Some people have been known to say that there is a distinct lack of posh dining in and around North Buckinghamshire. Some people have been known to rant a bit too much after a few too many (small) glasses of social beverage about the lack of choice in fine dining restaurants available within easy driving distance of their house. Some people are likely to get into arguments with people they don’t know on Twitter about their insistence on confusing ‘expensive’ with ‘worth the money’. Well, those people should just go ahead and shut their smart mouth because Nelson Street has decided to invite itself to the Buckingham Fine Dining party.
The truth is that generally speaking, Buckingham hasn’t been exactly world famous for it’s culinary credentials up to now. For those of you who haven’t ventured that far out, Buckingham is about 20 minutes west of MK and while as we all know, Milton Keynes has it’s own chain-related problems, it has been undergoing a quiet and steady improvement process with Camerons, the Antep Kitchen among others hitting up some very respectable plates, and that’s not even mentioning the burgeoning street food and food festival scenes. But, Buckingham? Well, with an average population age of 154* I think it’s safe to say that they don’t exactly embrace change.
Nelson Street opened about 5 years ago and since then has been happily plodding along in the back streets of Buckingham being wonderfully popular in giving the people of Buckingham exactly what they asked for. But something was wrong. Owner Chefs Louis and Tom wanted more, and why wouldn’t they? With places with such serious credentials as The Ivy, Petruis, Le Manoir and Texas Joes, on their CV’s the boys realised that serving burgers or fish and chips just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. They wanted to make a statement. So, of course they contacted TwoMenAboutTown to see what we thought of their reimagined menu!
Nelson Street needed something to reach out to the ever more demanding standards of punters who are looking for something more than the expected. And what a statement they’ve made. Louis has taken hold of the kitchen and given it a right old duffing up; the design is nothing like I’ve ever seen before and I LOVED it. The semi-set menu is offered as a full 8 course set menu (a steal at £50 per head or £80 with wines) or a paired down al-a-carte three choice affair – choose a fish, veg and meat dish but don’t be expecting here the standard starter main dessert combo you’ve become so used to. The plates aren’t tiny and they aren’t massive but as a meal you won’t be left hungry or stuffed. Three or four choices of each to pique your fancy (although they will be flexible and double up on one if you don’t want the meat or fish option) but it’s this focussed approach that really lets the kitchen go to town.
Taking some lessons from the big boys, the kitchen kicks off your meal by serving some tiny tasters which change every few weeks as the kitchen explore the limits of their skills and take advantage of all that is seasonal. On our visit, we enjoyed some beef shin croquets with wild garlic mayonnaise, mushroom and tuna blinis and squid ink crisps with pickled cucumber and wasabi caviar.
Oh yes my friends, now you know what we’re talking about here. The style and look of these bites were a great prelude, they let Mrs P and I know exactly where to set the bar. House churned butter? Yes – that certainly draws a line in the sand. If you were after a bit of theatre to go with your meal, it was clear it was going to come in spades. To be picky, serving three sets of pre-dinner treats like these is tricky to make each amazing and I needed each one to be distinct and powerful. While the mushroom and pickled cucumber were both spot on, the wild garlic didn’t pack much punch and got a bit lost in the execution.
Now, on to the fish course and I chose the cod with squid ink pasta whereas Mrs P went with the salmon. The cod will probably divide opinion based on its visual facade but those who push on will be richly rewarded with the beautifully balanced (black) mussel sauce, crispy (black) parmesan crisp, silky smooth folds of (black) pasta and flaky (white – surprise!) perfectly cooked cod. All topped off with a few more of those wasabi pearls. In all, the flavours were distinct and complimented each other very well with each one bringing their own unique presence. It makes no apology for being a visually challenging dish, but one which holds hidden depths! Mrs P’s salmon was a masterclass in soud vide – the textures were excellent and the buttermilk sauce flirted with the right side of tart and again with that compressed cucumber, good work guys! The croutons were very crunchy and as they were so large, they perhaps overly contrasted with the salmon but it’s a small thing and I assure you, should you order this dish (and I highly recommend that you do), you’ll be so lost sinking into the salmon that you’ll gloss over such minor ailments without comment.
The veg round came next and my butter roasted cauliflower with mac and cheese puree with apple sticks was damn near faultless, like a comfort food hug of the highest standard. The flavours intermingled like a cheesy cloud of perfection. I have nothing more to say on the matter because as near faultless as this dish was, Mrs P’s beetroot salad was as close, if not slightly better because, well just look at this edible piece of art:
Day-amn that’s purdy. The in-house fermented beetroot, the smoked goats cheese, the smooth almonds and the lack of bloody poncy micro herbs makes this dish a standout triumph. I’m going back just for this.
Meat came in third but not before another piece of theatre in the form of a palate cleanser from the cocktail trolley. Carried in by our ever attentive waiter, we were treated to an alcohol free melon (two varieties) and grapefruit mocktail mix served in a coupe glass. For me, actually this was perhaps the only low point of the meal – I loved the grand standing, the impact that the course had but the flavour just wasn’t there. Watery and overwhelmed by mint, even a dose of thyme vinaigrette couldn’t lift this to a thumbs up position. I left mine but Mrs P had no such qualms and dealt with hers in short order. I was informed that these cocktails also change regularly so I suspect others will hit the palate cleanser jackpot.
Mrs P can never refuse a lamb dish this time of year and hers was, once again, cooked beautifully. The icckle carrots looked super cute but it was the charred and pickled onions that brought the whole thing together. They exploded with character and she found herself cutting them smaller and smaller so she could enjoy them with every bite. My beef was equally impressive with more of those amazing onions, the 50:50 mash was absurdly buttery but it was my jus which carried the plate to the next level. It was about as deep and as loaded with umami as it is in my private umami filled dreams. Delicious!
If everything had stopped there, I would have been a happy, happy man.
But no, that’s not the TwoMenAboutTown way! We say if that’s the dinner, then what the heck is pudding going to be like? Well, there’s only one way to find out isn’t there?
Mrs P’s weakness is a good mille feuille and this one was right up there. As rich and decadent as Donald Trumps gold plated bathroom taps and equally well presented, this was a desert that someone has practiced a lot – in fairness the presentation could have been a little tidier but Mrs P confirmed that it was as tasty as… *ahem* it was very tasty. My textures of white chocolate had a sorbet and ice cream as well as more of those delicious compressed cucumber cubes, nutty chunks and some crunchy biscuity pieces.
Then cheese. Why? Because: cheese, thats why. We finished, happy and incredibly well fed.
So, Nelson Street is looking to make a statement, an impact, an impression. This is not one of your regular small town café’s looking to serve the same old stuff as everyone else. Everything about the new Nelson Street is pushing themselves and the diner to recognise the skill and changing face of destination dining. The innovative menu design, the high end theatre with relaxed bistro ambience; did I mention you get all three dishes (fish, veg and meat) for £35 per head?! An amazing dinner experience at an affordable price – winner! These guys mean business and against the likes of Camerons and Paris house in the immediate vicinity as well as le Manoire further afield, they are reminding us all that value and expertise can and should draw your attention no matter which backstreet you find it in. It’s time to put Buckingham on the map.
Louis very kindly comped our meal at Nelson Street but I think he realised that we liked it when we stayed until closing and bought him a drink…
*According to the notable and very respectable TwoMenAboutTown Census of 2017