The term fine dining, means different things to different people. To some it conjures up the very epitome of elegance and sophistication. To others, it’s an over-priced waste of time and money. For a man of such wide and indiscriminate culinary desires as I, I fall somewhere between the two; I will gladly pay top dollar for a plate of grub, so long as it represents value, similarly there is nothing wrong with a dirty great fry-up for a couple of quid in the right situation. But when it comes to fine dining, what is value? Is it paying 5 pounds for a burger? What about dropping £100 per person on lunch, or maybe even more? The answer, in my totally non-professional and ultimately irrelevant opinion is that they all are – but in very different ways.
So after Gent and I had had several disappointing attempts to find value in any of the restaurants who had been seemingly tipped* to represent the best that Milton Keynes had to offer, we decided that everyone else was wrong and we had probably known better all along. Perhaps one day we’ll revisit the scenes of some of our biggest regrets in the area, but reviewing a place just because we know it’s over-priced yet depressingly under-whelming doesn’t seem very sporting does it?
Fine Dining in
Milton Keynes Stony Stratford
We needed a guarantee, a sure thing, somewhere that has never disappointed. Enter Dan ‘The Postman’ Cameron; finalist on Masterchef The Professionals and growing property magnate of Odell’s yard, Stony Stratford. Camerons is one of those ‘third date’ venues. You know the ones I mean, the sort of restaurant that you go to, to demonstrate that you’ve committed to having a go and you are going to put in the effort; the sort of place that then becomes a birthdays and anniversaries restaurant. Yeah, you’ve got what I’m talking about.
He’s been around for a while now though, enough time to move across and subsume a couple of other units in Odells Yard and we thought it was about time that we caught up with what they were up to. The Kitchen (formally Cameron’s Brasserie) currently has a couple of options, an a la carte menu but as you know we are never ones for half measures, so we we took the tasting menu at full 7 course strength.
First came some petit fours . These were sun dried tomatoes on goats cheese and a tiny little scone. I have to say that I’m not one for the goats cheese, it usually leaves me a little cold but I recognise quality when I see it and this was a nice example. The rest of the table also loved them. Then tuna on a bed of risotto. The rice was cooked well with a beautifully creamy taste and a hit of black pepper, plus the tuna was soft and delicious. The only comment that came back was regarding the ridiculously small and impractical vessel that it was served in. I spotted Gent diving in with his spoon and licking the bowl towards the end but like any true friend, I didn’t judge him. Much.
After that was a surf and turf type plate with some garlic prawns and a beefy croquette. An excellent example of some impressively cheffy techniques and a few ingredients treated extremely well. I remember particularly liking the green pesto bed under the prawns but to my shame, I cannot remember much about it. Who knows, it may not even have been pesto, but whatever it was, it was very nice. Next was the fish and this was a little ‘meh’ to be honest. Good creamy sauce, well cooked salmon with some great crispy skin and a bit of fancy mash. At least, I think it was mash but looking back at this picture now, I suddenly have doubts. The samphire perked things up a little, but not by much. And that was it; a little one dimensional perhaps and easily the weakest dish of the meal.
Then came some pork, and another amusingly shaped plate. This divided opinion because on the one hand the pork belly was soft and perfectly suited to the, what is now an enigmatically mysterious white puree (I tried to check the menu on their website to cover my alcohol fueled memory loss but to no avail), but the crackling was more of a skin crisp and the chorizo was so strong that it turned off everyone but me. There was also some very nice beef, greens, potato and gravy. I remember it being very nice.
Cake! There was a perfect chocolate fondant – the nemesis of years of masterchef contestants, a brownie , icecream and brown sauce. The triangle plate also made a welcome return and I’m fairly sure that there was some salted caramel flavours involved. Finally cheese – because a posh dinner isn’t dinner without cheese, right?
Is Cameron’s Kitchen value for money?
So where does that leave us? Well, it reminds us that quality and value is something that can be seen across any kind of culinary experience.Without question, Cameron’s Kitchen was great and for £150 quid for two from the tasting menu, it should be. It’s true that Camerons holds a lofty perch being the one of the few places trying to bring ‘relaxed fine dining’ to the area and it will be all too easy for them to fall into the pit of lazy self belief from which all too many entries on Trip Advisor cannot escape: just be cause you are better than some other options around you, that doesn’t make you good. If you step in dog poo, you don’t feel relieved that at least the colour goes with your shoes.
Finally, and with that wholly inappropriate analogy still fresh in your mind, I can confirm that, just as predicted, ‘The Postman’ delivered with skill and expertise. The meal was worth every penny and I will continue to recommend Cameron’s Kitchen as one of my go-to restaurants in the area for those times that are worth that extra mile. Demonstrable quality and value at all ends of the culinary spectrum is something to be recognised and supported but now we’ve done the high brow of Cameron’s Kitchen, soon enough we’ll be back to check the more accessibly affordable venue at The Knife and Cork to see if they show more of the same.
*These days I refuse to pay any attention to Trip Advisor, they don’t seem to represent much more than the lowest common denominator and I for one, think we should all expect more than that.