A cold and wet late October’s afternoon in Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre doesn’t perhaps present one with the wealth of independent eateries that I’ve become accustomed to in my midweek London escapades, but there I was, hunting for some warm sustenance to continue braving the crowds. Strolling along I saw the lunchtime set menu offer at Carluccio’s, two-courses for £11.95 and headed on in, never having set foot inside a Carluccio’s before but having high hopes of an Italian lunchtime tasty treat.
From waffles and crépes, to chocolate fudge cake, crème brûlée, icecreams and milkshakes, there’s something really comforting about a good dessert.
The thing is, with the exception of a few places we’ve reviewed on TwoMenAboutTown, a large chunk of the restaurant trade of both chain and independent variety source sweets ready-made from suppliers, charging a silly amount for the fuss of sticking a refrigerated pre-made brownie on a plate with a scoop of icecream. Desserts are an art form that kitchens struggle to cope with or find time for, instead opting to focus on their appetisers and main menus, often far too big for their own good.
My blogger-in-crime RobsRibs has said many times that Milton Keynes is in dire need of a good pudding restaurant – even proclaiming to one day open one himself – something to take on the pre-made and homogenised dessert menu world, or at least that seen in Milton Keynes. With this in mind then, would Kaspa’s hold a torch to the big man’s vision and fill a sweet-void, or would it fall by the wayside? Independently, both Rob and I headed down within the last week under the radar to check out what Kaspa’s Desserts is all about.
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.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, subscription services have boomed in recent years; whether it’s snacking options like Graze, craft-beer delivery service Beer52, meal plans from the likes of HelloFresh, fragrance from Secret Scent or even socks from Quiet Rebellion, it would seem the sky is the limit with stuff you can now get posted to your door.
Clearly, the options vary wildly and whilst perhaps not for everybody, they serve a purpose – by their nature subscription services like the above are highly giftable, they’re quirky and they’re fun. Think novelty factor.
What get’s more novelty then than a subscription to a cheese toastie service, billed as “the uber of grilled cheese sandwiches”? Yeah. You read that right… cheese toasties, straight to your door. Mind blown. Hold onto your hats people.
With the express exception of Tennis – Wimbledon in particular (the event of Kings), as a general rule I don’t ‘do’ sport. Although, if there was one American sport that I could probably get a bit too involved in, it would be American Football. I like the strategic nature of it, the clear player roles and different plays needed to win as well as the hilarious opportunity for bad lip reading. However, truth be told, I’ve never seen a single game despite it’s apparent growing popularity in the UK. But this is all going to change on the 5th of February when I will experience my first advert filled, three hour long, testosterone soaked night of sweat and excitement.
But what happened to make such a change? Well as with so many things in my life, it’s all about the food; the guys behind French’s and Franks Hot Sauce got in touch and asked me to go crazy with the condiment cupboard and tell them all about what I would want to eat while watching the game. So with my head full of hotdog dreams and chicken wing fantasies I decided to pop my pretend rugby ball shaped cherry and join our ever increasingly non-judgemental and open minded trans-atlantic cousins*.
Mention The Don Indian restaurant to most people in Milton Keynes and you’ll either be greeted by a vacant stare, or a “oh, that’s that place tucked away in the train station isn’t it?”. I’ll be honest, I was of the latter; The Don is situated in a unit in the town’s train station that has been home to a number of Indian restaurants over the years, most famously the site of the Jaipur until it moved across the road.
However, it was perhaps wrong of me to dismiss The Don as just another run-of-the-mill Indian tucked away, after all a recent Best Newcomer award at the Milton Keynes Food and Leisure Awards 2016 and a string of positive word-of-mouth recommendations suggests that something quite good was afoot from the new owners and worth taking a look at. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to take a look for myself when the opportunity presented itself and the chaps invited me down to sample a meal.
What price can you put on enthusiasm?
Take for example, the Antep Kitchen. It opened on the corner at the end of the Highstreet opposite Tesco a few months ago. It replaced a very dodgy curry house, which had, in turn, replaced several equally dodgy establishments serving up dull, unexciting takeaways with an atmosphere to match. To make their mark, and somehow having taken inspiration from Wolverton’s hardly burgeoning Turkish population, someone thought it would be a great idea to open a restaurant demonstrating just how toss the British idea of a kebab actually is. On the face of it, it’s clearly a staggeringly insane plan born from the mind of an utter lunatic, but wait. Something very odd is happening in Wolverton. Small, independent restaurants that create and serve with passion, skill and authenticity are thriving. Suddenly tapping into the British love for a good grilled shish that you don’t have to eat out of a factory molded pitta bread isn’t quite as crazy after all and so we found as we walked through the doors and into one of the busiest restaurants I’ve visited in a long time.
Am I taking this whole pub thing a bit too far? I look back at some of the posts that I’ve put up this summer and I can see that pubs have featured perhaps a little too heavily. I’ve reviewed one or two local boozers, a few further afield and even had a Michelin star or two so perhaps I should try to broaden my horizons a little bit? Then again, I do love me a good pub and we’re getting some absolute crackers around these parts so to put it quite bluntly: bugger that, I’ll review as many as I bloody well can thank you very much! Next on the list then is The Anchor over in Aspley Guise (just outside Woburn Sands), owned by EPIC, who seem to pride themselves on injecting as much personality and individuality as possible into an industry which can certainly suffer from a distinct lack of both. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the last time I went EPIC over at 185 Watling street as part of a former life, it didn’t exactly ring my bell so it was with some trepidation when I got the invitation and walked through the door at The Anchor.
Curry. Curry curry curry. Curry curry. Curry. I like curry. In fact thinking about it, I don’t know many people who don’t like curry. Do you? I bet you don’t. It’s so popular that it’s even got it’s own week. Which, by any measure is utterly ridiculous. Well ridiculous and at the same time, completely and undeniably delicious. I know it’s difficult to sometimes pull yourselves away from your regular Chicken Tikka Masala on a Friday night at the Spice Shed, but if at no other time, this should have been the week to go all out and try to investigate new tastes, flavours and, dammit, maybe even a new part of the menu!
I don’t cook much on this blog, but the truth is I cook a lot. When I’m not doing reviews here, there or pretty much anywhere, I’m in the kitchen cooking for Mrs P, The Child, The Child’s Sister or in fact anyone who happens to be in the house at the time. So when Tyga asked Suburban Gent and I to try out their DIY subscription curry deal and then threw in a crate of Kingfisher to sweeten the deal, there was no way I was going to say no.
The thought of returning home at the end of a long day in the office post-commute and having to scrape together something for dinner doesn’t really fill me with much excitement; I’m usually knackered and go straight for convenience food, which typically consists of unhealthy or processed oven food, takeaways or countless meals out. Ultimately it’s expensive, lazy and nothing really with any real nutritional value.
I’ve wanted to get a bit more adventurous in the kitchen (ooh-err) following having a new kitchen fitted with all the bells-and-whistles and have been on the lookout for something to improve my cooking skills whilst improving my diet. However, I struggle for inspiration and time to meticulously plan my shopping to ensure I have the necessary ingredients for a proper recipe. All of this changed when a man from HelloFresh turned up on my doorstep with an enticing offer.
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?
We like a good pub here at Two Men About Town – no, really, we do – we’ve posted no less than nine posts in three months about local pubs in Milton Keynes, even recently sharing our guide to our favourite Milton Keynes beer gardens; so in the interest of variety, we thought it would be prudent to share another review. Of a pub.
The good people of The Swan Inn got in touch and invited us down to visit and sample their food so obviously we jumped at the chance and headed down on a sunny midweek evening.