Milton Keynes is blessed (and I use the word only politely) with almost every chain restaurant the UK has to offer and I’ve probably eaten in pretty much all of them. We are the seeming growing go-to destination of choice for companies looking to stretch out of London with Smashburger and a Revolution De Cuba scattered amongst the bazillion Nando’s but then who can also forget the amusing if unfortunate Chimichanga incident of 2016? So some might suggest that it’s not 100% bad news. In fact, despite the over indulgence of Bella Italia and GBK’s I’m going to say it; some chains are ok – cue gasps of horror from all my hardcore foodie friends (I’m looking at you Mike…). In fact, I’m going to go further, some chains are positively nice (oh no, I may have gone too far. Mike is already on the speed dial arranging an intervention). I stand by that though, it’s true, it’s because food is entirely subject to the context of when and how you eat, or drink it. And of course, who you eat and/or drink it with. So it was with no pre-conceived opinions and only a hunger for a good plate of grub, I entered Browns* to see which side of the pitch they were kicking from.
So things must be going well here at TwoMenAboutTown Towers because amongst the exclusive invitations and product reviews beating a path to our door, the good folks at Browns dropped us a note to say that their new beef menu was live and would we want to try it?
Yes, Browns. Yes we would.
What does a restaurant review in February, mean to you? To me, it means a quids-in score as a free Valentines dinner; magic. Unfortunately Mrs P didn’t quite see things the same way and forced me to buy flowers as well. Expensive flowers. And perfume dammit.
So there we were, sitting at a booth at the back of the restaurant with Mrs P looking very pleased with herself (and smelling lovely, even if I do say so myself) and both of us tucking into cocktails served in the most enormous wine glasses I have ever seen. We sipped on our tiny straws in huge glasses and considered our surroundings. The tables were pretty tired, the decor was a whole lot of brown presented in various shades and nothing really stood up and said ‘Look at me! I have personality!’ But always the optimist, Mrs P pointed out that one man’s boring-beige is another mans classic-leather and I absolutely take her point; the casual bar at the front of the room, the non-offensive yet modernish music and the choices of abstract local photos on the wall all try to make a relaxing and interesting space, but where was it all going? I wanted Browns the brand to conjure the impression of a intimate and exclusive London Club with stained oak staircases and butlers who bring you the newspaper and Eggs Benedict in your comfy wing-back chair. What I was getting was a bright, airy space filled with modern casual dining just like anywhere else, but just with more Brown. Hmmm.
Dining at Browns
We kicked things off with scallops and beef shin for me and a prawn cocktail for Mrs P. With regards to the prawns you can probably imagine what it was like to eat them by simply looking at the photo. It was, as 70’s ironic revival throwbacks go, perfectly fine. ‘Give the punters what they want’ was clearly the instruction and it was executed with the expected level of precision, but the scallops on the other hand were at least something a little new. I will admit to being a little confused though as there was very little beef shin in the bowl and while the dish came with a lot of ‘beef broth’, plus extra an additional gravy jug, I only had a fork and knife to eat it with. So short of drinking from the bowl itself, and Mrs P usually frowns on that sort of thing when out in public, I had to ask for a spoon to finish it off. We both agreed that as a dish, it was a little odd but still very tasty.
Mains were another winner for me as I tucked into my soft and rich BBQ beef short ribs and spiralised tempura courgette. The corn salsa was also very edible and while the tomatoes, if not blistered as advertised, were at least warm. Thumbs up all round for me then. Mrs P didn’t fair so well. On the positive side, her lamb rump was adorned with the same anonymous stringy herb as appeared on both starters, clearly a fabulously versatile ingredient, and the meat was certainly lamb. Conversely, the aforementioned lamb was over cooked, the gravy thin and splitting, the potato gratin was badly under-cooked and the minty peas contained no traceable mint at all. Ouch, a bad day at the office there I’m afraid chaps.
But could they bring it back with the puds?
Well, yes actually. I’m an absolute sucker for salted caramel, and these profiteroles were really good. The titanic shard of sugar might need a bit of a re-think but other than that, lovely jubbly. The lemon tart was pretty good too, I really liked the smooth texture with just the right hit of sharpness even if the base was quite raw in places. Suspicion tells me that given the hit-and-miss of the rest of the menu, these may just possibly have been made off site and shipped in for final prep, but quite frankly who cares? You pays your money and takes your chances, to get consistency in something like profiteroles across a national footprint, there has to be compromise somewhere and just as I can secretly demolish a Maccy D’s cheese burger when no-one is looking, I’ll happily take down a couple more plates of those salty caramel globes.
Where does Browns go from here?
I’m afraid that my impressions are that Browns as a chain does seem to lose itself into bland brown depths very much like the logo and name itself. I I get what they’re trying to go for, classic sophistication that is certainly not unlike what TwoMenAboutTown might one day hope to achieve. But in judging Browns I think I’m also passing judgement on ourselves, we at TwoMenAboutTown look to re-imagine what refined sophistication should look like in 2017 and so too should Browns move in one of two directions; towards the traditional social club and dining angle, or bring a radically new facelift to what has become even more tired than it was before. Will they take any notice of me? I severely doubt it, but if they do announce a re-brand and exciting new/old look, just remember: it was me what told them to do it…
Browns asked me to come and check out the new beefy menu, the meal was comped but I did pay for a couple of extra drinks.
*That sounded a bit dodgy didn’t it? I’m sure it’s fine though, probably no-one even noticed. Yeah, totally fine.