‘Milton Keynes is full of chains’ they say. ‘There is nowhere good to eat!’ they say. Well, I say that it sucks to be them because while it’s true that there is an unfortunate glut of horrible, horrific and unnecessary chain restaurants here you just have to look a bit harder and you’ll find so many amazing people who are pulling out all the stops to get you the dinner you deserve. This is my list of the best independent options you’ve got in and around the area, these are places that I go to regularly and have rarely been disappointed at. If you don’t want to give your money to Chimichangas or any other cut and paste restaurant (and I wouldn’t blame you) then take a good look at some of these and join me in sticking it to the Man.
Everyone who knows me knows that I’ve loved the Bell and Bear for a long time. They have been my go-to birthday steak place for years. Chef Jon has won best chef in town and rightly so. True they are on the edge of what I can justify as Milton Keynes but damn it, it’s my list and I make the rules, so they’re in.
This out of the way village pub holds a kitchen team that is able to punch way above it’s weight. It might be a bit more pricy that your average boozer but can you really put a price on proper good British pub grub? The food’s good, the beer’s good and the village is picture perfect. The Old Thatched is a tried and tested recommendation, I’m sure you’ll love it.
The Black horse is part of the Peachy Pub group which is as close to a chain that I’m going to get on this list, The Black Horse is a regular recommendation for me to give to clients and friends alike. I’ve never had a bad meal here and while it is a bit pricey they make the absolute most of being on the edge of the Woburn estate with all that lovely local venison on offer.
Other notable picks from my damn fine pub grub list include: The Swan at Salford, The Crooked Billet Newton Longville, The Swan at Milton Keynes Village, The Bell at Beachampton, The Wheatsheaf Bow Brickhill, The Cross Keys in Woolstone and The Navigation at Cosgrove. You are welcome!
Beer Bear / The Beirgarten, Stony Stratford / Wolverton
Two venues for the price of one with this entry, these guys don’t serve food other than the odd packet of nuts but they have the best selection of beers you’ll get in the area bar none (see what I did there?!). With support for local producers and an amazing international selection these guys really know their onions when it comes to a good social beverage.
Taipan, The Theatre District
The Mac Daddy of Chinese restaurants in MK. We do have a lot of crap takeaways around the city full of monosodium glutamate powered gloopy sauces that you can use to put up wallpaper. But not here. This is the place, the number one, the top of the tree. It’s expensive, it’s challenging, but it’s real. Oh and they do great dim sum, just saying.
Vongs / The Dragon Boat, Bletchley and Central MK
If you just can’t let go of your British version of what a Chinese restaurant should be then the best two I’ve found are Vongs in Bletchley and The Dragon Boat in the City. They both offer a better option than the buffet style trays of slop that are usually omnipresent in the other all-you-can-eat places.
Mii & U, Bradwell Abbey
A Chinese cafe bolted on to a Chinese supermarket is the best of both worlds. Guaranteed authentic food cooked and served authentically with prices that are more reasonable than a very reasonable thing on a very reasonable day. The family P. love Mii & U, it may look a bit grotty but you won’t get better bang for your Yuan buck anywhere else in the city.
I’ve eaten in the Don a couple of times and it has delivered well on each occasion. The decor, the atmosphere as well as the the food the Don dishes up gives you a bit more than your average Balti house and in my opinion it’s better than the other up market offerings from the city. It must also be said though that because the Don is so much better than it’s surrounding neighbours it goes to show that we need to up our game here in MK.
The Calcutta Brasserie, Stony Stratford
Situated inside an old chapel in Stony Stratford, the Calcutta Brasserie has a unique impression and they take great pride in bringing that difference across the menu as well as the decor but they could be in danger of a bit too much style over substance if they are not careful. Often quoted as the best in the area by my foodie friends I bring it to your attention as an example of the sort of base line we should be expecting from our curry nights.
The Grange, Grange Farm
This Indian restaurant often seems to get a bit over looked in Milton Keynes in favour of the more showy establishments in the center. Indian restaurants can be some of the most inconsistent in terms of dishes that aren’t pre-prepared takeaway stalwarts as quality seems to rise and fall relating to the exiting of old and the introduction of new chefs. For me The Grange seems to bridge the gap between local takeaway and classy restaurant the most often.
Eastern Paradise, Wolverton
As if to prove my previous point, Mrs P and I have followed the Eastern Paradise with pleasure and pain through the years; sometimes it’s awesome, other times it’s a bit crap. At the moment it seems to be great but don’t blame me if your meal is a bit dodgy. My dish of reference is usually the Chicken Rezalla, if that’s good then the rest will be bob on.
Posh and fancy
Date night venue extraordinaire Cameron’s and the next door Knife & Cork bistro are both regular haunts for me. They tread the fine restaurant line between ‘better than normal’ and ‘too expensive to bother’ perfectly. They have al a carte as well as fixed price menus and I’ve enjoyed each and every visit.
Paris house is our local super special option. Set in the heart of the Woburn Abbey estate, the restaurant is characterised by it’s stunning setting and equally impressive grub. While anywhere on this list is good for the first few dates and if Cameron’s is the the date location for that someone special, then Paris House is your ground zero for the proposal. Booyah.
Best of the rest
Another blast from the past this one, how it survived is a mystery to me but the excellent news is they have expanded with two new venues in the City and Northampton. Now more people can enjoy some proper sushi and a bento box.
The Antep has fast become one of our favourite destination of the past year. Ok, so it’s not quite the same as drinking an Efes on a beach front trying to decide between a pide or kebab, but for my money it’s as close as I’ve got to my trips over to Turkey to see my Brother and Sister in Law that I’ve found. Turkish food seems to be on the ascendency at the moment and we’ve had four springing up around town in the past few months but none have got near to the Antep for replicating the relaxed quality that I’ve enjoyed many a night in Istanbul or Antalya.
The Greedy Italian, Bletchley
I’ve only eaten here a couple of times and while it’s OK rather than brilliant, it’s going on the list because the husband and wife team deserve it. The pokey like bistro-type restaurant looks fantastic and straight out of some of the corner osteria’s that I’ve eaten at in Rome or Venice. The food is welcoming and appealing and I would much rather spend my money here than at Aqua.
I love BBQ. I mean I really love BBQ. For me, BBQ season starts during the February half term and ends just before Christmas. Yeah, I love my BBQ and on the few occasions that I can’t or don’t want to fire up the grill or dig out the charcoal myself, the Binn is my local fix of awesome USDA smoked brisket, baby back ribs or one hell of a burger. Plus the mac and cheese alongside the chicken wings with the table hot sauce are seriously addictive.
Eat with Spencer
Spencer hops around a bit doing some private catering here, the odd pop-up night there and some other stuff working with some of the other places on this list but if you can track him down then make sure you get yourself along to whatever he’s doing because he’s got an impressive range and pretty much anything he produces is worth a close look.
Street food Vendors
Whenever I see Saf’s kitchen at an event, she’s always got a queue stretching out and round the corner, Saf is getting a reputation you see. Serving all kinds of Indian delights like pakora or samosa as well as some truly awesome curry for you to scoff right there and then. Now you’ll have to excuse me while I just remember those pakoras. Just talk amongst yourselves for a bit, I won’t be long
Good Times Cafe
Toasted cheese sandwiches are now a popular staple in any street food meet-up these days and the Good Times guys don’t just produce an epic sandwich but Bob also makes the best Old Fashioned cocktail I’ve ever tasted, it’s just a shame he can’t serve those out of the van but he does do some good coffee. You want my advice? Go for the Swiss or Reuben toasties, they are phenomenal.
One of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten, these guys are serious about their meat and it shows. Local beef and with some amazing topping combos, the Sizzler burger smashes your typical burger van into the limp bunned, waxy cheesed, grey pattied dustbin where it belongs. Sizzlers Burger Shack will give you one hell of a burger no diggity doubt.
Mexican heat with added maracas, the Taco Shack are active in the MK food scene and I’m glad they are. Bringing some more much needed South American sunshine to the city in burrito form can never be a bad thing. Plus Robin from Taco Shack organised the recent Wolverton Chilli Cook Off during which yours truly walked off with a goldish trophy and semi-permanent chilli related PTSD.
Sour dough pizza for about a fiver? I’ll take some of that action. Simplicity is key here so I usually stick with a margarita and always end up stuffing my face then eating some of Mrs P’s as well because that’s how I roll. Don’t think she is left wanting though because while I’m distracted eating her pizza she’s usually finishing off the goodies that I got from Saf’s Kitchen without me noticing.