Fore Rib Of Beef @ The Little Angel, Henley 26/07/2015

So the random number generator had picked The Little Angel in Henley, and off I went. They had beef and chicken on the menu – plus a special of leg of lamb, which sadly I couldn’t have because I have reviewed lamb two weeks in a row – last week I was forced to break my rule of a different meat each week.

Wait wait wait…it’s never that simple with me.

I’m looking to move house at the moment. In 3 weeks’ time. And I am moving to Bracknell. There is a good reason – honestly. It does actually make sense. But I’ll save that for another time. So the plan was to get the 1:18 train to Henley, eat dinner at 2pm, catch the 3pm train back to Reading which annoyingly gets in 1 minute after the Bracknell train leaves – wait around 30 minutes then get the 15:54 to Bracknell.

Adding yet more complication into the MIX, ever since I was stood in the sun drinking pints of over-priced watered-down vodka in Ibiza, I’ve been longing to get behind my DJ decks and make a 3-4 hour long minimal techno mix. I decided that Sunday morning was the right moment, and I had enough time before that train.

Except that I wasn’t allowing for the crapness of iTunes which decided to crash time after time after time when trying to burn tracks to CD (yeah I’m not a real DJ yet). I spent about 1.5 hours doing what should have taken 15 minutes. Painful. Even more painful than this pre-amble.

Now I didn’t have enough time to record the mix and get the train. But I came up with an ingenious idea – have a roast dinner in Bracknell. And got on with having a mix.

Until I took a phone call from the landlady who’s room I was going to see, asking if we could postpone. I realised that there was only 2 minutes of the current track left so pretended someone was at the door, put the phone down, mixed the next track in which was 12 minutes long, called her back and re-arranged for Monday lunch.

So the random number generator had picked The Little Angel in Henley, and off I went. They had beef and chicken on the menu – plus a special of leg of lamb, which sadly I couldn’t have because I have reviewed lamb two weeks in a row – last week I was forced to break my rule of a different meat each week.

Are you still reading?

We hadn’t booked a table, as they did roast dinners all day so I assumed it wasn’t necessary. The waiter did ponder for some time as to whether they did actually have a spare table for us. About 75% of the tables were empty. Did he realise I was moving to Bracknell?

I ordered the beef and it arrived around 10 minutes after we had finished our starter of large lumps of bread. I picked up my knife and fork and the waitress came to ask how everything was. She realised her mistake but not before I advised her that I was satisfied with the sturdiness of the cutlery.

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My immediate thoughts were “style over substance” and I had a distinct envy over the pinkness of my friend’s lamb.

Carrot puree. I didn’t understand it. It was smeared in a thin layer, in a semi-circular phase. I just didn’t get the point. My companion thought maybe it had a hint of celeriac to it but I didn’t care. I don’t like my food to come in paste format. Why would you turn solid food into something of a liquid consistency? I cannot think of any need unless perhaps you had had your wisdom teeth out the day before.

Then we had this strange attempt at cauliflower cheese, for which I did not detect any cauliflower by shape, though there did appear to be leeks withstanding. Maybe the cauliflower was also babyfied. However unlike most cauliflower cheeses, it was cheesy. Unlike my 3.5 hour long minimal techno mix which was not cheesy at all. Again I didn’t quite understand it, like most people don’t understand minimal techno. It was just a splodge of cheesy mixture – I ate it, my dining companion didn’t.

On the bright side we received a fair portion of mange tout, one of my very favourite vegetables. They were probably the crunchiest mange tout I’ve ever had – I’d prefer them a little less crunchy but horses for courses, everyone has different preferences on the vegetable crunch rating.

Then something shocking appeared.

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4 roast potatoes. 4! And they were roasted. However, unshockingly, they had not been roasted any time recently and sadly were very much of a rubbery consistency. I really did not enjoy them.

The Yorkshire pudding was good. A medium-sized home-made effort, crispy on the edges, fairly soft on the bottom.

But the beef was appalling. Maybe that it a slight exaggeration. It was overcooked, with lots of fat and gristle. It was not in the slightest enjoyable. My companion did enjoy his lamb, though said it didn’t taste very lamby. It did look a look so much more appealing than my beef. I’m tempted to suggest this was the worst piece of beef I’ve reviewed – possibly even worse than the abomination that was the Pheasant Hotel.

You can probably work out by now that this isn’t going to score highly. I do need to mention the gravy and it was perfunctory. I, of course, had to ask for more.

The service was a little lop-sided – attentive when not required, nowhere to be seen when I wanted something, but it was pleasant enough to leave a tip.

At £14.75 it was on the pricey side, especially when considering the lack of quality.

3.8 out of 10 is about the best I can give it.

I should have gone to Bracknell.

Next week I’m doing something a little bit different, and hopefully a little bit special. Or should I say, we are. Ooooh what could it be?

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Lamb @ Bart’s Grill, Reading 19/07/2015

I am back from Ibiza. I hope you didn’t miss my Arial-font tones too much. Actually I’m not sure what font I use.

I did consider going for a roast dinner whilst in Ibiza but when I ran it past my dozen or so accomplices, the majority seemed more keen on getting drunk around a beach-front pool with lots of very attractive people wearing very little clothing, then seeking gravy. I don’t think they even took my suggestion vaguely seriously. At 38’C, I did not blame them. I have to admit that I had a very enjoyable time without gravy.

One consequence of a holiday in Ibiza, is that one tends to spend not only the spending money budgeted for, but also the emergency budget, and then some more. So for the Sunday just gone, price was a priority.

Which meant ignoring my fabled random number generator and having to go somewhere within walking distance.

My choice was Bart’s Grill on Wokingham Road. At £8.95 it looked about the cheapest on my to-do list so I set off for a pleasant walk in the July sunshine with mixed expectations. The venue used to be Colley’s Supper Rooms – and if I recall correctly, it had a good reputation…not that I ever went.

The choice was beef or lamb. I fancied the lamb though it was what I had previously reviewed so the only possible choice for me was beef. Except that they only had lamb. Lamb it was.

I had a pleasant 10 or so minute wait in the sunshine with my ex-housemate and the Wokingham Road traffic for company. And a wasp. We could have sat inside as it wasn’t that busy, but it seems irresponsible not to take advantage of the sunshine, at least to make it look like I have been on holiday.

Now the menu gives off an air of difference, especially by offering a grilled tomato. But when it arrived, there was no grilled tomato on the plate. Moving on…

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Grilled vegetables were also offered. But there was no sign of any grilling involved. They just appeared to be your standard mixture of pellet—form carrots, broccoli and cauliflower that you buy in bags from the supermarket. That said, they were steamed/boiled to perfection with enough bite to them, yet soft enough too.

There were no roast potatoes. None. Ninguno. Zero. Zilch. Nada de nada. Which I quite admired. Many places simply get the roast potatoes badly wrong. If you look over my reviews, there are two consistent items I complain about – gravy and roast potatoes.

What we got instead was 5 roasted new potatoes. It worked. Don’t get me wrong – I’d rather have proper roast potatoes any day of the week. Especially Sundays. But these roasted potatoes were a simple innovation, and more appreciated than bad roast potatoes.

Let’s jump over to the other item which often goes wrong. The gravy. This was refreshingly, probably the highlight of the meal. A home-made mint gravy with a decent consistency to it. It really improved the flavour throughout the dish, and made the average parts such as the out of a bag vegetables, much more appealing.

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Speaking of being out of a bag, the Yorkshire puddings very much seemed like they were out of a freezer. Slightly larger and flatter than your standard Aunt Bessie’s – they did seem too standardised to be homemade, and were a touch chewy. We did get two each though.

And finally onto the lamb. There were 3 reasonably thick slices, however they were a little over-cooked for my personal tastes – in fact well over-cooked for my tastes – I do like at least a hint of pink and this was cooked thoroughly, and slightly on the tough side too. It was a good piece of meat though.

I enjoyed my meal. I wanted more. It is a shame that they don’t have an option for a large portion as it wasn’t quite enough for me. It is a difficult one to rate as one has to take into account the price, less than a Ibizan vodka Fanta limon – but on the other hand it wasn’t the most-filled plate ever so good value for money but not exceptionally so.

One aspect that bumps up the score slightly was the excellent service, and a real inquisitivity as to what we thought and how they could improve the dinner. They seemed particularly proud of their steaks, with a belief that they have the best steaks in Reading and I am very keen to take them up on their challenge.

I definitely enjoyed my time there and I do want to go back to see just how good their steaks are. I’m giving it a 7.2 out of 10.

Next week I will have been paid and it will be time to go somewhere nice – which I’ll definitely be craving after a week of eating Tesco value carrots.

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Lamb @ The Pack Saddle, Mapledurham 05/07/2015

I do not know where to start with this one. Also translated as – warning, there is going to be quite a lot of waffle before we get tucked into the main course.

One of the difficulties with reviewing roast dinners is that I can only do it on a Sunday – there is no flexibility on offer. And occasionally I do have a few drinks on a Saturday night, and on this particular occasion, a few too many drinks on a Saturday night, and I find that imbibition’s impede my taste buds the following day.

So this review does come with a warning that I was not at all at full capacity.

I wanted a really good roast dinner this time as it was a rare treat to go to dinner with my closest advisor, who had tortured my shattered, spinning brain at 10am with questions about plumbing. I am definitely not a plumber. I know even less about plumbing than I do about being a food critic.

So after quickly checking that I had not declared my love for anyone or bought a collection of vintage vuvuzela’s on Ebay, I was dragged away from my dizzying indiscretions to find a stop cock, and a good roast. And some painkillers.

We drove to the Wellington Arms in Baughurst, which had been highly recommended to me, and I wanted to impress my favourite Eastern European immigrant. Normally I call ahead to book a table, but with my aforementioned and now rather boring hangover, plus the confusion of becoming a plumber and voice of a sat-nav (did you know that roundabout in Czech is kruhový objezd?), it had slipped my mind.

Upon arrival it looked a beautiful country establishment, with exceptionally warm and polite service, very well-spoken staff, with their own herb garden – I was really excited. Until I found out that they didn’t do roasts in the summer.

What to do?

We left with a heavy heart. I really did want to eat there but I am a man of service and I feel the need to look after my 11 readers (my stats are improving).

The nearest place which didn’t look a dump was the quaint looking, The Pineapple. But I checked the Trip Advisor reviews upon arrival and the recent ones were poor or very poor which didn’t convince me.

I had no back-up plan, so I scratched my head for somewhere to go that wasn’t too much of a drive and decided upon The Pack Saddle. Edible Reading rated it highly so that was good enough for me. I called and they had a table. It was 30 minutes’ drive away in totally the opposite direction. I’m surprised I wasn’t told to walk. It now really needed to be a good roast, and not just for the sake of our empty stomachs.

I did pre-warn you about the lengthy pre-amble, and sadly for you, and for us, it didn’t end here.

All the four main options were there, beef, lamb, pork and chicken, along with an unusually tempting vegetarian offer of Portobello mushroom with goat’s cheese. The beef being £13.95, the others £12.95, which is reasonable enough pricing. We both ordered the lamb. I did actually consider the vegetarian option.

10 minutes later, two lambs arrived, though not for our stomachs which by now were rumbling louder than the imaginary thunderstorm on Friday night. Then two porks arrived at our table. We advised that we hadn’t ordered pork. They went over to those eating the lamb dinners. And then went back to the kitchen with the porks.

Hmmm.

It did turn out that the couple were eating our lamb dinners rather than their pork dinners. The waitress was apologetic and a tad embarrassed – I do wonder what the two that were happily eating our lamb believing it was pork, were thinking. Surely you would realise the difference? Unless they left the meat until last, which I do tend to. Maybe they were readers.

Another 20 minutes or so passed and finally our roast dinners arrived.

And finally you can read about the dinner. Though I am tempted to go off on a targent…oooh. I shall resist though.

The presentation was good though my initial thoughts were “is that it?”.

Are you looking forward to The Ashes on Wednesday?

I was very pleased to have mange tout in there – possibly the first roast dinner I have reviewed to provide them. They were on the crunchy but delicate side.

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The few carrots were long, flat and unspectacular, the red onion soft with a little bite to it, and the cabbage was just about there. A bit like myself.

There were two long and thin parsnips, which had the mixture of the sweet inside and bitter outside which makes them such a delightful vegetable, and they were roasted very nicely.

Onto the roast potatoes – 3, of course. These were roasted in duck fat, and you could tell in terms of taste. But it wasn’t all win-win. They were clearly roasted (and delightfully crisply) some hours before, and whilst two of the potatoes were very good, one wasn’t cooked so well and was a tad undercooked inside – my accomplice was not impressed with hers at all.

The Yorkshire pudding was an interesting creature. It was more in the form of a pot – with a small hole on the top. It was just a fraction over-cooked.

The lamb was tender, mediumly-cooked and a pleasant enough cut of meat – but just two relatively small pieces and I did feel a tad short-changed.

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Last but not least, the gravy. I had to order extra, which is fairly normal for me as apparently down south you don’t like your roast dinners to be swimming in gravy. Or at least your chefs don’t like it like that. It was quite thick, but a touch gloopy. A home-made gravy with a slight twist that my aborted taste buds sadly couldn’t quite pick out.

It did seem a venue that wasn’t having it’s best day, a bit like myself. The service was perfunctory but seemingly confused at times, and it was a charming enough venue, with a wonky play-house kind of thing in the kids play area that I was a tad jealous of.

I would not hesitate to come back here though just not for a roast dinner. I did appreciate the different touches and the quality was generally good but there just wasn’t enough food. I am increasingly of the belief that you cannot judge a venue just on their roast dinners.

I am going to give it a 6.7 out of 10, which is a reasonable enough score. Do take it with a touch of salt and pepper though – I am fed up by now of making excuses for my poor performance so I bore you further.

Next week I am taking a break from eating roast dinners so you’ll have to survive without my words of wisdom. I’m back the week after and considering a trip to the regatta-free Henley, seeing as I have never had a roast there. Any recommendations?

I do also have something slightly special coming up in the next few weeks too.

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