I LOVE BROWNS
In the Summer of 89, I fell in love with Browns Brasserie. I was just 17 and living and working in the City of the Dreaming Spires, otherwise known as Oxford, and I had discovered my first taste of what great dining should be. I spent many a balmy night dining with my then beau at the popular restaurant bordering on St Giles and Jericho, which had fast become renowned for its wonderful menu, vibrant atmosphere, stylish décor and classically attired waiting staff. I don’t remember much about my boyfriend of the time – he has become a distant hazy memory, but I do recall with great fondness Browns and that wonderful Summer filled with romance and sophistication and now, as I look back, I realise was my rite of passage to adulthood.
A couple of years later I moved to Brighton and so my career as a restaurant reviewer began where more and more restaurants puffed up their plumages and vied to capture my attention. The new vivacious, colourful culinary landscape of the 90s succeeded in turning my head and almost imperceptibly my love affair with Browns waned until it was no more.
After over 30 years, and to my surprise, I received an invitation to visit the newly refurbished Browns Brasserie MK. Would it live up to my memory? Was the food really as good as I remembered? Could it be possible that Browns still holds that charm that first captivated me? I was intrigued to find out how my old friend had fared and graciously accepted the invitation. And I was so happy that I did...
What we ate:
Pan Seared Wild Scallops - £10.95
Duck Parfait - £7.75
Chateaubriand for Two - £59.95
Salted Caramel Profiteroles - £7.75
Poached Fresh Pineapple in Spiced Rum & Vanilla - £7.75
Virgin Pornstar Martini - £5.50
Peach Melba - £4.50
250ml glass of Chateau des Laurets - £14.25
330ml Harrogate Sparkling Spa Water - £2.75
F & D TOTAL = £128.60
+ Service Charge = £12.86
TOTAL = £141.46
"Browns has a wonderful menu, vibrant atmosphere, stylish décor and classically attired waiting staff"
And how was it?
After being shown to our banquette booth our waiter, Jani, handed us the A La Carte menu. I was pleased to see that it’s still just a one-pager, showcasing carefully chosen favourite brasserie classics.
My wild scallops were perfectly pan-seared and beautifully opaque with a delicately sweet, buttery flavour and a hint of milky nuttiness. These were prettily presented on a bed of mashed celeriac with crispy smoked pancetta, slivers of crisp Bramley apple and pearls of apple puree. Over the years chefs have experimented with different ingredients to update this classic but one thing is for certain, the combination of sweet and salty and soft and crunchy is ever-present because it just works so well.
Richard’s starter of duck parfait was velvety, gamey and gorgeous. Served with lightly toasted sweet brioche and fig and Bramley apple chutney; the sweet seasonal fruits elevating the delicious savoury dish.
Years ago, my Browns favourite was always venison steak and frites, so I was a little disappointed to see that this was no longer on the menu, however, I was soon consoled when our Chef’s Special, Chateaubriand arrived at the table.
Grandly presented on a warmed circular slate were two portions of frites, grilled field mushrooms and plum tomatoes, watercress and roquette, grilled asparagus, onion rings, petite copper pots of Bearnaise & peppercorn sauce and of course, the star of the show – the filet mignon.
The beef was perfection. The lean, luxurious meat was succulent and tender and the charring on the outside gave a sultry smoky flavour that was just divine.
All the vegetable elements were cooked ‘just right’ and the standout for us was the superb homemade onion rings that had the crispiest batter.
Richard’s chocolate profiteroles were served with homemade salted caramel and Devon toffee sauce. He absolutely loved it – and so did I when I managed to steal a spoonful!
Our waiter Jani recommended my dessert of pineapple poached in spiced rum and vanilla, served with coconut ice cream – sunshine flavours! It was the Caribbean on a plate and was light, refreshing and lovely and a nice way to end the meal.
"It’s always a good sign when the staff really know the menu and their wines"
What’s it like there?
Browns MK has undergone a facelift but like with any good cosmetic procedure it is subtle and beautifully done. It’s still Browns, just a little brighter and fresher.
The flower-adorned statement entrance is an instagrammers dream and the restaurant itself exudes sheer elegance. Plush velvet banquettes in fashionable hues of teal and apple green, trimmed with gold, wood floors, tasteful black and white photographs and classic fishbowl lamps drop from the ceiling and of course, Browns wouldn’t be Browns without the black lacquered baby grand piano. Very classy. Very adult.
The atmosphere is unrushed, easy and cosy making the restaurant the perfect place to enjoy a long, leisurely meal.
The waiting staff are still classically attired with white shirts and long half aprons and are just as knowledgeable now as they always were. It’s always a good sign when the staff really know the menu and their wines and can recommend in an instant what will compliment which dish from the carefully chosen world wine list.
What you should know
There are a variety of menus at Browns including A La Carte, Brunch, Bottomless Brunch, Sunday Lunch, Children’s, Gluten Free and of course the quintessential traditional Afternoon Tea. All menus offer homemade brasserie classics with fresh, seasonal creations and cater for all dietary needs, with excellent plant-based options, also, their Gluten Free menu has been accredited by Coeliac UK.
All beef has been responsibly sourced from farms in prime cattle rearing regions across the UK and Ireland and within the Red Tractor or Bord Bio Farm assurance schemes. Browns source to an exacting standard and the meat is cut in a single facility and matured for 30 days to ensure the excellent quality steaks that Browns are renowned for.
"The classic Browns Brasserie concept is as fresh today as it was in its heyday in the 70s and 80s"
My romance with Browns has been rekindled. In its maturity, it’s still got ‘it’, with a twinkle in its eye and great style and class - characteristics that I have always had a soft spot for. For me, it was like picking up right where we left off with a comfortable familiarity that I enjoyed immensely.
Over the years I have seen many an independent develop into a chain, lose its essence and in some cases close down, but for some reason, the classic Browns Brasserie concept is as fresh today as it was in its heyday in the 70s and 80s. Yes, Browns is 48 years old and the very fact that they have stood the test of time speaks huge volumes.
If like me, you haven’t visited Browns for some time do book in and give it another whirl. Browns are having a revival, a second wind if you please. And you never know, you might just fall in love all over again, just as we have.
Browns is a classic brasserie and the new decor has hints of the stylish Art Deco era
Chateaubriand with all the trimmings
Wild Pan Seared Scallopson Celeriac Mash with Crispy Smoked Pancetta, Bramley Apple Slivers & Pearls of Apple Puree
Profiteroles with Homemade Salted Caramel and Devon Toffee Sauce
Sunshine on a Plate! Pineapple Poached in Spiced Rum & Vanilla with Coconut Ice Cream
Complimentary Warm Sour Dough Boule with Rock Salted Butter Patties
Virgin Pornstar Cocktail - This whole description sounds paradoxical but the drink itself was delicious!
Comfortable dining with highly polished tableware and fresh linen napkins
The Beautiful Bar at Browns. The perfect place to see and be seen whilst enjoying a cocktail or two.