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The Crooked Billet, Nr Milton Keynes, Bucks

Clifford Mould thinks this is the best pub food in the country

pic Some of my happiest memories of excellent dinners were at 1837 restaurant at Brown's Hotel, off Piccadilly. Sommelier John Gilchrist established a formidable reputation for an amazing array of wines by the glass. He would open virtually any bottle, except perhaps a few rare wines from older vintages. A couple of years ago, he and his partner, the hugely talented chef Emma Sexton, took over the Crooked Billet, a pretty thatched pub on the outskirts of Milton Keynes. Working closely with his suppliers, the Cambridge based wine merchant Anthony Byrne, he has assembled a list worthy of a Michelin starred restaurant, let alone a country pub. He will still open virtually any wine on the list, but his speciality is to produce a unique wine to suit every dish. Between the three of us, we tasted nine different wines during the course of the meal.

With our pre-starter of Manx scallop, perfectly seared, came a glass the 2000 Lamidor Chardonnay, whose citrus and butter was like a beurre blanc dressing for the fish. After such a generous amuse, we were agog with anticipation for the rest of the meal!  A shellfish bisque (£4.75) was voluptuous and heavily loaded with lobster and totally put to shame the fish soup I had recently in a harbourside restaurant in Collioure in the South of France. This came partnered with a smoky Sancerre Vieilles Vignes from Guenneau. The pan fried boudin blanc with meltingly rich foie gras on a velvety mash (£8.50) was well matched with an Alsace  Pinot Blanc from Zind Humbrecht, while I enjoyed a deeply flavoured late harvested Tokay (Pinot Gris) from the same maker. This was paired with my delectable duo of terrines (£6.75), one made from smoked chicken and shitake mushroom, while the other was a country style duck terrine with peach chutney. 

A good slug of Penfold's Bin 389 Cab/Shiraz greeted my main dish of Pork Three Ways (£17.00). I like these combination dishes and this was a real trencherman's helping. There was a steak of pan fried loin, almost as soft and tender as the foie gras that topped it.  The slow roasted pork belly needed longer cooking while its crackling really needed blasting. The 'third way' was a piece of pork rolled up in a crepinette. But I loved the accompaniments: a delicate little tartlet of white beans and a finely made fondant potato that I can never seem to get right whenever I try it! Talking of ways, there's also a brace of quail stuffed two ways (£14.00), sounds a bit rude, but interesting...

The others both had the "Roasted rack of lamb with pine nut and coriander cous cous, garlic roasted Romaine pepper, baby aubergine and red onion and a tapenade jus" (£15.00). The meat was simply superb, and again it was the attention to detail of all these marvellous garnishes that caught both my eye and my taste buds, as I rifled my neighbours' plates for a share of the spoils! They were quaffing a claret style 1998 Chateau Minuty, but I was too busy with my Bin 389 and I missed out on a taste of it.

Puddings are superb: Emphasis on Passion Fruit (£7.00), which included a passion fruit baked Alaska, was a clever set of variations on a theme. That was teamed with a November picked Pacheranc from Alain Brumont. Emma obviously enjoys preparing those spoofy desserts like the famous cappuccino cup, so we tried her delicious chocolate grand piano (£5.75) beautifully decorated with a treble clef and other musical motifs. Elysium Black Muscat is the preferred partner for chocolate, and out it came, on cue. I had a lovely pineapple Tarte tatin (£4.75) with home made vanilla ice cream (with plenty of tell-tale little black seeds) and some Lindemann's botrytis Riesling, what a decadent combination!.

Great cooking and great wines, thank you Emma and John. The prices here are a bit higher than at the other three serious pubs we've visited in the past two weeks. Nevertheless, the cooking at the Billet is of a consistently high standard, and they are pitching for an even higher market. The service was also very professional, noticeably so. I feel an award coming on, so how about a Dine Online Accolade?

Right then, the 
Dine Online Accolade for the best combination of food and wine in any pub is hereby awarded to Emma and John at
The Crooked Billet, 2 Westbrook Ed, Newton Longville (not Pichon Longueville)
Milton Keynes, Bucks MK17 0DF

Tel: 01908 631979

If you're keen on wines, do contact Anthony Byrne Fines, Ramsey Business Park, Stocking Fen Road, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire PE17 1UR 
Tel: 01487 814555 email:

Clifford Mould May 2002

If you like the Crooked Billet, then here are some other excellent gastro-pubs that we particularly recommend: 

The Stephan Langton Friday Street, Nr Dorking Surrey. Serious cooking, wines at moderate prices 
The Hoste Arms - in unspoiled North Norfolk, this Inn retains its pub atmosphere and serves good food
The Pheasant at Keyston, A good Cambridgeshire restaurant/pub near Oundle

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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