Pork Shoulder @ The Bull, Wargrave 26/04/2015

Pork Shoulder @ The Bull, Wargrave 26/04/2015

Wargrave was the scene of a recent failure so it was with some trepidation that I headed back to the area.  Although the random number generator has picked somewhere truly ghastly for next weekend.

According to the website, The Bull is a 15th Century former coaching inn.  I was particularly excited to read that the food was cooked by someone called Jayne.  Not that I have any particular emotion connection to the name, but it gave the suggestion that their roast dinner was home-cooked, rather than mass-produced.  And it has a good website.

The pub itself was cosy but upmarket – and for those interested it was dog-friendly.  We had a nice table reserved for us near the window, and next to the log fire.  I am particularly keen on pubs with wooden beams.

One curiosity was noticing that almost every other building in Wargrave has this flowering tree wrapped around it.  Is anyone able to illuminate upon this?

The choices were beef, pork and chicken.  I went for the shoulder of pork at the pleasing price of £13.95.  Shortly after we had placed our order, the waitress/barmaid came over to advise that a party of 22 had snuck their order in before us so there would be a bit of a wait.  We were offered some bread to keep our stomachs occupied, which was a nice touch, and the bread was gorgeous – soft and warm, albeit with exceptionally salty butter.

It didn’t actually seem that long until the dinner arrived.  I hadn’t finished my pint.  And it was a case of “wow” when the plates arrived.

I am under the impression that as much of the food is sourced locally as is possible – I’m jumping the gun here but the strawberries for dessert, assumedly grown in the polytunnels near the train station, were just sensational.  Albeit they came with a choice of ice cream, cream or custard.  Has anyone ever had strawberries and custard?

Starting with my least-favourite of red cabbage, this was the strongest tasting red cabbage I have experienced.  It was crunchy and a touch wonky, and there was far too much served to be able to eat.

Swede isn’t something I would normally consider.  We were again provided with a generous unfinishable serving, a wondrous orange colour and a delightful kind of nutty yet fruity taste.  The swede was topped with butter and chives.

Next up was cauliflower cheese, with added broccoli in the mix.  Another massive bowl, and tried as we did it was again impossible to finish. Delectably creamy, with the vegetables just soft enough, and a hint of cheese.

So far, so very, very good.

There were just 3 roast potatoes supplied, as per the Berkshire usual it seems.  However these were very large roast potatoes, soft in the inside but only minimal crisp on the outside.  Good but not perfect.

Two homemade Yorkshire puddings were supplied, fitting with the theme of ample provision, unlike last weekend’s experience.  They were just a bit too crispy for my tastes, I feel a softer bottom is required.  But they were good.

The crackling was delightful, crispy yet soft enough to eat, and even melted in the mouth a bit.

Penultimately, pork proved plentiful, plus positively pleasing.  Ooh I do like a bit of alliteration.  Again it was nicely cooked, there were 4 slices of a medium-thickness, it was tender and very nice to taste.

Last to talk about is the gravy.  There isn’t much to say, it was very thin.  But complimentary.  And befitting of the excellent service, more was forthcoming upon request.

For £13.95 this was an exceptionally generous serving.  Easily the largest plate I have been served (clearly not beating the carveries for self-chosen quantity) and the quality was good to excellent throughout.  And that it was home-made made it all the more special.

I’m struggling for downsides.  I don’t understand why pubs in nice areas like Wargrave sell shoddy pints of chemicals like Fosters.  Also the music piped over the naff 80’s speaker in the corner was rather on the miserable side.

This leaves me with a bit of a conundrum.  It isn’t as good as The Crown which I rated 8.7.  But it is better than The Packhorse which I rated 8.5.  I would ideally like to retrospectively go back and change their ratings to 8.9 and 8.3 respectively.  Am I allowed to do that?  I don’t have a rule against it.  What would you think?

I feel that 8.5 out of 10 is a fair score.  This was a really enjoyable experience in every way.  I left absolutely stuffed but not out of pocket.  There is room for improvement.  But it really was excellent.

In my opinion it is the second best roast in the local area.  I highly recommend a visit – and do book beforehand.

With next weekend being a bank holiday there is a chance I may end up partying in London instead of roast dinnering around Reading.  I can confirm that the random number generator has picked somewhere for my next roast that I am really not at all looking forward to.  The ultimate antithesis of home cooking.

Maybe I will be surprised.

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Roast Beef @ The Miller Of Mansfield, Goring 19/04/2015

Roast Beef @ The Miller Of Mansfield, Goring 19/04/2015

Good afternoon.  How are we all?  Did you miss me last week?

Firstly I am going to ask a favour.  If you don’t already do so, please consider following the page on Facebook.  Consider it an electronic version of a crispy roast potato.  And if you are feeling generous, please do hit the button that invites your friends.  That would be analogous to proper gravy.

I’ve reviewed 19 roast dinners so far – 3 of the last 4 have ended up in the bottom 5 of the league table, the other slap bang in the middle.  I was overdue a success.

Again picked by random number generator, but this time it seemed on the face of it to have everything going for it.  Set in the picturesque village of Goring, it had good reviews Trip Advisor, the website was reasonable, the wording of the menu was delicate and intriguing – the price was on the high side – £19.00 for the beef or £15.00 for the pork belly.  I had no reason to believe it would be a bad roast dinner.

The nibble’s menu was tempting – what are “proper sausage rolls”?  Are they saying that Gregg’s do fake sausage rolls?  I had gone with the intention of resisting all other temptations, partly financial but also because I just didn’t need to.  However the idea of a sack of bread for the starter was too difficult to ignore for both myself and my linguistically-gifted accomplice – a bag of bread wouldn’t have appealed.  Neither would a basket of bread.  We wanted the sack.  A sack of bread.

Anyway I’m not here to talk about starters, nibbles or desserts.

It took a little while to be attended to upon arrival.  There were 4 people behind the bar busying themselves, I couldn’t quite work out what with and it was 2-3 minutes before we were greeted and another 2-3 minutes before anyone thought to ask why we were there or if we wanted any service.  Do I look that out of place in upmarket Goring?!

An inauspicious start, and it wasn’t exactly busy either.  There were far more free tables than occupied tables.  We seated ourselves on two stools around a barrel and ate our rather excellent homemade bread rolls.  Only four balls for £2.99 and perhaps we had fallen for their sneaky marketing of a sack.

We did get the slightly odd question of whether we wanted to be seated in the restaurant when our dinner was ready – quite how we were supposed to eat a roast dinner on a barrel, whilst sat on a stool I did not comprehend.  Perfect for a drink and nibbles – but it wasn’t dining room furniture.  Perhaps it was just automated like when you place your bag for life on the counter of a shop and they ask you if you want a bag.  I always find that very hard to respond to without automatically resorting to sarcasm.

Am I being picky?  It looked like it was going to be a fine dining experience – at least in terms of being a roast dinner so I was expecting service perfection.  More on the service later.

The venue itself was beautiful on the outside – really picturesque.  On the inside it was split into a restaurant with mustard-coloured walls and good quality wooden seats and tables – the bar area was an attempt at a rustic feel, and a pretty good job too.  Overall a pleasing aesthetic – and the toilet roll was high quality too – with the added pointed touch.  You can judge places by the quality of the toilet roll that they offer their patrons.

Also worth mentioning before I get into the meat of the subject is that it is dog-friendly, and though it doesn’t have a car park, we could park close by.  Also a short walk from the train station.

The vegetables arrived in two small bowls – one of spring greens, the other of carrots and cauliflower cheese.  I thought that we were advised that purple sprouting broccoli was one of the vegetable offerings but maybe I imagined that.

The carrots were on the crunchy side.  In fact they were some of the more-crunchy carrots that I have ever had.  I like that there was some extra effort made – they were cooked in butter with added chives – I thought I could taste a hint of honey too but that could just have been their homemade butter.

Continuing the crunchy theme was the cauliflower cheese.  A creamy crunchy affair – yet again another portion of cauliflower cheese that didn’t taste much of cheese though.  It was still enjoyable.

There wasn’t much in the way of Spring greens to be able to ascertain any specific taste or opinion.  In fact the whole vegetable offering was what should really have been offered to one person – not two.

Panic had struck me when the plate initially arrived.  Can you guess why?

For despite the beautiful presentation – without doubt one of the better-presented plates so far – I could only see one roast potato.  One?  How tight.

Fear not though as the other two were hidden under the beef.  Three roast potatoes felt generous after my initial worry but in reality is anything but.  However the roast potatoes were excellent.  Very tasty as they had been cooked in duck fat – and you could tell unlike some places that tell you they cook their potatoes in duck fat but it might as well be cooked in paper oil.  Crispy on the outside – fluffy on the inside.  Pretty damn perfect.

3 pretty perfect roast potatoes beats unlimited and distinctly average potatoes as per the last review.

The Yorkshire pudding on the other hand wasn’t so excellent.  Rather on the soft side throughout, and not just on the gravy-dampened bottom.  It wasn’t a bad yorkie.

Penultimately there is the beef.  Again not exactly enough to have trouble eating it – but wow.  It was quite exquisite.  Very much on the red side which is how it should be, it was so tasty.  It just came apart with the smallest of effort – the beef was the definition of tenderness.  The waitress did ask if it were cooked enough for our liking which was a nice touch.

After the early disengagement, the service was much improved.  Attentive when required, with questions asked about what we thought of the meal (was I rumbled?!).  Good enough for a tip.

And finally – the gravy.  It was a beef gravy though it did taste a little on the buttery side – perhaps still from the carrots though?  Thin – but consistency is always on the light side at the more upmarket places.

Which I think it quite a good analogy for the whole experience – a little on the light side.

There is lots to praise – particularly the really excellent beef and roast potatoes.  There is nothing to complain about in terms of food quality.  But for £19.00 I just expected a little more volume – the vegetables in particular seemed very under-provided.

Perhaps I am being a tad piquant, but it is only going to receive a 7.5 out of 10.

Next Sunday I am planning on revisiting the scene of a recent failure.

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Gammon & Turkey @ The World Turned Upside Down, 06/04/2015

Gammon & Turkey @ The World Turned Upside Down, 06/04/2015

I left you last week in a state of suspense – will I ever do another roast review?

Next weekend I am in London so unlikely to be able to produce a review, and this weekend gone I was in the beautiful city of Hull – City of Culture 2017.  I assume the cultured among you will be visiting?

But I didn’t want you to think that I was leaving you.  I might one day but my work is unfinished.  Especially now I even have Get Reading following the blog.

I got back into Reading around 9pm on Sunday night – still stuffed after my mother’s roast dinner (I reckon a 7.4 before you ask) so there was no way I was going to be able to have a roast dinner anywhere.  And how was I going to get a Sunday Roast on a Monday?

There was only one solution.

Yes for £7.49 on a Sunday, and just £4.29 Monday to Saturday (except of course on bank holidays, grrrr) – and an extra £1.50 to GO LARGE, there was The World Turned Upside Down.  How could I resist?

It isn’t in the most salubrious area.  I can avoid making a snotty comment about the clientele as there were not enough clientele to pass remark upon.  The ambience was one of near-silence.  Perhaps they need some dub techno to set the mood?  Possibly the most tenuous way to promote my DJing.

We waited for a short period until the chef appeared, who was very friendly and up for some banter.  The gammon looked freshly cooked but the other meats looked dry – as if they had been under heat lamps for several hours.  Which of course they had.  You could also have pie instead of meat for the roast.  Or a half-chicken though it was closer to a third by time the heat lamps had shrivelled them up.

The vegetable selection wasn’t exactly inspiring – peas, carrots, cauliflower ‘cheese’, sweetcorn – they also had chips.  Chips???!  Though I admit that I have on occasion had chips on self-made roast dinners when I had had too bad a hangover to make roast potatoes.

I chose only the cauliflower ‘cheese’ – two of the vegetables on offer are FOFs (the second word is “off”, I will leave you to work out the rest) and I didn’t fancy plain old carrots.  My accomplice did assure me that the carrots did not taste of arse.  The cauliflower cheese was ok, quite on the soft side and a hint of creaminess to pass the Trading Standards Cauliflower Cheese test.

As I could have as many roast potatoes as I wanted, I had 8, maybe 9.  There were one or two crispy sides mixed in, but generally a rubbery lukewarm feel to them.  Vaguely acceptable.

Having the special golden large ticket, I was granted a sausage.  The sausages had clearly been cooked some hours ago, but it was edible and porkish.  Something close to a Walls sausage.

The special golden large ticket (it was actually just a white receipt and the same size as a normal sized dinner receipt but my accomplice works in marketing and it seems to be rubbing off on me) also granted a large Yorkshire pudding instead of unlimited small Yorkshire puddings.  As the large one needed to be made fresh, I chose that option.  Crispy sides and a delightfully soggy base, it really wasn’t too bad at all.  Far from award-winning but acceptable.

I cannot really pass too much comment upon the stuffing.  It was a slightly different colour and taste to what I expected, and a touch on the stale side.  But at least it was attempted – I wish more places would do so.  Granted I accept most places are going for a higher class of customer (or “better” class of customer as Get Reading managed to suggest those shopping at the Oracle are compared to those shopping at Primark…ouch) and stuffing balls may not be part of the staple diet in Henley.

Just to clarify, I am working class.  At least when I’m in Henley.  In Hull I am upper-middle class.

Onto the meat and I chose gammon, which I normally don’t go for.  However it looked freshly cooked unlike the other meats and it tasted gammony, a touch salty with a wide brim of fat, but it was quite enjoyable.

The other meats looked awful – beef, lamb and turkey but I noticed a fresh turkey had been brought out and placed near the vegetables – however Adolf’s chirpy and banterous nature did not cheer him up enough to allow me the fresh meat so I just plumped for the turkey.

Did you get it?! Plumped…turkey…

Moving on.

Frankly it was some of the worst meat I have reviewed so far.  Cold, dry, stale.  It was your step-auntie’s turkey from Christmas Day – at the New Year’s Eve party that you really didn’t want to go to.

So onto the gravy.  The most complimentary thing to say was at least it wasn’t jus.  Is it complimentary or complementary?  I’m normally pretty good with my spelling despite going to school in Hull.  It was quite thin but generally acceptable.  Unlike my schooling.

I did not have high expectations for this.  I think it beat my low expectations.  Had it been freshly cooked then the score would have been a little higher.

It was better than the Toby Carvery – the meat had taste to it for a start.

I’m going to give it a slightly controversial 4.4 out of 10.

Next weekend I am partying in London on the Saturday night and with the first train home being the Waterloo stopping service at 7am, I doubt I will be able to move, let alone eat come Sunday afternoon.  But you never know.

By the way, if you are looking for a Christmas present for your soon-to-be ex-wife/husband, look no further then the below great offer.

Can you imagine the joy on their face?

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