Opening a new restaurant is no picnic. Opening a restaurant in a place that's saturated by chains is a very risky picnic. I love Milton Keynes, but it has a reputation for not being a hot spot for independent restaurants (which of the five Nandos do you want to visit?). Although things have improved in recent years, I would love to see more independent restaurants opening, and thriving, in Central Milton Keynes. I am a big advocate for eating independent so I was thrilled when I heard that Craft & Cleaver was opening in The Hub.
The Hub is the place to be for generic restaurants and bars, except for Bogota Coffee, which has exceeded expectations and thrived. Let's take a look at the newest indie in town - I can tell you right now - it's a good 'un.
Craft & Cleaver is an American-style smokehouse, serving up authentic BBQ meats fresh from wood fire smokers. It also has a bar serving cocktails and craft beers with outdoor seating so will hopefully become a bustling spot for socialising.
The interior of the restaurant is very trendy. Cosy wood walls, tables and floors are contrasted with industrial light fittings, metalwork and mirrors around the restaurant. My favourite features were the neon lights, featuring a big, bright red love heart with the words "You + Meat = Forever" on the walls. "Rack City, B*tch" also emblazons the wall in yellow behind the bar. Dan and I were lucky enough to visit on their second soft launch, but there were plenty of people there creating a great atmosphere.
The drinks menu includes a good range of cocktails, beer, wine and spirits. Dan said that he would have expected a few more different beers on there but I think this is definitely something that they can bring in as time goes on. Dan had the Mad Squirrel $UMO APA (£5.40). I decided to have a gin and tonic (of course) and went for a Hoxton G&T (£9.25) which was served with raspberries and grapefruit. Their G&Ts a generous 50ml measures and are served with good Indian tonic water in a proper gin goblet - my favourite! The Hoxton gin is a unique one - it's distilled with coconut which makes sit quite a sweet gin and almost has a vanilla aroma to it! I absolutely should have had a cocktail - they were coming from the bar and they looked stunning!
The food menu is also pretty extensive. If you like meat, then this is absolutely the place for you but there are still plenty of options for vegetarians. I also noticed there is a good selection of gluten-free dishes too.
Our waiter, Charlie, recommended the house fried tortilla chips (£6.50) as an appetizer to go with our drinks. These were served with a Tailgate dip made from creamy cheese, corn, artichoke and chipotle. The dip was absolutely dreamy and had a real contrast of salty and sweet flavours. I love the different coloured tortillas too!
To start we shared the halloumi, mozzarella and sweetcorn fritters. These were a little pricey at £6.75 for three, so if you're hungry you might not want to share these! That said, each fritter was still generously sized. These were really, really tasty - cheesy but not too cheesy, with the sweetcorn adding a nice contrast to the salty halloumi. The fritters were served on a silver tray, but it felt like they needed a pot of dip to complete the dish but there was plenty of the house buffalo and BBQ sauce on the table to see us through.
Time for the main event! Dan decided to go for a combo where you chose two meats and two sides from their selection for £17.95. He opted for the 14hr smoked beef brisket, XXL Brooklyn chicken wings with the house slaw and BBQ pit beans. Presentation wise, there wasn't a huge amount of food on the platter - he did feel a little cheated by two chicken wings as 'XXL' suggested they would be big or spicy, which they were neither. Great if you aren't into spice, but if you like a bit of a kick, make sure you reach for the house buffalo sauce! However, I think if you get the combo, tactical ordering is necessary. I saw someone else with the pulled pork, ribs, fries and beans which was a much busier tray than Dan's that looked like more value for money. However, the beef frisket was melt-in-the-mouth tender and the house slaw was really tasty. The beans were smokey albeit a little dry so needed some extra sauce.
I was so torn between several dishes on the menu from fish tacos to chargrilled trout but eventually decided on the chicken waffle burger; Buttermilk fried chicken sandwiched between a bacon and cheddar waffle with smashed avocado, spinach, Rockstar mayo and maple syrup. I know. Drooling yet? This was served up with house slaw and 50/50 fries, which I loved! I can never decide whether I want sweet potato or normal fries, but at here, you can have both. Winning! The buttermilk chicken was really tasty and tender. The waffles were a surprisingly lighter alternative to a standard burger bun, however, I would have liked them a little more crispy on the outside as they were a little soft. The addition of bacon and cheddar in the actual waffle was genius, however. This main will set you back £14.50, which I think is pretty good value. The food baby was well and truly underway at this point!
I can't go out to review somewhere and not try dessert, even if I feel like I'm going to explode. The sacrifices I make for food blogging, hey? Dan was brave and chose the dramatically named DEATH BY SUNDAE which was meant to be a sharer, but something you could definitely tackle solo. It consisted of triple chocolate brownies, salted caramel and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate fudge sauce, Oreos, chocolate buttercream frosting, chopped nuts and 100’s & 1000’s. Basically, a big, amazing, chocolate mess that meant business. Bearing in mind this is meant to be shared, this will set you back £9.75.
I went for the lemon and raspberry NY-style baked cheesecake which was served with white chocolate ice cream. This was really, really good. The lemon overpowered the raspberry slightly but this was by no means unpleasant! The cheesecake itself was very dense but smooth just like you'd want a baked cheesecake! The white chocolate ice cream rounded this off nicely. I developed a bit of a thing for white chocolate ice cream when I was on holiday in France in May and this didn't disappoint! This was very reasonably priced at £6.
Overall, a really lovely, enjoyable meal. The atmosphere of the venue is great and the staff were very friendly and attentive. It was their second night of serving and they did an incredible job! The food was great, though definitely a little more expensive, however, it's worth bearing in mind that it's in Central MK and the rents are often sky high so a three-course meal for two probably averages around £30 per head.
Craft & Cleaver has filled a gap that Milton Keynes has needed filling for a while and I really hope that it's a success. If you like the look of Craft & Cleaver, you absolutely must pay them a visit, though I'd advise against wearing any kind of tight clothing and perhaps be prepared to loosen your belt at the end of the meal...
To check out the menu and book a table, visit: mk.craftcleaver.co.uk
*This meal was provided complimentary for review purposes, but this does not affect my honest opinion!