It isn’t a secret that Calcutta Brasserie is one of my most favourite Indian restaurants. It was in fact the first ever Indian restaurant I dined in and is now for me what all other Indian restaurants are measured against.
Situated just off the high street in the market town of Stony Stratford in north Milton Keynes, Calcutta Brasserie is set within a spectacular 17th Century Grade II Listed Chapel which makes for a fantastic dining atmosphere.
I’ve seen Calcutta Brasserie advertise Dine in the Dark evenings in the past and it’s always tickled my curiosity. Now it’s time to finally try one.
During the Dine in the Dark evening the whole restaurant has the lights turned down with only tea lights to guide you to your table. When you take a seat you are given a three course meal and also a blindfold, if you wish to immerse yourself completely to the darkness (imagine a restaurant forcing you to sit in pitch black? Sounds messy).
I’ve often heard people say that if you lose one of your human senses the other ones get more tuned and work stronger. The concept of dining in the dark is that by taking away your sight you will experience the food by taste and aroma and that alone. Heightening the eating experience on a journey of spice and flavours that you may have never noticed before with your Indian meal.
To start, of course is poppadoms with a selection of sauces. These were extremely easy to eat blindfolded and are always a great introduction to an Indian meal.
Next up is the starters, presented to our table as a platter for us all to share. There was Achari Murgh Tikka, Gilafi Sheek, Vegetable Samoa and Mix Vegetable Pakora.
I ADORE Indian starters. The Mix Vegetable Pakora is something I haven’t tried before at Calcutta Brasserie and was mouth wateringly tasty. The Achari Murgh Tikka is the most delicately spiced and flavoursome piece of chicken you can imagine. Cooked in the Tandoor, it’s something I must insist you try, especially if you like your Indian food served ‘dry’ rather than in lots of sauce.
The main courses were all served in bowls for us to serve ourselves – Perfect. The dishes were Murgh Tikka Lababdor, Kosha Mangsho, Aloo Matter and Tarkari Sabzi. These were all presented to us with Saffron Pilau Rice and an Assorted Bread Basket of Peshwari, Garlic and Coriander and Plain Naan breads.
The Murgh Tikka Lababdor was pieces of chicken in the most velvety, buttery, creamy sauces made from tomatoes, onion gravy, butter and cream. Silky smooth and gentle on the spice. It was definitely my hot favourite of the bunch. Not far behind are the others. The Aloo Matter with its punchy, spicy potatoes were perfectly cooked and like having a big cuddle in a mouthful. Being blindfolded, the lamb Kosha Mangsho tasty dark and intense and gave a great contrast to the sweeter and mellower Lababdor. If spicy is your thing then look no further than the Tarkari Sabzi with its zingy, hot take on chickpeas, onions, tomatoes and mixed peppers, definitely one that got your tongue excited.
Breads were fresh and tasty and perfect for mopping up those delicious main course sauces and the Saffron Pilau was the perfect plateau for all these dishes to meet upon. As we devoured the Peshwari naan first we were treated to a second one…
…at this point, I do need to note that portions are not something you need to worry about at Calcutta Brasserie. There was more than enough to go around and who’d complain about that…!
When the mains were finished there was then two desserts to choose from. Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheescake or Kulfi Indian Ice Cream. I choose the Mango Kulfi, it was the perfect palette refresher after such a rich and vibrant meal. Perfectly fruity without being too sweet. My dining guest ordered the cheesecake and I must say a little thank you as he let me have a bite of his cheesecake to try. It was very tasty but I was glad I choose the Kulfi.
The whole evening for me was very fun. I must admit that the blindfold wasn’t used exclusively. I chopped and changed between using it and not. Partly because it was hard to manoeuvre the food to my mouth on my own (yes, I’m an oaf) and partly because I was enjoying watching my dinner guests trying to get food in their mouths and seeing their reactions.
With the blindfold on, the food really was a more intense and tasty experience. With no eyes and nothing but the taste in my mouth to focus on, I felt the journey of spices in a totally different way to how I would normally enjoy an Indian meal (scoffing and scoffing and scoffing…).
Would it work with other cuisines like pizza? Probably not but this intoxicating, addictive Indian food is perfect for it.
I love that it opens up the perfect dinner party games too. Try feeding your dinner guest something without them knowing what’s coming and then ask them what they taste? Get them to guess what dish from the table you are giving them. Then ask them to do the same for you. Really get those taste buds working.
For such a novel eating experience the £19.95 price tag for all three courses is extremely good value. The next DINE IN THE DARK is happening on Wednesday 27 July so why not try it for yourself? Details below.
Dining in the Dark
Wednesday 27 July 6.30pm
Costs £19.95 per person which includes a three course meal and of course, a blindfold
To book call 01908 566577
Yes, I know I’m slow but what I lack in speed, I hope I make up for in other ways…
Banana Tree has been part of Milton Keynes’ growing restaurant portfolio for two years now, opening about the same time I had my first child. The whirlwind of two years that followed has resulted in me feeling quite shocked and a touch embarrassed that I had yet to venture into the place where the hammock-type seats hang outside in a fun, come-sit-in-me teasingly fashion but finally that was to be rectified.
Situated in The Hub CMK, Banana Tree can be found opposite Loch Fyne. If in doubt just look for those orange hammock swings.
The night I visited is just an average Tuesday evening but as I enter I can make a confident guess that this place must rarely do empty. To my surprise it was a full restaurant on the ground floor.
As we had to wait a few minutes for a table Mr LouBou and I took a seat in the bar area. I really approve of Banana Tree’s bar area, it’s self-contained and doesn’t make you feel like you’re crashing someone else’s dinner date by just ordering and enjoying a drink.
I am of course off the strong stuff as I am pregnant but Mr LouBou took full joy in ordering from the Happy Hour Cocktail Menu with a promise to enjoy them for the both of us (thanks, really). Cocktails from this menu are BOGOF (of the same variety) all day Sun-Thurs and 12-7pm then 9.30pm till close on Fri-Sat. Which is exactly the sort of cocktail promos I like to swallow.
Mr LouBou ordered the cocktail One Night In Bangkok. Mekhong (Thai Rum), peach schnapps, passion fruit and vanilla. He found it super fruity and refreshing and happily glugged them down. ****!
We were then shown to our table and had a quick menu peruse and ordered the Prawn Cracker Basket. After studying the menu extensively for days before going I didn’t need long and was excited to just dive straight in.
For starters we ordered the Crispy Seafood Money Bags and Steamed Chicken Dumplings.
Both these dishes impressed and were well cooked. You could really taste the prawn and white fish inside the money bags and the steamed dumplings were extremely soft and pleasing. Only thing to note, if like me you are used to grilled dumplings then they might seem a little squidgy and thick in contrast to the crispy, crunchy finish you might be accustomed to. Still a different way of having them and by no means a bad one, the vinegar sauce that they are served in is damn tasty.
For mains we ordered the Gaeng Keo Wan Green Curry with Chicken and the Crispy Chicken With Mango & Sweet Lime Sauce.
The Gaeng Koe Wan Green Curry (Thai green curry to me and you) was bursting with chicken and an array of colourful vegetables. It was creamy and full of a gentle yet powerful heat that didn’t linger on your palette.
The Crispy Chicken was the perfect sweet, sour and sticky mess that I was hoping for. On top was the most delicious Vietnamese pickle. If I had my way, there would have been a lot more of that on the plate. Nom.
The server did advise us that the main dishes were served up without any accompaniments and recommended we ‘combo up’ with the Banana Tree House Combo supplement which can be added to any dish from the Regional Specialities or Stir Fries part of the menu. For the extra £3.95 you get the Indo House Salad with Crushed Nuts, Sweet Corn Cakes, Indo Cracker & Aromatic Spiced Rice. Woah, it was a big plate of food after adding the combo but boy was it worth it.
Tasty little sweet corn cakes, an aromatic spiced rice and a moreish crunchy nut topped salad. I found it excellent value munch for money.
Fit to burst I refused to leave my evening at Banana Tree without at least attempting a few mouthfuls of a dessert. Feeling modest and full we ordered one portion of Banana ‘Frotiteroles’ to share.
With my wicked sweet tooth I started to wish I had left more room so I could have cleared the plate but it wasn’t to be. Delicious crispy nuggets of hot banana fritters covered in chocolate caramel sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. They were so good! I want a plate of them right now. Sniff.
But that’s where the evening ends. Home time. Back to reality and my less aromatic and definitely not as exciting cuisine at home.
Banana Tree is definitely the kind of place you’d be happy to go hang out with friends for a few drinks sat on those swings, have a business lunch, go for cocktails with the girls and then decide to eat, a date night or a big party meal. I do love these ‘social’ eateries where they can be tailored to a dozen situations and still do it well.
I am guessing you are either reading this saying “Yes, yes! I know Banana Tree is that good” or if you’re yet to visit, I hope I’ve tickled your curiosity and now let me insist, you must try.
Banana Tree Milton Keynes
Date of visit: 05.07.16
Today I went to Intu shopping centre in Central Milton Keynes for a spot of retail therapy.
First off, whoever said you can’t find a decent bargain on the high street surely hasn’t done their homework. I managed to pick up a beautiful red dress from TopShop for only £22.00 and a true wardrobe staple, a black high waisted mini skirt from New Look for only £3.99. Both items were full price too! Crazy.
My little monster was not disappointed either. Mr LouBou and I had given him a whole load of Duplo toys for Christmas but had struggled to get a baseplate building board for him as they kept selling out but they had some in today. Happy toddler.
The shopping trip had coincided with the opening of a new food outlet in Intu. Wrapchic. An Indian Mexican fusion eatery that had my brain bamboozled. Indian meets Mexican? Burritos with curry? Nachos with mango chutney? I had to see (and taste) what this place was about.
They have opened just outside Barclays Bank in Intu. I guess you would call this the food court of ‘the new bit’. Wrapchic is simply just chic to look at. Exposed scaffolding with brilliantly coloured fabric canopy ceiling and exotic-looking cushioned chairs. Some of which look like painted crate boxes and some that look like steel bins with cushions on top. It’s something straight out of a street-food bar in India smack bang in the middle of MK.
Outside Barclays? Exposed behind those ‘fake’ doors which don’t shelter you whatsoever? As us local MK’ers know the new bit can be nippy and you really can suffer the brunt of our changeable beloved British weather there. But thankfully even though Wrapchic is out in the open, you won’t be cold when you visit. Lots of ceiling heaters insure that your visit isn’t a chilly one. I was surprised when I left how the temperature drastically dropped and I instantly wanted to go back under the canopies.
Now the important bit, the food. I had a burrito. A Chicken Mughlai burrito to be exact. I watched it being made and was impressed how generous the portions are. These burritos sure won’t leave you feeling unsatisfied. First in the toasted tortilla wrap was the authentic Chicken Mughlai curry, then I had my choice of rice, different types of beans, slaw, tikka sauce and chutney. I opted for white rice, red kidney beans, slaw, mild tikka sauce and mango chutney but there are other choices if you are a bit more adventurous than me!
As I sat down to eat I must admit I was a little apprehensive but one bite and I instantly saw why this company was born. It worked. It tasted amazing. I think a lot of that is down to the quality and flavouring of the Chicken Mughlai. Without that I think you’d have had trouble selling this to me. The brilliance is, this is fast food. No frills but no compromises on flavours. The chance to eat all those Indian spices and combinations that I love and at a very reasonable price. Burritos come in around a fiver. You’d easily spend that on a processed meat sandwich lunch.
I also tried a Mango Mousse which I found was a brilliant palette cleanser and refreshing after the spice and heat of the burrito.
So try it for yourself? Tell me what you think. Indian Mexican fusion grub is now here in MK and I for one, hope it is a success.