What marks the beginning of the Christmas period for you? Is it as soon as Halloween and Bonfire Night is over? Or perhaps on the first day of Advent? Everyone is different and to me there really isn’t a right or wrong, it’s about a feeling deep inside my tummy. You can’t fake a feeling, it just happens and for me that feeling always ignites when the town of Stony Stratford (near where I grew up) turn on their Christmas lights. It always falls on the last weekend of November and is always accompanied with the infamous Stony Stratford Lantern Parade.
With November now in full swing, the impending arrival of Christmas and all it ensures is hard to ignore. This week I drove down Stony Stratford High Street to witness a big group of people erecting the Christmas lights high above the pavements of one of MK’s beloved market towns and it did give me a little buzz of excitement. What is prettier on a dark winters night than seeing your local high street alight with the colours from strings of lights and decorations? How about witnessing the official switch on? When hundreds upon thousands of local people flock out in the cold, with smiles from ear to ear to countdown a very traditional starting point for the festive season.
Here is my guide to the Christmas Light Switch On events in Milton Keynes for 2016:
HOW DO YOU TAKE YOUR TEA? With one lump or two? You put the what in first!?!
Tea to us Brits is as much of a lifeline as water. We love it. It’s hot, easy to make, soul enriching goodness that suits every season and occasion. Whether we are celebrating at the end of a feast, need a heart to heart or just what we do when we arrive home. Tea is always there in its many forms.
Afternoon Tea is as much of a British Institution as the drink itself, but you might be forgiven for thinking it’s been around since the early centuries. It was first introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840 (yes, we MK folk can have a claim to being near the birthplace of Afternoon Tea).
Afternoon Tea was created when the Duchess would get hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. With the evening meal being served at around eight o’clock, the long stretch between lunchtime and dinner was just a bit too long for her to tolerate. The Duchess asked for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake to be brought to her in the late afternoon as a stopgap until dinner. This started to become a firm habit and the Duchess started asking friends to join her and here we have the birth of Afternoon Tea.
These days Afternoon Tea is available around the world in many different ways but it will always be fondly and unapologetically British.
Traditional Afternoon Tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and cakes and pastries. Some real traditionalists will say one of the sandwich flavours will need to be thinly sliced cucumber but as long as they are small and delicate I don’t mind seeing more adventurous flavours on Tea Menus.
American author Alice Walker speaking on Afternoon Tea said “Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors” and I totally understand why she thinks this. With Britain infamous for struggling with our picnic weather, the aristocrats who created taking tea in afternoon prominent in history with their porcelain china skin from choosing to avoid the outdoor sun. It really is a posh indoor picnic with none of the plastic tableware.
There is a whole week dedicated to celebrating Afternoon Tea and it’s happening this coming week 8 August – 14 August 2016 so join me as I scour to find the best Afternoon Tea in Milton Keynes or if you can’t bear to leave the house, dust off your teapot, invite your friends over and do what we do best, eat cake, drink tea and be fabulous.
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
For the past five years Percys has been a breath of fresh air for food takeaways in Milton Keynes. A BBQ food company who have had thousands and thousands of people fall in love with their take on American takeout food.
As they operated out of a small unit in Crownhill, they could only offer delivery to half of Milton Keynes. I’ve never lived in that delivery catchment so we always had to collect our orders. To be honest, not a huge deal but after having a child and bearing in mind they go to bed at 7pm, collecting a last minute decision Percys in the evening was just not possible anymore. I dreamed of Percys being able to expand their delivery area.
In early 2016 that dream became real. A post on their social media confirmed that Percys were opening a second unit to cover even more of MK. It quickly and excitedly unravelled that the unit was going to be at Willen and they were going to be able to deliver to me!
I was stoked. This excitement reached fever pitch when I was approached by Percys to help them test drive their new kitchen equipment, chefs and staff for my very first Percys delivery before they go live to the public. Of course I was never going to say no!
So, on a very rainy and windy Easter Saturday, I placed our order on the phone to the Willen branch. We ordered a California burger, a Pastrami lamb flatbread and of course, two portions of my most favourite, dreamy home fries and a side of BBQ beans to dunk them in.
A short while later when I heard a light knock at the front door and a man standing their holding out a Percys bag to me, I could’ve kissed him.
The California burger and in fact all the burgers at Percys have now had a burger bun adjustment. In my opinion this soft, seeded brioche sourdough bun is a big improvement on the sourdough predecessor. The burger, which was destined for my husband actually got shared with me because it tasted so damn good. Pink beef (the only way it should be, in my opinion) Swiss cheese, hickory smoked bacon and BBQ sauce. NOM!
My go-to Percys staple, the lamb flatbread hit the spot. I can’t believe they were delivering Percys quality BBQ meat when only a few days ago they were having the kitchen equipment delivered and installed, the staff freshly trained and working on such new premises.
Now, no meal from Percys is complete without one of their puddings. Double chocolate chip cookies to be precise. They were delivered warm from the oven and still the best American inspired cookies you can get in Milton Keynes. The right amount of chewiness, lots of chocolate and BIG!
So, what a Saturday night takeaway. There is no official date on when Percys at Willen is opening, but please be assured with them at this stage a full opening must be happening very soon.
Are you on the East side of MK? Your prayers are about to be answered. PERCYS AT WILLEN OPENING SOON!
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).
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.
Chef of the Year
Waiter of the Year
Bar of the Year
Hotel of the Year
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/