Craft & Cleaver – or Not-So Clever…..

We love visited BBQ restaurants, and frequent Big Easy, Red Dog Saloon and Bodean’s fairly often when we can. So, I got really excited when I heard we were getting a ‘Brooklyn Style BBQ’ restaurant fairly locally to us, in Milton Keynes.

I read some of the opening reviews, which were mixed, but wanted to try for myself since I loved the look of the food.

We visited with friends on a Wednesday lunch time, so it was fairly quiet and it was just a few couples and some office-based traffic coming in.

The Atmosphere

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We had a friendly welcome, and the smell inside was just right. BBQ and wood! The decor was lovely and I’m always comforted by the sight of squeezy sauce bottles on the table!

We were welcomed and seated, and had a look at the menu.

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There’s a dedicated lunch menu, but we all chose from the main part of the menu as we were all quite hungry.

The Food & Drink

Two of us ordered the chargrilled lemonade which was home-made lemonade with a slight bbq taste to it. It was very tart at first sip but as the ice melted it became refreshing. I chose to have an Arnold Palmer (which is 50/50 iced tea and lemonade) It tasted fizzy to start with but then that went away. It shouldn’t be fizzy so that threw me to start with!

Two of us ordered burgers, one ordered a salad and another ordered a half rack of ribs.

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My order was a Naked and Proud burger, which came with 50/50 fries (half sweet potato and half potato), coleslaw and pickles.

The burger was two patties with mustard and tomato relish. The burgers were nice, however there wasn’t enough sauce paired with the amount of meat, and as such you couldn’t taste the relish or mustard. The fries were very nice, with a tasty seasoning on them. I don’t usually enjoy sweet potato but these were lovely. The coleslaw didn’t have much flavour and the pickles were odd. I was expecting gherkins or cucumbers but I got two bits of celery and two small chunks of carrot. They didn’t taste vinegary, but had an asian flavour to them which I couldn’t pinpoint and I don’t think went with the rest of the food.

I tried some of the BBQ sauce from the table. It was a very mild sauce, almost watery with a more tomato flavour than I expected, but it wasn’t bad.

I was told the ribs were dry and the salad barely had any dressing on it.

Having paid quite a lot for this food, we expected a little more.

This was were the trouble happened. We paid for the whole bill on one card, and the waitress hadn’t noticed there was no paper in the card machine. Not knowing how these machines work, we didn’t realise we had already been charged once when we were asked to put our payment through again, since she thought it hadn’t worked the first time. When the receipt didn’t print the second time, the waitress realised and told us we might have been charged twice.

She spoke with her manager and asked to take out details. We were to then check our account and if the amount had come out twice, come back to get a refund. We were told the manager was stressed, and so she couldn’t deal with it herself. We had noticed the managed wandering around looking stressed already, throughout our visit.

We checked, it had come out twice, and so we returned. On our return a couple of days later, our original waitress recognised us, apologised for the inconvenience and got her manager. The manager, and who I now assumed was the assistant manager who we’d seen walking around previously, stood for some time at the till point. We had shown them a text from our bank showing the two full amounts coming out of the account (including tip) and also shown them the recipt we were given for the second transaction. For some reason they decided to refund us in cash, even though our original transaction had been on card, so they had to split the refund between two tills, since I don’t think they had enough float to give a cash refund at that time. We were stood around for about 10 minutes waiting, whilst the waitress made small talk with us.

When we were handed our refund, we pointed out that we had also paid a tip on both transactions (and not a small one) and that they hadn’t refunded that. The manager told us point-blank there was nothing she could do. At no point did she apologise, or offer us any other kind of compensation for the original error, for us having to come back to get our refund, for the wait, or for us not getting our tip back. We were obviously an inconvenience to her day, and she clearly just wanted the issue dealt with and gone. I was FUMING.

I have since complained to Craft and Cleaver and they have confirmed our service should have been refunded and offered to refund it or give us some credit towards drinks on a future visit. We declined both. Needless to say this was a sour experience, and we won’t be returning. They also said they had taken steps to properly train their staff on refunds going forward which is a step in the right direction.

Incidentally, completely unprovoked, a friend told me about her bad experience there for her birthday dinner. Wrong orders cooked, inconsistent portion sizes, too little food for the cost, and plastic found in the food with no apology and no compensation.

It’s such a shame, that something that could have been so good ended up being pretty darn bad.

Dinner at ENEKO Basque Kitchen & Bar

I consider myself something of a foodie. I have fairly high standards, and though I have some dietary stipulations with regards to what my body can and can’t tolerate, when I eat I want to eat great quality and interesting food.

I watch Masterchef every year. As a kid I would watch the Lloyd Grossman format of Masterchef and my whole family was convinced I would apply for the children’s version but never actually did. They still always thought I’d be a chef when I grew up.

Clearly that never happened. I think the kitchens are too hot and stressful, and I don’t enjoy being told what to do. Nevertheless, I still cook and I love to watch cooking shows to pick up tips and inspiration. And I LOVE to eat.

This year one of the first professional kitchen challenges was at ENEKO in Covent Garden. A Basque kitchen and grill that brought the flavours of traditional Spanish cooking to London and in a unique and original way. Bringing in the elements of fine dining, but still offering an accessible menu, I was totally impressed when I visited their website.

Down to some freakish fluke, our Sky box recorded that episode of Masterchef from BBC Wales HD an hour earlier than it was being shown to the rest of the country and so when we tuned in 10 minutes after the start and saw the restaurant, we were able to view the site and book a table before the site was bombarded with hits from the rest of the country. It must have been fate since an hour later we couldn’t get onto the site any more!

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We arrived at the location, positioned just opposite the Lyceum Theatre which is currently showing the Lion King. The weather that day had been glorious so people were on the streets outside the pubs and bars soaking in the last of the day’s sunshine before heading into the theatre.

We entered the restaurant and were greeted by the lovely maître d’ who took us to our table. Down the stairs and into a small but not too small dining area, with some cosy booths and floor tables all with candles. The lighting was dim but not too dark and it created a cosy but airy atmosphere. It was light enough to see your food and menu but dark enough to feel intimate.

From our table you could see into the kitchen and view the pass, which Gary and I both find fascinating.

Our waiter was really friendly, and explained the new menu, which had a ‘tapas’ feel based on small and larger plates. The idea is to order little bits to share, and go for differing sizes plates dependent on how hungry you are.

He took our drinks order. Having noticed only wines on the menu, and since I don’t really drink, I asked him what non-alcoholic beverages they had. I was told they could make any cocktail I wished to a non-alcoholic recipe and he asked what I wanted. I asked for something with an elderflower base and was told he would ask the bar to make me something up. The resulting drink was elderflower with soda and I think a hint of lemon. So refreshing and just what I wanted.

To eat, Gary decided he wanted two of the smaller plates and a side, and I went for one larger plate and a side.

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In the picture above you can see left at the back is Gary’s beetroot tartare, with soufflé potato and barbecue sauce. And on the right is his Traditional Talo. This was crispy corn talo (like tortilla chips), heritage tomatoes and basil emulsion. This also had other sauces and caviar type beads on with edible greens and flowers. I wish I knew exactly what was on it but the overall flavour was incredible. At the front is my tempura hake with red pepper sauce and a parsley emulsion.

We also ordered mashed potato which came with an apple compote, and grilled tenderstem broccoli which was topped with toasted hazelnuts.

So, what did we think of our mains?

The beetroot tartare was so unique. I only tasted a little and a little of the sauce. Being tartare it was cold, and the beetroot was finely chopped. The flavour was fresh and not overpowering. The sauce was powerful and also fresh – not too sweet but packed a punch.

The Talo was incredible. The fresh flavours of the tomato was brought out by the various sauces and vinegars.

My hake was incredible. The fish was light but meaty and so flavourful and the tempura was light and crisp. The pepper sauce was almost like a gravy underneath and I wish I knew how they made it! I detest parsley but actually liked it on this!

Gary was in love with the mash – it was so smooth and buttery, and though I would never usually consider paring apple compote with mash, when you did, it really cut through the creaminess and added another dimension.

My broccoli was lovely, but didn’t need the nuts on top. Still the whole thing was well-rounded, and I think we chose our menu rather well!

Then onto dessert.

We both decided to go for Apple Cake which came with cider sorbet.

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Less of a cake, and more what I’d describe as the fruit from a tarte tatin but without the pastry, this ‘cake’ was really delicious. Fine layers of apple were topped with a creme brulee type layer of sugar that had been torched to a cracking, sticky, burnt sugar lid. Topped with an incredible cider sorbet and then some very very thin caramel apple crisps. Along side was a cream inside fine green apple twists and around the edge was an INCREDIBLE green apple sauce. I could have eaten a whole bowl of that green apple goo.

Such an amazing end to the meal. This dish wasn’t too heavy, or sweet. It was very balanced and wonderful to eat!

Throughout the meal, the staff were aware of everything going on, attentive but not overbearing. Checking everyone had water, being aware of when people had finished eating, holding the door open for the bathroom when people enquired where it was (the bathrooms had the most incredible waterfall taps in the sinks!)

We were both beyond impressed. It was clear these people know how to invent dishes, cook them and host an amazing restaurant. I’m going to be keeping an eye on their menu as they tweak and add things, because I’m very interested in returning and tasting more.

If you want to see whether their food is something you’ll enjoy, visit their website and take a look at their menu. I found Eneko to be accessible both for food and atmosphere, and had a truly lovely evening there. We’ll be back!