I know that things have been a little quiet around here on the food front recently. Mrs P and I haven’t been managing to keep up with the usual standard of restaurant related shenanigans that you have come to expect from us, primarily because we’ve been gallivanting around Europe for the best part of the last eighteen months. But with only a few more countries left to tick off, we’re back home now and the invitation to take a look at the new and improved Black Horse at Great Linford arrived in the inbox at just the right time.
Being the incessantly hungry, weak willed, food-obsessed strumpet that I am, I’m constantly on the look out for the chance to visit and eat in new and exciting places. One such opportunity came recently when I saw the chance to have lunch at Hutong and I grabbed it so tightly it almost came off in my hands. I do love a drink at a bar in the sky and sitting on the 33rd floor of the Shard, Hutong has always been the sort of place that I visited for expensive cocktails on friends’ notable birthdays to enjoy the view of London as it stretches out in front of you. But not that day – that day Mrs P and I were there to find out exactly what happens when you eat lunch at an altitude that could give a mountain goat a nose bleed.
There have been a few times in my life that I am enthused no, compelled to write a blog post. In my previous blogging life it led to a month of eating on benefits and more recently Jamie’s Italian has rightly felt my wrath. Twice. Craft and Cleaver wasn’t quite a Carluccio’s because let me say from the off that there were several things things that I liked about the place, the problem is that they were totally, horribly and completely over-shadowed by the things that I didn’t.
As a parent, I try to give The Child a few rules to govern her life; “prioritise what’s important, not what’s easy”, “effort is more important than achievement”, “Daddy’s toilet time is private time” you know, all the standard stuff. However, as grown-ups, Mrs P and I face an overwhelming tsunami of adverts and pressures telling us to work harder, buy more clothes, phones or TV’s. Lose weight, smile more and be nicer to people. Ugh. Perhaps if I had listened to my own instructions to The Child, I would have managed to write this review earlier because now I’m really late and I’m feeling bad about that. However, The Swan’s Easter Menu is still officially in place on their website so I reckon that if I squeak it in now while no-one realises and I might be OK. Right?
The British have a strange relationship with the sun don’t we? On the one hand, as soon as the sun comes out, some of us strip half naked, rub ourselves with baby oil and to do our best to get a nasty skin condition by the time we’re 65, and the rest of us paint ourselves with so much zinc based sunscreen that we end up walking around feeling sticky for three months of the year. It’s hardly a perfect solution is it? Flavourly.com is an online drinks delivery service and they wondered if I could suggest a more appropriate way to welcome the summer to this beautiful Island of ours, I said ‘send me a box of beer and we can talk about it.’ So they did and in doing so became bf’s for life.
Sitting right in the middle of Midsummer Boulevard in between the Hub and the Centre, Middletons has been a staple venue for us since it opened a few years ago. Known for it’s good portions, decent value and solid quality, it’s as good a good shout for a steak dinner as you’ll get in the centre of town. With a new season comes a new menu and they invited the Family P down to take a closer look.
When I was 18 I didn’t drink wine, I instead relied on the power of discount vodka and cheap lager to provide the hang-over rite of passage that we must all endure. By my early 20’s I still didn’t know anything so I would try to impress girls by dropping phrases such as ‘plummy’ or ‘good in the nose’ into any wine related chat and needless to say I often walked home alone. After I hit 30 I started to understand that the good stuff was a revelation, streets apart from the paint stripper I had suffered through in previous decades. I’ve done all the supermarket three for a tenner specials, the try before you buy taster evenings and had a few subscriptions to the big online wine clubs and still usually end up with a bottle of £10 disappointment, so how does Clara offer anything different?
I recently spent a Sunday afternoon working out what were my favourite restaurants in Milton Keynes. After reading my thoughts more than a few of you sarcastic sausages let me know of a few places you thought I had missed and Namji was one of them. So then, when an opportunity so perfect presented itself in the form of a wet unassuming Monday night the Family P took the opportunity to dive on in and check out all that the Namji had to offer.
Just so we’re all clear, let’s go over a few things that will score top marks with me:
- A cut down menu – know what you can do and do it as well as you can
- Authenticity – understand where the soul of your food comes from
- Customer service – a smile has no overhead cost, if I want someone to give me money then I should probably be nice to them
- Value – Not massive portions but I want to feel that making the trip is worth it
Get that right and I’ll come back again and again and again. I have to say that Namji smashed it.
Food fashions, like most types of fashion in this country, usually come to life in London and are incomprehensible to me. I despise the ‘clean eating’ epidemic for it’s miss-information message wrapped up in a so-called healthy lifestyle (that is usually anything but) and for similar reasons that I will not wear low riding jeans or anything that has been pre-ripped before I buy it. But there are some fashions that do catch my attention and the paired back focus of less ingredients, more flavour approach of Turkish cooking is one. The Zouk Lounge is one of the four Turkish restaurants that have opened in Milton Keynes over the past year or so and with family living in Istanbul I feel qualified in providing you with a mildly insulting, colonially British judgment of their food.
EDIT – the Zouk Lounge has got in touch and has asked me to clarify that they are a Lebanese restaurant and not Turkish. I stand corrected and will immediately research the difference between the two.
‘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.
The Gastro Pub Top 50 is a publication that I suggest you all take a closer look at. It details a list of establishments that you certainly have a better chance of enjoying than any Tripadvisor reference review you care to mention. Yes it’s utterly arbitrary, yes the winners are awarded by a hidden judging panel that is un-democratically appointed and almost certainly mostly comprised of members of the white middle-class male persuasion. And yes, it will have missed plenty of worthy contenders but when you are looking around for an independent British pub dinner, it’s still as good a sure thing as you are likely to get so my advice is to get it learned.
Shivering, I walked out of a biting sub-zero winter night, seeking shelter in a bright and warm coffee shop. Welcomed by smiles, a hot drink and piles of different chocolates laid out over all the tables I might well be in a favourite dream. But no, better than a dream, Mr P has been called away on business and I have skilfully talked myself into taking his place on the latest tasting event that Out of Office Coffee have to offer. #awesomes! You might well remember Rob’s favourable introduction to Out of Office Coffee, but since opening they have quickly become a favourite midday hang out for Mr P. They take getting a decent cup of coffee (or tea) very seriously and their passion for top quality products shines through. As such, they have a range of premium, single origin, craft chocolate to tempt you and tonight ladies and gentlemen, in the latest round of their evening events, I was to be spoilt by getting to try them all in a chocolate tasting extravaganza hosted by Spencer from artisan chocolate supplier Cocoa Runners!