14 (Concessions £12)

Tickets available from www.theplacebedford.org.uk

National Theatre Live Review: Warhorse

13/03/2014

We love the National Theatre Live events at Cineworld Bedford – great theatre, ballet and opera streamed live to your local cinema is the kind of magic that should always be celebrated. We sent Joel Court, a film studies student at Bedford College and aspiring film critic to get the lowdown on the NT LIVE performance of Warhorse. Here’s his thoughts on the evening:

Last Thursday, a multi-award-winning play came to Bedford. Well, sort of. While the play that has now been seen by over 5 million people stayed firmly back in its home of the National Theatre in London, for the first time, the play was broadcast live to over a thousand cinemas across the United Kingdom, giving Bedfordians the chance to experience this extraordinary phenomenon from the comfort of the Aspects Cineworld. And for a fraction of the price.

Warhorse

The stage production of Warhorse

There is little to be said of War Horse that has not already been said by far more eloquent critics than myself. From the first moment that a colt trembles onto the stage, War Horse manages to delight, enthral and inspire the audience like nothing else I have ever seen. Set in the hell of the First World War, now being commemorated a century later, there is still humour, enough to prevent the audience sinking into complete despair, while still making sure that the horror and universal suffering remains burned in the mind of the beholder. The play is as uplifting as it is truly heart-breaking. None of the power of the performance is lost, despite the distance.  The acting and story are still as immersive and spectacular as ever, and despite the occasional shots of the audience at the end and interval, it is easy to forget that you’re in a cinema rather than actually there. In addition to marking the centenary of the start of the Great War, the stage production of War Horse also has a rather personal link with Bedford. Actor Jeremy Irvine was a drama student at Bedford Modern School, and became recognised for his talent as an actor whilst portraying Albert Narracott in the production, a role which has now been taken up by Siôn Daniel Young.

The screening was organised to give viewers a more theatrical experience, with free programmes, early door openings, promotions of upcoming NT productions, and a twenty minute interval complete with ice cream vendors. Still, nothing made it feel more like a real west end performance than the overcrowded loos in the interval. Seriously though, Cineworld has offered Bedfordians an opportunity to witness a singularly beautiful piece of storytelling at the fraction of the price, and without the distance. At two hours and 45 minutes, it is more than worth every minute.

Warhorse

Joel is a small-time film blogger and fan, aspiring one day to make movies,though for the time being, more than happy to write about them! Currently a Bedford film student and freelancer, in between blogging away.

There is still time to see the Encore performances of War Horse. There are shows on at Bedford Cineworld TONIGHT – 13th March, Tuesday 18th March and Saturday 22nd March. For more info, have a look at the Cineworld website – and look out for more NT live showings in The Listings in The Clanger.

Pop Up Studio at BedPop

13/03/2014
Art in Action!

Art in Action!

This Saturday, the BedPop shop at 68 High Street (the former Pizza Hut building) will be buzzing with creativity and artistic activity when the space is transformed into a shared artists’ studio for the day.

Six local artists will bring their easels to our Pop Up Studio to work alongside each other.  The Pop Up Studio will be open to the public and visitors are welcome to chat to the artists, find out more about the creative process and purchase work.

The BedPop Shop is available for community groups, artists or emerging businesses to use.  For further information, please email bedpopshop@gmail.com.

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