MK Food & Leisure Awards 2017

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

Eat with Spencer Pop-Up Restaurant Wharf Distillery April 2017

Find out who is Spencer and why do we want to eat with him? (That’s eat with, not eat him).

ELEGANT PUB GRUB, WONKY WANDS AND ‘THAT’ CHEESECAKE – THE CROSS KEYS WOOLSTONE

Milton Keynes is definitely not all chain restaurants and city centre bars and those visitors who think it is, listen up. Take for example The Cross Keys, a cutesy chocolate-box cottage pub and restaurant minutes from Central Milton Keynes in the village estate of Woolstone.

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The first time my husband and I had stumbled across it was when I was pregnant with our son. We had just attended our first hospital appointment and I was in a happy daze but hungry and had a craving for the best pub lunch MK could muster. The Cross Keys was where we ended up and we enjoyed a lovely intimate lunch daydreaming about the baby we couldn’t wait to meet.

Fast forward two years and with an energetic toddler turning our lives upside down I was in need of a different sort of meal. Food, adult conversation and a stiff drink for a night off from motherhood duties.

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The Cross Keys has itself been through some changes. In February this year (2016) it was taken over by Hannah and her team and with the positive trip advisor reviews piling in I wanted to see for myself what was happening over in Woolstone.

Date night was planned for Tuesday night. When I booked the table I was told there was a pub quiz taking place around the time we was planning to eat. I was excited, a chance to be competitive with snippets of random trivia?! Sign me up. I love tv quiz shows, crosswords and of course, pub quizzes but it’s been many years since I’ve done participated in one and the thought of scoffing dinner with my hubby at the same time seemed a great night off from the norm.

When we arrived it still had the cute wow factor that a thatched cottage always delivers. They’re just damn sweet to look at. Once inside we received a warm welcome from Hannah and were seated on the brasserie (restaurant) side of the pub.

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The menu isn’t too stressful to navigate. I have a pet peeve of small pubs or restaurants that are determined to offer burgers in fifteen varying ways or more pizza choices than an Italian delivery company but this was reassuringly concise yet varied.

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For starters I ordered the Terrine made with locally produced ‘Brixham’ chicken livers and brandy. This was served with three slices of toasted sourdough bread and accompanied with a caramelised red onion chutney. It’s great to see a terrine or pate forming part of the starters menu. It’s a classic starter that is often overlooked by pub restaurants these days for fear of being dated. Big mistake! It’s a classic for a reason. Leave it alone. This one was very tasty and above all a great portion for my terrine loving appetite. The sourdough was freshly toasted and the red onion chutney gave a pleasant sweetness to the rich and dreamy terrine.

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Mr LouBou ordered the Fishcake for his starter. A handmade fishcake made with cod and parsley which was served with a sour cream, dill and lime dip garnished with rocket. He was enjoyed it. I did steal a bite and wasn’t disappointed. Pleasant and not over fishy is how I’d describe it (I know it’s a fishcake but you don’t want your palette overloaded with salted fish and not much else).

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For mains I choose the Duck Breast. The pan fried ‘Gressingham’ duck breast was served with Dauphinoise potatoes, seasonal vegetables and cherry jus. I enjoyed the duck, the cherry jus and accompanying sauce was a silky hug for the soft duck breast without being too sweet and sickly. The Dauphinoise were delicious. Crispy cheese topped and perfectly cooked potatoes.

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Mr LouBou had the Stuffed Chicken Breast. Filled with cheese and wrapped in Parma ham it came with pan fried new potatoes, Madeira and mushroom sauce with a medley of green vegetables. The chicken breast was huge! Potatoes were again, delicious and well flavoured.

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Whilst we were eating the pub quiz started. It was hilariously fun throwing ideas at each other for the photo round and testing our Harry Potter knowledge in the specialist subject round. I was in stitches when the question “What was the name of the wand maker in Harry Potter?” and the table next to us thought it was Wonky Wands. That’s what I love about a friendly pub with friendly patrons. You can end up having a complete giggle with new people about the most random of things. A pub is only as good as its customers and we felt even as we were eating that we were in good company. Definitely something you can’t fake.

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For desserts my eyes were drawn to the Baked ‘Baileys’ Cheesecake and my husband challenged the chef by ordering the Chocolate Fondant.

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The baked cheesecake was served with a butterscotch sauce, a profiterole and a huge pile of whipped cream. Let’s just say ignore all the other great parts to this pub. You have to visit here for the cheesecake alone. It is sheer creamy, sweet heaven. Try it.

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The chocolate fondant was dark and rich and served with an award winning vanilla ice-cream that was very tasty. A fondant is one of the hardest desserts to perfect and with that in mind it could’ve been runnier in the middle but the flavours were great. It’d be one to try again for sure as I would love to experience it all gooey and sinful.

The pub quiz was over, scores had been tallied and tummies were full. It was time to roll home and veg on the sofa watching the last episode of The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (it’s a must-see). Mr LouBou and I are already in talks about our next visit for food and the quiz.

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If you’re looking for a place to eat and drink that’s every bit the traditional village pub with great food close to CMK then I highly recommend you check The Cross Keys out. With daytime and evening set menus, sandwich lunch menu and an inviting main menu, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

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Note: Pub quiz happens every Tuesday evening around 8pm.

http://www.crosskeysmiltonkeynes.co.uk/

 

JUDGING THE Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards Chef of the Year Cook Off 2016

Yesterday was quite a different sort of day for me. I got up early and went to college…

Well, the Brasserie at Milton Keynes College Bletchley campus to be precise. It was time for the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards chef cook off 2016. A live cooking contest between local chefs from a whole range of local pubs and restaurants. A bit like Masterchef that you see on the TV and best of all, I was going to be a judge. Me!   

There were eight chefs competing for the coveted title of Chef of the Year:

Jack Behjet – The Crooked Billet
Brendan Flynn – Bell & Bear
Grae Conyers – Nonna’s
Daniel Novak – Woburn Brasserie
Neil Grimble – The Black Horse, Woburn
Chris Doyle – Oliver’s Restaurant, The Woburn Hotel
Spencer Orlington – Bistro Live
Vikram Kumar Sharna – Maaya Indian Kitchen & Bar

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All the chefs were to cook up three courses. A starter, main and dessert.

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The starter was a mystery box challenge. Eight identical boxes of ingredients were given to each chef and they were given just one hour to discover the contents of the boxes, conceive an idea for a starter, cook and then present it to us. This was so interesting to watch and to observe the thought process of a chef creating a dish from scratch.

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The main course was up to the chef. It was their chance to show off the very best dishes in their repertoire.

The dessert course was to present a trio of desserts. One, had to be a chocolate fondant. One, had to be a cheesecake, but the flavour was negotiable. The third part of the trio was to be chosen by the chef, a dessert that they felt complimented the other two parts.

It was not an easy task judging, but judge we must. All the chef’s worked exceptionally hard and turned out some stunning dishes on the day. Scores have been tallied and the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards Chef of the Year 2016 will be announced at the glittering awards ceremony at Woburn Abbey on May 8.

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The Judges

 

Reckon you’re a good judge? There are still many categories that YOU can have your say in. Deadline for voting is 30 April 2016 and you can vote on their website http://www.mkfla.co.uk/

Special mention to The Brasserie who received an award in recognition of their talent and hard work from the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire on the same day I was there. Congratulations! 

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BEST RESTAURANT, CAFÉ, PUB IN MK? HAVE YOUR SAY!

It’s that time of year again when local restaurants, bars, cafes (and more) call out for you to vote for them in the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards 2016 (MKFLA).

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Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards are now in their fifth year. Most people have heard of them or seen the awards proudly displayed by businesses but how many of you have voted in them? Have you had your say?

I think it’s important for the people of Milton Keynes to vote and have their say in what they feel is the very best in local food and leisure.

Everyone is highly opinionated and vocal on social media, amongst close friends and family and even at their workplaces about their experiences. Whether it be dinner in a restaurant for someone’s Birthday or where they are regularly found enjoying a curry on a Friday night or even down to where they pick up their favourite cup of coffee, it’s these kind of people who need to be voting in the publicly voted MKFLA awards.

Categories are:

Best Restaurant
Chef of the Year
Best Newcomer
Waiter of the Year
Best Pub
Asian Restaurant
Family Restaurant
Bar of the Year
Hotel of the Year
Attraction
Branded Restaurant
Best Café
Local Produce Award
Best Use of Local Produce

So as you can see, there is a whole load of categories where you can get involved and have YOUR say on the best of Milton Keynes.

Deadline to vote is 30 April 2016 and to cast your very important votes go to the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards website http://www.mkfla.co.uk/

My Mother’s Day / Nonna’s / Lush Pampering / Pure Bliss

Yesterday it was my thirty third Mother’s Day as a daughter and my second as a Mother myself. I spent Saturday preparing my own Mother Afternoon Tea at her house with homemade scones and all the trimmings. I gave her a small gift of the Enchanted Eye Cream from Lush as a small token of how much I appreciate everything she does, not just for me but the whole family. She’s already used it a few times and was keen to tell me how much she loved how her eyes have been feeling, so I’m super pleased she’s enjoying it.

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On the Sunday I was extremely lucky to be given a lie in whilst my husband took the reins and kept our little monster occupied. When I awoke I thought I could smell something cooking but thought I must be imagining it, but when I heard both Mr LouBou and our little boy running up the stairs I saw they were carrying a big plate of cupcakes, they had been busy in the kitchen. I was super touched at the effort (especially that early in the morning). A cup of tea was brought upstairs and I enjoyed tea and cake in bed. It was the perfect beginning to Mother’s Day.

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I was given my first handmade Mother’s Day card from the child. To you it probably just looks like scribbles but to me it’s perfect. I am definitely cherishing this card forever. My husband had joined in and made me a card too to say thank you for being a Mum to our son. How sweet is that? I was also given some gifts, of course they were from Lush, where else? I was given a big bottle of Yummy Mummy shower cream and possibly the cutest bubble bar Lush has ever made, the Ladybird and my very own Enchanted Eye Cream to try. We then all snuggled down in bed and watched Peppa Pig cartoons until we felt like getting up and active.

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First it was shower time with my new Yummy Mummy shower cream and a little extra pampering with Lush’s Love Lettuce fresh face mask. Yummy Mummy is the first shower cream I’ve used as I usually opt for shower gels from Lush. The cream feels luxurious on your skin, moisturising and left a great scent on my skin that lingered for hours after. It has a dense purple colour, so it looks a little strange but it doesn’t stain your skin and that’s how it packs such a moisturising punch. Definitely going to be looking at more shower creams from Lush now as my skin always leans towards the dry side.

Like all Mums know, there is never truly a day off normality. That’s life and it’s not a big deal. So we then hit the supermarket to get some bits and bobs that were needed, we saw so many people running around with bouquets of flowers in their arms. I am guessing there’s a lot of happy Mum’s out there with cut flowers in their homes today.

Mr LouBou insisted on a pit-stop to enjoy one of my favourite noms. Shrimp tempura sushi rolls from Akasaka, the Japanese/Korean restaurant in Wolverton. It was a good call and kept us going as I knew a table had been booked in advance at Nonna’s for dinner.

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The afternoon was a mix of sofa slobbing with the new season of House of Cards and playing on the Wii U whilst the child napped. Netflix and Mario Kart are probably my two most favourite past times when it comes to things to do away from beauty/pampering and of course, the child. House of Cards, Forensic Files and Better Call Saul are my Netflix loves at the moment. Time ran away quickly and then it was time to get us all ready and leave for the restaurant.

This wasn’t going to be our first visit to Nonna’s. Our first visit had been back on Valentine’s Day weekend last month. It had been an enjoyable meal but we had felt let down by a few service issues. We had received a personal apology from the owners and because we had enjoyed the quality of the food and the setting of this extremely relaxed and pretty restaurant in Woburn Sands, we agreed to give them another go.

When we arrived we received a lovely warm welcome from the staff and were seated in the back restaurant room. It reaffirmed my admiration for the décor in this brasserie/restaurant. It’s so relaxing. Like you’ve been invited into someone’s home for dinner. Someone who is decidedly chic and full of understated style. I am a sucker for a candle and there’s some dozen of them on each windowsill.

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Massive mummy blogger point to Nonna’s. Not only is it great to see young children welcomed as part of our party, it was also great to see a highchair at our table, already in situ with the chair that had been there before, now long removed. Too many times I’ve turned up at a restaurant that’s been booked in advance for a high chair to have to ask for it once we’ve been sat at our table, even when the server can clearly see that we have a small child with us. It’s highly annoying trying to be prepared and then to have to hold a toddler still who just wants to explore his new surroundings, then having to move chairs and get a highchair in place around other diners, which can then start your meal off on the wrong note. So, thanks Nonna’s for thinking of us, it’s only a small detail but it really goes a long way with us parents. I was also presented with two pretty pink flowers for Mother’s Day and felt very special indeed.

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We had pre-ordered our food from their special Mother’s Day menu. I had the seafood cocktail, Mr LouBou the meatball and egg soup. We both had the pan fried garlic and peppered Hake fillets for main with a whole variety of sides. Sweet potato mash, triple cooked Tuscan chips, roasted med veg and ham and asparagus croquettes. Our son had garlic pizza bread and pasta Bolognese.

Each dish was presented beautifully. The seafood cocktail was served inside a warm fresh roll which was very comforting. A few chilli peppers inside the cocktail made for an interesting twist and the cucumber balls were dainty and refreshing. Mr LouBou enjoyed his meatballs, the soup in particular was well seasoned and full of flavour. 

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It was the first time for both of us eating Hake fillets. It’s a tasty fish and could tell it was well cooked. The star of the main was the roasted red pepper and thyme sauce that the fillet sat on. It complimented the generously sized Hake well and the pretty purple cress-like garnish was a lovely touch.

Our son, whose toddler tastes can vastly change from one meal to the next, confounded us both with his appetite. He devoured the majority of the supper plate sized garlic pizza bread and had half of his well sized children’s portion of Bolognese (do remember he’s only just over 18 months) he then even proceeded to tackle our sides and enjoyed the sweet potato mash very well.

With the starters and main now demolished and being washed down with a bottle of rose prosecco, we were looking forward to our desserts, although concerned whether we could squeeze them in our nearing-full tummies. But when the food is coming out and tasting this yummy, you’ve got to at least try! I had ordered the warm blackberry and apple pie and my husband the intriguing, chocolate and orange baked risotto. I’ve never heard of a sweet risotto before, but we eat rice pudding, right? It couldn’t be too bizarre, I was sure.

I hasten a guess that a chocolate risotto is a very hard dessert to make look visually appealing. But with the handmade chocolate decoration, I think the chef had a fair attempt. The taste was a great balance of sweet chocolate and bitter orange without being too sickly sweet. The generous slice of pie with vanilla ice-cream crowning the top of it packed a zingy fruity punch that you get from freshly peeled Bramley apples and sharp fresh blackberries. The ice-cream was a pleasant mellower to ensure it wasn’t too tart. The child had a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and I’m sad to say he was the only one to finish his dessert course. We were defeated.

Service throughout the whole meal was attentive, friendly and helpful. I wonder whether after Valentine’s Day we were being taken extra special care of and only a future visit will give a more consistent view of how Nonna’s service is on a regular basis. But when you’re looking at their freshly cooked, well made dishes served at a fair price, I don’t think it’s going to be long before we are back to try something else.

I noticed when we were leaving that they have another special menu for Easter. It’s something I am definitely going to consider.

When we got home it was time to unwind. I enjoyed the Lush Ladybird bubble bar in a hot bath with the little one. I think this Ladybird is going to be one of my all-time bath favourites. A mountain of lovely smelling bubbles with very little needed from the bar and we both came out thoroughly relaxed, pink cheeked and moisturised.

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I don’t think I could have dreamt of a more enjoyable day with my little family. Another day, another reason why I am so lucky to have two such amazing guys in my life.