Back visiting my family for the weekend, we decided to go out for Sunday lunch. Being in the middle of countryside, there really aren’t many vegan options in close proximity, so we drove to Milton Keynes and opted for Browns, where they could get their roast dinners while I could still find something relatively decent sounding on the menu. While we didn’t visit the Oxford restaurant, I thought it was worth sharing my experience of the food in case you ever get invited to or consider checking out our local one on Woodstock Road.
Happily there is at least one vegan option for each course, including nibbles, sides and extras. If you want a coffee or tea, there is soy milk available on request. For a pretty traditional restaurant (we entered to a live pianist) which I wouldn’t have expected to be particularly vegan friendly, it fares surprisingly well, even if there isn’t lots to choose from.
For my main course I ordered the coronation cauliflower, new to their Autumn/Winter menu. It sounded like the sort of food I’d enjoy, featuring saag aloo, a coconut raita, broccoli shoots and beluga lentils. The service was great and we really didn’t have to wait long at all for our meals to arrive. My first impression was that there was something missing from my plate. Embarassingly I had to ask the waiter ‘this is everything right?’ to which he sheepishly replied yes and apologised. That was fine, but I wanted to double check because it was presented in such a way that looked like I’d only been served up half the meal. I can understand there’s a place for artsy presentation but I wasn’t really expecting to find that here, and what was there didn’t look overwhelmingly beautiful anyway.
Onto the eating, and I quickly realised the dish wasn’t exactly what I’d expected from the description. I’d thought I was ordering a curry, but there was absolutely no spice at all. The cauliflower was coloured with turmeric but didn’t particularly taste of much. The boiled potatoes were fine, though again fairly uninspiring. I enjoyed the grilled tenderstem broccoli which was still nice and crunchy. The little squares of mango added a hint of sweetness but weren’t much to mention. In fairness everything on the plate was cooked very nicely, it just completely lacked flavour. It was also not very substantial, the scattering of veggies on the plate leaving me hungry afterwards. I’m just realising on writing this that I definitely didn’t notice any spinach on my plate, so I’m not sure where the saag aloo was. The beluga lentils were a nice idea but there were barely enough on the plate for them to be noticeable. In comparison, the serving of raita on the side was generous, but it didn’t taste remotely coconutty which made me really suspicious that it had been made with regular yoghurt (even though I did call the waiter back to confirm it was vegan) so I left some of that. I love Indian food so I found it such a shame that they’ve kind of taken elements of that cuisine but made it as bland as possible.
Not vegan but my Mum’s partner wondered aloud to the waiter whether there was actually any horseradish in his horseradish sauce. It further cemented the impression I got that Browns is a restaurant for your meat and two veg individuals. I think we all have those people in our life who won’t touch Mexican food or a curry because its ‘too spicy’ even if it’s a korma or there’s just a sprinkling of paprika across the top of an otherwise mild dish. Browns epitomizes the reason why British food is famous for being bland and uninspiring at best. I have to say that on the whole there was nothing wrong with my meal, it was perfectly edible, cooked fine, and presented nicely on the plate. It was just pretty dull. I could easily knock this up at home (admittedly it’d be thrown in a Tupperware pot), though if I did I’d add a tonne more seasoning.
Still being hungry after my main, and having seen they actually had a lovely sounding vegan pudding on the menu, I decided to order and see if the meal would take a turn for the better. Something a bit different from the usual, it was a coconut panna cotta served with a mixed berry sorbet and caramelized hazelnuts. I have to say I really enjoyed this, it was much better than the main course. It had a smooth creamy texture, with that little wobble that it’s supposed to have. The hazelnut crumb added a nice crunch to the dish. The sorbet was slightly tart then a slightly sweeter fresh coulis balanced out the bowl well. There was supposed to be some spiced rum in there, which I didn’t taste at all, but I wasn’t sure about that when ordering so I didn’t mind that it was missing. Congratulations to Browns for producing a well thought out and executed vegan pudding!
Overall, it wasn’t a disaster of a meal but it wasn’t anything to shout about either. I found it a tricky one to review because I think perhaps there are people who enjoy this kind of food, but that will never be me. I feel bad making this generalisation but I imagine it’s the sort of place you might go if you’ve got grandparents visiting, or perhaps just people who like to eat very plain food. I wouldn’t complain about going here as it was perfectly adequate, but I would never suggest it up front. It wasn’t the cheapest of meals either, with our lunch for three coming to just over £70. Our eagle eyes spotted that a couple of the main courses were £1 more on our bill than they were listed on the menu, which we mentioned to the waiter, and he was incredibly apologetic. The manager came to our table and took £10 off our bill which was obviously much more than we expected, especially as the mistake hadn’t really inconvenienced us. It was pretty generous of them and indicative of the great service we had; I suppose I can’t speak to what it’d be like at Oxford but I would imagine and hope it’d be similar quality. In any case, I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back there to find out.