MK Food & Leisure Awards 2017

The winners, the food and how many glasses of fizz!?

MK CHRISTMAS FEAST AT BRADWELL ABBEY

You know me, I love food. So, naturally events like MK Feast are right up my street. A celebration of local food, drink and independent traders from MK. Today at Bradwell Abbey I pulled up a straw bale, soaked up the atmosphere with the live music – oh, and demolished a whole load of tasty grub along with hundreds of other visitors. 

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WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE TO BE BLINDFOLDED FOR DINE IN THE DARK AT CALCUTTA BRASSERIE

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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Calcutta Brasserie
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
http://www.calcuttabrasserie.co.uk/

 

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JUDGING BEST LOCAL FOOD & DRINK PRODUCE FOR MKFLA 2016

Yesterday (Saturday) I was up bright and early and made my way to Paris House in Woburn. It was the day to deliberate and decide on the winners of the Best Local Food & Drink Produce for the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards 2016.

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 A cup of English Breakfast Tea to start and then it was down to business. My fellow judges were Michelin star holder and owner of Paris House Phil Fanning. MK Food & Leisure Awards Chef of the Year winner 2015 Jeffrey Payne. And fellow blogger and local food lover Rob from Robs Ribs.

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First up was the food nominees:

Kandola’s Kitchen – Chocolates
Gunter Weber – Rural Honey
Frosts Food Hall – Chicken Liver Pâté
Fistful of Spice – Caribbean Hot Sauce Mango Chilli
Virtual Orchard – Cider Vinegar
The Indian Orchard – Garlic and Tamarind Pickle
Jam Moo Kow – Plum & Cinnamon Jam
Wodehill – Croxton Ewe Cheese
Amazing-Grains – Rye Bread

How many of you knew that these products existed? Well worth checking them out and I’d love to hear what you think of them or maybe you could message me with a local product that you love that that didn’t make it in this years shortlist that you would love to be considered for next years awards?

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Then it was the turn of the drinks category:

Hornes Brewery – Triple Goat Porter 4.6% vol
Bucks Star Brewery – Cloudy Artisan Beer 4% vol
White Park Brewery – Oast House 4.8% vol
Concrete Cow Brewery – MK IPA 5% vol

Deliberations were hard but by the end of the morning we had decided on our winners which will be announced at the Awards Night on May 8 at The Sculpture Gallery, Woburn Abbey.

There’s still time to vote for lots of categories in the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards 2016 and have YOUR SAY on who gets crowned the best of the best in our area

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Why Maaya opening in The Hub is about more than just a decent curry.

 

As a girl who was born into this crazy town –which I call a city, duh- I have this belief just like lots of my fellow MK’ers. We know our area, we helped create it and watch it grow, we believe we are MK. Born in the early 80’s when MK was just a child itself, it’s been a wonderful journey of us all growing up together. Place and person.

Now we know the stick that being from Milton Keynes gets. Those outsiders who just don’t quite ‘get it’. The slanderous calls of MK being nothing more than concrete cows, a soulless place without heart, and of course, those roundabouts. We can handle that, we all know that MK just fits us. It works and we love it.

But what I think is bittersweet now we are older is we see what MK is capable of, much like a mother sees in their child. Whilst MK has been very busy over the years attracting major businesses and investments, large modern retail parks and an iconic shopping centre. We are of course proud of all those things, we’re all pleased to see the progress but we’ve also been secretly disappointed and have complained that we don’t seem to nurture our home-grown enterprises. Some will go as far to say that CMK has lost, before its even really begun to create, its own identity.

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Maaya, an Indian restaurant opening in The Hub doesn’t scream the stuff of front pages or breaking news. MK is home to some four hundred restaurants or more. So what is the big deal you ask?

First off, it’s an independent restaurant and the product and hard-work of four local businessmen, each with fantastic credentials. With two restauranteurs, a PR company owner and an IT Business Consultancy expert. It sounds a perfect mix of expertise.

Now let’s not forget opening anything within the grey blocked walls of CMK ‘the city’ to us MK’ers is not to be taken lightly. Rents and rates commanded in this area are a big part of the reason why I believe, we as a town have been labelled as sterile or without personality. Unique one off shops and restaurants can dream about opening up there, but normally it remains in the dreamlike state. We hear time and time again about chain restaurants opening up its fourth or fifth site within MK and we all collectively let out a sigh. Uninspiring, we are letting ourselves down. We know, MK is better than this.

You’ve got to hand it to the owners of Maaya then, opening up the first independent restaurant in the very trendy and popular The Hub with such style, finesse and most importantly, great food.

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Last Thursday, I ate from their banquet menu and was so impressed with the quality and freshness of the food. Then last night I was lucky enough to be invited to their VIP launch evening and rubbed shoulders with The Mayor of Milton Keynes, a local pop singer and a pakora or two… yum.

Maaya has a great location with the perfect city ambience inside. It feels modern and swanky, without making you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. What sounds like it has come straight out of London is the very impressive Chef’s private table which is upstairs on a balcony overlooking the restaurant. Perfect for Birthday parties or special occasions. When you dine at the chef’s table, the chef himself serves your food. It’s a wonderful touch.

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So people of Milton Keynes, foodies, hungry bellies, cocktail sippers. This is what we’ve been crying out for and it’s here. A non-chain, high quality, local restaurant in the most exciting area. It cannot be the last but it sure is the first for The Hub.

Eat, drink, live MK. Maybe we are one step closer to stamping our concrete cow hooves over this *cough* city.

What do you get when you cross an Indian with a Mexican?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

8 Ways to beat the January blues

 

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Following the highs of Christmas and New Years, it can be a depressing time as we enter January. Funds can be low, the weather miserable and we feel like Summer is a million days away. Here’s 8 ways of tackling the rut of the January blues…

  1. Charity
    Continue the spirit of Christmas. Donate some food to your local food bank, find out about local volunteer opportunities or join a local community group like Happy Mondays in Wolverton who meet weekly to socialise and craft together whilst helping good causes.
     
  2. Eat Out
    During the month of January most restaurants have to try and entice customers in as everyone feels the pinch post-Christmas. If you can afford to eat out then you will be able to enjoy some fantastic deals like 30% off the a la carte menu at Mastee for the whole of January (T&Cs apply).
     
  3. Eat Well
    It’s really hard when it’s cold outside and it doesn’t help when Christmas has left your food cupboard in a shocking state of chocolates, sweets and not much else. BUT eating poorly can be to blame for feeling down in the dumps. Put down the quality street leftovers and pick up something fresh!
    January
  4. Chapter 1
    Time to focus on new beginnings. Whether you want to get fit and healthier, declutter your home or learn something new, there really is no more motivating month for change than January.
     
  5. Go Outside
    Get your wellies on and get yourself outside. Whether January turns out to be as weirdly mild as December is yet to be seen. But if it stays wet and nasty don’t become an indoor hermit. Fresh air does wonders for feeling down. Exercise does even more. A brisk walk will have you skipping home ready for a cup of hot chocolate.
     
  6. Get Away
    Book a holiday. Probably one of the most cheerful things to do is go away on holiday. Most holiday companies only require a small deposit to secure your break but it gives you something extremely exciting to look forward to.
     
  7. Look Ahead
    If like me you love being prepared, you need to know that Pancake Day is on February 9th this year, so now is the perfect time to get practicing. Are you a traditionalist, with a simple squeeze of lemon and sugar? Or are you an extrovert and will be scouring Pinterest with intentions to create something worthy of a Bake Off trophy? The skies the limit really, or the ceiling…
     
  8. Silly Banter
    Take Me Out
    is back on ITV on Saturday night! I, for one am a little tired of X Factor taking over the Saturday night prime time spot during the autumn months and who doesn’t love a bit of Paddy McGuinness. Great entertainment if you (or your wallet) can’t face going out this month.

 

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