When people realise that I write a food blog, they always ask me what my favourite restaurant is or what was the best thing I've ever eaten. These are, and I hope will forever be, impossible questions. There are so many amazing places and things to eat that I hope there will never be a single winner. It's also true that people ask Mrs P and I for recommendations to eat here in Milton Keynes and this is often also accompanied with a comment of: 'because there's not much round here is there? It's all chains.'
While it is true that we do have a lot of chains, so does London, and Manchester, and Birmingham, and Peterborough, and Leeds, and Edinburgh, and Cardiff, and Henley-on-Thames, and Bicester, and ... have I made my point? Little talked about is the fact that we also have a growing number of quality restaurants that shun the shackles of the industrial production line pre-made sauce and corporate-ised menus. Therefore, I thought I would throw out there what I consider to be a few of the best in my opinion. These are tried, tested and often enjoyed independent favourites that we've found in our local area. They are presented here in no particular order, some I have reviewed on this blog before and some I haven't; so sue me. If you agree/disagree, or if you think I've missed somewhere obvious then let me know and you can be sure I'll check it out.
The Tai Pan - MK Theatre District
Hands down, for us the Tai Pan is the best Chinese restaurant in Milton Keynes. However, it's somewhere that Mrs P and I keep for super special occasions because it's also super expensive. The Tai Pan is doing it's best to keep the Theatre District alive with various theatre deals and their very good Dim Sum menu but the only confirmation you need is that it's really popular with our Chinese population, this is where the people who own your local takeaway go to eat. Please go and enjoy the food and ambience, but at about £80 for two people, just remember to load your wallet first.
The Bell and Bear - Emberton
The Bell and Bear are doing their very best to turn a good village boozer into a gastro pub worthy of being both gastro and a pub. I've had several memorable meals there and it impresses every time. It's currently my birthday dinner location of choice with proper local British grub, proper local beer and proper local locals; it has too many things going for it for you to miss out.
Cameron's Kitchen - Stony Stratford
Milton Keynes' very own fine dining restaurant, Cameron's is something a bit special serving up modern European dishes in a very intimate setting with flair and elegance. They seem to be slowly occupying Odels yard one unit at a time, which if you enjoy their food, can only be a good thing. With the tasting menu coming in at £45 for five courses it's great value too so the only problem you'll have is being able to get a table. For those not up to 5 courses, their adjoining Knife and Cork outfit provides a burger with a pint for £10, which is a complete winner in anyone's book.
Papa J's - Oxley Park
I only discovered Papa J's recently from an off the cuff recommendation and now I am happy to pass this little secret on to you. A genuinely original Indian menu shows just how far away from your local balti hut you can get. Imagine all your favourites but done properly and turned up to 11, Papa J's doesn't compromise and offers dishes that you will like, rather than those you are told you should like. Unashamedly expensive but give it a go for something special and you won't regret it.
Mastee - Bletchley
Reflecting the popularity of Asian cuisine in Milton Keynes comes the second Indian restaurant in this list. Mastee brings with it a real breath of fresh air with their take on modern British Indian dishes. The tandoor gets a real work out and their willingness to experiment with bringing new flavours to your plate is a great sign. Indian food has too long languished in the balti dish of mediocrity and I'm just so glad the Mastee is here to wake us all up.
Akasaka - Wolverton
A really, really good Japanese restaurant in Milton Keynes, surely that's ridiculous and cannot be true? Allow me to introduce Akasaka, a fabulous contradiction from start to finish. How it has managed to survive in Wolverton I still have no idea but survive it has and it's success has started to put Wolverton on the Milton Keynes map. It's always full and with fresh sushi that puts the chains to shame and amazing bento boxes it's not that difficult to see why. Some truly inspiring/challenging dishes that will open your mind to new possibilities, Akasaka is Milton Keynes destination dining. Go on, I know you're tempted!
There are a few notable omissions on this list such as Nonna's in Woburn Sands, Paris House in Woburn and The Crooked Billet in Newton Longville that we've heard very good things about but haven't visited yet, so I don't feel qualified to pass comment on.
Mrs P's Takeover...
So, after much debate I refuse to let these recommendations go without mention of a couple of my personal choices (Yes, Mr P, even though it could be argued that some are chains!*).
The Bell at Beachampton is a serious pub favourite of mine for their £30 Tuesday steak night which provides two generous steaks and a bottle of wine. What a bargain! A lovely little picturesque pub with a pretty outdoor eating area, we look forward to having a quick drink here midweek in the high summer but it also has an amazing open fire lounging area where we've spent many a happy hour chatting away in the winter. This place revives my love of the quintessential British Pub.
The Old Thatched Inn at Adstock is another independent pub favourite serving up some seriously tasty modern British food in a little village location. This place is justifiably popular with the locals though, so be sure to book a table (even mid-week). If you love the Bell or The Thatched Inn, be sure to check out the Swan Inn at MK Village or the Black Horse at Woburn - you won't go far wrong with any of these.
Aqua Italia may well be a chain, (Mr P is arguing strongly that it is**), but in Milton Keynes there are few places with as nice a vibe for eating with a very fresh and modern Italian feel. It can be pricey but their rabbit ragu has many raving about it.
And finally, for a spot of afternoon tea grab a warm scone with lashings of cream at the Tea Rooms in Wakefield Country Courtyard - you can always pop next door to the Farm shop for some local produce too.
And who said that MK had nothing to offer?!
*They are chains and therefore should be immediately stricken from the list. However, marriage is all about compromise - happy wife, happy life. But don't push it too far.
**See comment *