Find out who is Spencer and why do we want to eat with him? (That’s eat with, not eat him).
2 year old food critic takes on local gastropub
It’s not uncommon for the odd invitation to drop into my inbox asking me to review food or a restaurant, but a couple of weeks ago I received something a bit different. A company not seeking my opinion but instead asking for the Half Pint to give his…
Taco Shack is a street food company that is fairly new to Milton Keynes. They started trading in May 2016 and have been busy keeping locals satisfied with their take on fresh Mexican street food since.
Date night isn’t a regular occurrence but when you’re invited to a pretty village gastropub with a good reputation and native LOBSTER is on the specials menu, you grab your husband, get him in a shirt and get rolling down the road.
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
On Monday I was invited to a press evening to commemorate the reopening of The Black Horse in Woburn after a complete refurb.
I must admit that Woburn is quite unexplored by myself despite its huge collection of very highly rated pubs and restaurants. Growing up in the north of Milton Keynes meant I had always favoured ‘that end’ of MK and was quite oblivious to what a beautiful, characterful place Woburn is.
I can’t say much about the changes that have happened from the refurb at The Black Horse. Monday night was my first visit but I’m sure it won’t be the last. It’s a very pretty pub set in a very old building in the heart of Woburn High Street.
Inside is exactly what you picture a well-looked after country pub should look like. Beams, traditional features, lots of locals supping away like it’s their second home. The décor is stylish, chic and it makes you feel comfortable and cosy without feeling like you’re squished in like sardines.
Bubbly was being offered to all the guests when we arrived but as I am currently pregnant, I had to sadly decline in favour of sparkling water. Boo hiss.
All the guests had a nice mingle whilst we became acquainted with our surroundings. It was great to see fellow bloggers Jo from Girl Eats World and Rob from RobsRibs along with some other old faces.
We were then led to the rear of the pub where it was more formally set out as the restaurant for dining guests. Lovely luxurious velvet and tweed chairs, leather booths with cushions for extra comfort. These were all in shades of red and orange which struck a lovely vibrant note against the dark walls which were adorned with copper cooking accessories. I love me a copper saucepan and I really liked them being used as wall décor in the restaurant. These I’m told were sourced locally from The Antiques Association in Woburn.
Then it was time to take our seats and strap ourselves in to see what the chefs were going to present to us. We were told that this evening was giving the chefs a chance to showcase dishes from the new summer menu on offer at The Black Horse. As my eye gazed excitedly down the menu that was left on our place sitting, I counted FIVE courses with tasters of numerous dishes on each of them. I knew then that I was not going to be leaving the night with a hungry tummy.
I’d like to note a couple of things before we begin with the food. First that the two chefs in the kitchen seemed to be serving a usual dinner service as well as the separate press event. Second, how often is it that you will be serving up four different dishes on the same plate? Please remember this was a press event and taster courses show casing a variety of dishes and that’s why you might think the plates look a little weird in combination.
First up we were presented with a deli board to share. On the board was slices of Rare Roast Beef, Spiced Tomato Houmous, Puttanesca Olives, Cheddar & Sunflower Seed Palmiers, Whitebait with Lemon Mayonnaise and a Warm Mini Loaf.
Deli boards are a personal favourite of mine, having choice and different things to nibble on is how I enjoy my food. The homemade houmous and rare roast beef were particularly pleasing.
Then it was onto the starters tasting plate. Ibérico Chorizo & Cheddar Croquettes and Tomato Chutney, Salt & Pepper Cornish Squid with Saffron Aioli, Marinated Mushroom, Bean & Radish Salad with a Golden Beetroot Dressing and Brixham Crab Mayonnaise & Heritage Tomatoes with Toasted Sourdough.
The croquette was tasty, nice and cheesy but sadly there wasn’t any tomato chutney served on our plates, I think the croquette with the chutney would have been dreamy. The aioli wasn’t to my taste and not the predictable accompaniment to squid but the star of the plate was that modest mushroom, bean and radish salad with a golden beetroot dressing. It was very tasty and I could have easily polished off a full size portion.
For the mains. Thankfully to avoid an obscene mixture of sauces mixing on one plate, we were first served the Roasted Cod Fillet, King Prawn & Cauliflower Thai Curry with Coriander. This was extremely tasty. The fish and prawn were both cooked to perfection and the Thai curry was fragrant and full of flavour. I must note that on the new main menu, the dish is advertised as a Roasted Hake Fillet just in case you come in asking for the Cod Thai curry!
Second part of the mains was presented on one plate and was tasters of the Tomato Tart Tatin, Spinach & Sunflower Salad and the Slow & Low Welsh Lamb Shoulder, Heritage Tomato & Sugar Snap Salad with Salsa Verde Dressing.
Lamb was brilliant with the Salsa Verde and the sugar snaps and tomatoes. It felt fresh and summery and not at all heavy. The Tomato Tart Tatin was sweet! It tasted caramel sweet but with the goat’s cheese cream it felt much more savoury.
Then came my most favourite course of all. The pudding tasting plate. Or should that be the “tasty pudding plate” either is true and works for me.
On this plate was tasters of the Iced Cherry Parfait with Amaretto Cherries & Almond Brittle, Strawberry Cheesecake & Poached Strawberries, Valrhona Chocolate & Raspberry Mousse with Pecan Cookies and Warm Treacle Tart & Stem Ginger Chantilly.
I was in heaven. Everyone knows I love desserts but the Iced Cherry Parfait was mouth-wateringly amazing. The Cheesecake great, light and whipped with the most beautiful flavour of strawberry and the treacle tart with that ginger Chantilly was hypnotising. I was worried before the desserts came out that I was going to struggle to fit any more food in my tummy but I’m embarrassed to say I cleared my plate. The Valrhona chocolate mousse was probably my least favourite but I don’t tend to ever lean towards loving chocolate puddings, it had a lovely raspberry flavour in it and the pecan cookie gave it crunch but next to the others it faded away into the background.
You’d think after all that our eating extravaganza was over but no, it wasn’t. Next up was a Cheese Board to share. On the board was cheeses called Tor, Camembert Gillot AOC, Sheep Rustler, Double Barrel Poacher and Blue Monday.
Amazing to note that the Blue Monday cheese is made by Alex James, the bassist from Blur who stole much of my heart in the 90’s! The Tor goat cheese is also award winning having won Best Goat Cheese at the British Cheese Awards 2015. So you’re in good company.
As I am pregnant, I have to tread carefully where cheese is concerned. Particularly if they are soft or unpasteurised as they could contain dangerous bacteria. So sadly a mix of not being able to fit another thing in my tummy and not wanting to take the risks with the cheeses meant I can’t say much about them, other than everyone else was tucking in and making lots of mmm sounds.
Then after hearing a few words from the Head Chef Harry and his Sous Chef Neal (who had recently won second place in the Chef of the Year competition!) it was time for home clutching our goody bags which were filled with crunch pecan cookies!
What a lovely evening at The Black Horse Woburn, it won’t be my last, that’s a definite and I can’t wait to see some of these dishes in their full scale masterpieces.