Lamb @ Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Cookham

It was about 6 weeks ago that I last pressed the random number generator button to choose my next roast dinner destination, and it chose the delightful-sounding Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Cookham, recommended to me by a local nightclub promoter.

I really do try to stick to my random number generator choices but there have been a variety of logistical developments over recent weeks.

None more so than this week, arriving back home from a nightclub in London at 11am, having been out for the best part of 24 hours without sleep. But I have a mission to achieve and my not-so-subtle plea for a driver last Monday was met by my favourite Blairite, sorry, Brownite?? Milibandite? Oh no he is a Corbynite nowadays, and we took a rather long rambling drive in circles around Cookham before deciding to use our satnav to direct us up a winding road to not much more than a cabin on a hill.

It appeared to be a family-run business, the building was little more than a quaint hill-top cabin befitting of the name – but one that clearly had some history to it. It probably seated no more than 50, split into two rooms around a centre bar and was on the cosy side, despite the bright white walls.

The furnishings were comfortable and upmarket, as were the clientele (upmarket that is – I didn’t sit on anyone to be able to test the other adjective). It is highly doubtful that any of them had ever voted for Tony Blair, let alone have any sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn.

I really fancied pork, but it wasn’t available…and I guess I should leave my new-found sexual fantasies out of this, so I was left with the choice of chicken, beef or lamb. And it had been a while since I had lamb so my friend noticing that I was incapable of most forms of communication ordered for me. You can find my videos on Youporn.

For my getReading readers, I was left with the choice of chicken, beef or lamb, all priced reasonably at £13.50 or £14.00, if my rather patchy memory serves me well as you won’t find any information on their rather useless website.

I’ll try again. For my getReading readers, I was left with the choice of chicken, beef or lamb, all priced reasonably at £13.50 or £14.00, if my rather patchy memory serves me well.

I am so never going to get my copywriting business off the ground. Innit bruv.

Thankfully it didn’t take long to arrive and it was very well-presented and unusually for a well-presented dish ticked the quantity box too. But did it tick the quality and taste boxes too?

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For the second week in a row my oblongified plate was endowed with roasted carrots. One carrot chopped in half with both ends defenestrated, it was rather on the sweet and buttery side and thoroughly enjoyable.

Arguably my favourite part of the dish were the parsnips. Again roasted, and also slightly roasted…less than I would have done and arguably much nicer that I have ever achieved, they did have a slightly nutty taste but also wondrously sweet too.

The roast potatoes, however, did not match the heights of the parsnips. Both roast potatoes (yes we didn’t even manage 3) were close to perfectly soft on the inside, however whereas the last couple of weeks I had been blessed with those cooked in duck and goose fat – this time it seemed to my admittedly defunctional tastebuds to possibly have been cooked in vegetable oil or similar, and had a rather greasy skin to them. I know the correct English is dysfunctional but I was clearly defunctional.

That said, they were very large, and one side one of one of the potatoes was slightly crispy, and though they did disappoint – they were far from bad roast potatoes.

No Yorkshire pudding for the lamb (apparently they only go with beef…try doing that up north). Instead I was blessed with…cabbage. It was pointless and really added nothing to the dish but there wasn’t anything else wrong with it apart from the needless nature of it. My compatriot did have a Yorkshire pudding with his beef roast and was very disappointed with it, stating that it was both soft and spongebob-like. He might have said sponge-like.

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There was absolutely no shortage of meat offered, with 5-6 admittedly fairly thin slices of lamb, all appealingly folded to give them impression that there was more than there was, but it really was a healthy portion size. It wasn’t the best lamb I have ever had, it was medium with a marginal hint of medium-rare, and could have had a bit more texture to it but I am being a bit picky (shock horror) and it was good.

I even enjoyed the jus. A predictably thin and somewhat oily liquid, it was decorated with rosemary, possibly chives, definitely mint – maybe, just maybe some garlic too. Perhaps I should have photographed the menu. I appreciated the thought and effort, even if it goes without saying that I would have much preferred it in gravy format.

And then I was free to go to bed.

A lot more thought had clearly gone into this than the majority of roast dinners I have reviewed. But the curse of expectations stuck – I thought that it could have been really good and it was just good. Maybe just a little better than good.

The service throughout was very good – despite the small restaurant size there was no rush for us to leave. The price was fine, the food was good. I’d really like to visit again – albeit probably not for a roast. There are probably only 7 places out of the 41 that I have reviewed that I would ever go back to for a roast dinner.

I’m going to give it a 7.3 out of 10. My accomplices feel that I am being marginally too generous – but we never, ever agree on anything. Especially politics. Or food for that matter.

Next weekend I am going clubbing in London again. HELLO FRIENDS WITH CARS I LOVE YOU HINT HINT.

The random number generator has picked somewhere that Edible Reading highly rated…somewhere I have walked past a few times and always been really tempted to go in. But if I’m dining alone then I’ll just be going to some hole in Bracknell…assuming I make it out of my previous evening’s hole.

Is it bed time now?

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Chicken & Lamb @ The White Horse, Wokingham 20/09/2015

Sunday gone I was halfway through a 3-day hangover, at least I hope that is what it is as I am still suffering today, though maybe I should admit that I am coming down with the dreaded devil flu/cold/sniffles.

Anyway, I had a headache and absolutely no concentration span. There were no trains out of Bracknell, I didn’t fancy a rail replacement bus – or any kind of bus for that matter so I decided to get Google Maps out of my online glove compartment (I do actually have a scarf compartment), and had a scan for pubs within a walkable distance.

Walkable distance for me is normally up to 2 hours, maybe 3 hours on a good day (as long as there is public transport on the way back) – but this was not a good day, my brain and body were both in limited form (and still are) but I was pleasantly surprised to realise that I could walk to not far from Wokingham in just 45 minutes.

In fact, just 10-15 minutes walk from my house in the not entirely glamorous Great Holland’s estate in Bracknell is some gorgeous countryside. There was a very nice sounding pub called the Crooked Billet within walking distance, but I called 5 times to eventually find out they didn’t have any spare tables until 8pm (one assumed this means that it is rather good…definitely going on my to-do list), so then I picked the aptly named White Horse.

I couldn’t be bothered to book, I wanted to get out of the house into some fresh air to hopefully enliven myself. And of course have some beer, and some gravy. Actually I had wanted a cider but forgot about that idea until sat down with a not exactly divine pint of San Miguel. Lo siento. They only served Strongbow anyway.

Anyway, I’m rambling as usual which is maybe why Get Reading didn’t publish my last review (or maybe they’ve simply had enough of me…I get fed up of my drivel too sometimes) so I shall ramble on a bit more to try to put off my few remaining readers. I think Edible Reading is probably my only regular reader now. Some of my friends say they love my reviews but I’m sure they are being kind in a no your bum doesn’t look big in that dress kind of way.

By the way, I’ve recently discovered who Kim Kardashian is. Yeah I’m not massively up to date on popular culture. Do guys actually find her attractive? A good friend of mine said she wanted a body like hers. Yeah and all I wanted for Christmas is a big vat of jus. Gosh that sounds dodgy. Each to their own I guess. Does she eat roast dinners? I doubt it.

Anyway, I keep using the same words to start half of my paragraphs, and keeping in the style of repetition, I put on some minimal techno, with minimal volume – enough to drown out outer sounds but low enough for my delicate head to cope with and set off on a very pleasant walk through the countryside and arrived at a charming and homely pub – The White Horse.

You can criticise Bracknell, and I do, but I don’t recall anywhere within 45 minutes of my home in Reading that had such a unique and rustic kind of charm. I don’t mean rustic in an Oakford Social Club kind of way. And a warm welcome too, albeit the person serving me was clearly very new, and not quite to grips with things yet.

The pub seemed to be mainly serving the retired (probably much fitter and healthier than I was yesterday), and offered beef, lamb or chicken as the main home-cooked meals. Each roast was either £10.50 or £11.00, which is pleasingly less painful on the wallet than last week’s adventure. A menu is here for the curious. And possibly for the bi-curious too.

Amongst my many personality defects yesterday (on top of the daily ones), was indicivity (apparently not an actual word), as I could not choose between lamb or chicken. So they offered both for £12.00 and I gratefully accepted.

I was advised to expect a 20 minute wait, which I was more than fine with, and sat in the wasp-less and fly-free garden for enough time to check my one solitary Facebook notification before dinner arrived. Much sooner than I had been advised to expect.

All good so far but how did it taste? It was presented pleasingly enough – concentrically around the centre Yorkshire pudding, albeit it didn’t look to deserve the centre-billing. And of course, nowhere near enough gravy…or jus…so I had to ask for more.

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The dinner came with a whole 5 different types of vegetables – probably a record.

Starting with the greens – the broccoli was particularly fresh and juicy, the mange tout slightly crunchy and had that slight kick that a non-overcooked tout de mange has. The green beans were cooked precisely too – easy to eat and fresh to taste. All steamed.

Then there was some odd-looking and slightly odd-tasting swede puree. I am not massively keen on my food being pureed. I may one day end up at the point where it is necessary but that isn’t now. Edible but not pleasing. I assume it was swede.

On the other hand, the small handful of carrots had been roasted. Why don’t more places do this? Really excellent carrots, almost with a pepper-like texture and close to a divine taste. As far as carrots go. Excellent.

The usual Berkshire 3 roast potatoes were provided – all large, and cooked in tasty duck fat too. Not only that, they were roasted with thyme, and perhaps a very slight hint of rosemary too. Why don’t more places do this? Herbs are not hard. Sadly somewhat let down by the total lack of crispy edges – were it not then they would have been in danger of being as good as my roast potatoes.

I cannot really judge the lamb easily as there was just one thin slice. I had asked for rare, it was perhaps just medium-rare. I didn’t receive enough to make a judgement upon.

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I did however receive plentiful chicken – chicken breast with the skin on! And a proper sized chicken too, none of this Nando’s nano-chicken. Plump and succulent, cooked through with 4 or 5 thick slices – you could call them sliced chunks.

The roast dinner did come some way from perfection. Firstly the Yorkshire pudding was small, burnt and crispy. I’m on a run of bad luck when it comes to Yorkshire puddings at the moment and this continues.

And the jus. When the extra jus arrived I was charged £2.00. Stop riding the white horse. So you are charging me £2.00 for failing to put enough jus on in the first place. Only a dribble was originally supplied. And then I managed to dribble some down my leg – ouch. It was hot.

You know my thoughts on jus by now – it was very thin, watery with bits inside. It wasn’t bad but did become tiring. And £2.00. Seriously?

It left a bad taste, in more ways than one.

As this could have scored in the 8’s. That said, it does still make it into my top 10 roast dinners (admittedly this is not difficult such if the repetition of average elsewhere).

It had a lot going for it, value for money (or southern value for money…forgetting the jus incident), a really nice setting and gorgeous little sun-trap of a garden. Great carrots – nearly great roast potatoes, really good chicken, a warm welcome. With a few let-downs – the Yorkshire pudding, the jus, the yucky San Miguel.

I’m going to give it a very respectable 7.7 out of 10. It is certainly recommended. Although it is the first time I have eaten somewhere with a food hygiene rating of just 2 out of 5. I cannot say I care.

I then made a very slow and painful walk back, although I did find a really secret romantic spot in which I will endeavour to take my future Kim Kardashian too. As long as she makes a good gravy. By that I mean thick gravy.

Next weekend I’m going clubbing in London on the Saturday so the chance of me going for a roast dinner on Sunday is slim, unless one of my friends drives me somewhere and can cope with conversation as minimal as my music taste. But I’ll try as the weekend after there is even less chance of a review, and the weekend after zero chance.

I actually feel better for writing that.

Quality of food: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere/surroundings: 9/10

Value for money: 7/10

Food hygiene rating: 2/5 – rated 11th September 2014

Dinner brag factor* : 4/5

Total: 37/50

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Beef Rib-Eye @ Bel And The Dragon, Reading, 13/09/2015

Yet again fate conspired against my random number generator selection so I left it up to my dining companions to decide and they plumped for the Bel & The Dragon.

I’ve eaten there a few times in the past – including having some truly excellent pork belly some years ago. It’s not the cheapest venue, and occasionally the food is too rich for my sausage-roll-loving northern palette, but generally I’ve always enjoyed my experiences there.

Actually there was one rather painful experience, many years ago, in my heavy partying days (also known as my 20’s), when I’d been out all night, plus an after-party and then the next evening a large group of us had our Christmas meal at Bel & The Dragon. I was in quite a pickle, I have memories only of rolling a sprout around a plate, not really being able to eat any of my £35 three course dinner, and having a dear older lady ask me what I found so endearing about house music – my dribbling discombobulated self about as able at talking clearly as I was at eating.

I am a tad more sensible nowadays, though whether paying £19.00 for a roast dinner suits that verb, I am not sure. I had some hope that the high price would be worth it when I read the small writing on the menu that the roast potatoes, meat and vegetables are cooked on an hourly basis. Ahhh bliss!

There was only one choice of roast – rib-eye of beef. Though we did have a choice of how it was cooked, and I wisely chose rare. The rest of the Sunday menu is here, if you fancy a glance. I really wished I could have chosen the suckling pig.

After 10 to 15 minutes, the meal arrived and I was again dribbling in this establishment – but for good reasons – just look at that beef.

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The waiter (possibly kitchen hand) wished us a good meal. But something was missing – the roast potatoes and vegetables. So we enquired to him and his response was a Gallic shrug and the magical words “I don’t know”.

Shortly after, a pan of potatoes and vegetables arrived. We then asked him for the horseradish sauce (as advertised on the menu), to which we received another Gallic shrug. It arrived, I thought about asking for extra gravy but decided against confusing matters any further – I just wanted to get on with my meal.

Except I couldn’t.

Regular readers will know what is coming here. Peas.

Yes the medley of vegetables included peas, so I had to individually one by one pick my vegetables out, checking each for any possible intruders, as opposed to spooning a pile on my plate. Not that they had thought to provide a spoon.

Vegetables first and they were all on the crunchy side. So much so that the carrots seemed totally uncooked.

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There was a fair selection, with a little broccoli, some cauliflower, and some sweet sugarsnap peas. All on the crunchy side (yeah I’m repeating myself here) and all rather uninspiring. The pick of the bunch was the cauliflower.

Onto the roast potatoes, cooked in duck fat, and these were 7 of the tastiest roast potatoes I have had for some time. Albeit I had to share the 7 roast potatoes with my dining companion. I had 4.

Duck fat really does make a delightful difference. However, only one of the 7 roast potatoes was actually properly crispy on the outside – one was slightly crispy, the others were totally lacking a crispy texture. But all were properly cooked, and reasonably fluffy on the inside. Good but could have been so much better.

The Yorkshire pudding on the other hand, was a total flop. Overcooked, dry and rather fluffy on the inside. It came far short of expectations.

Le rosbif. I watched a French film on Saturday night. Le Homme Du Train. Or maybe L’Homme Du Train. I’m about as good at languages as most pubs are at roast potatoes. I scrape by but make many mistakes. It was a really intriguing and charming film. But you don’t care. You want to know about the beef.

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Given how much we paid, thankfully the roast beef was really excellent. I had asked for rare and received rare. It was exceptionally tender, with just the right amount of seasoning on the outer edges to contrast with the rarity of the inner beef. Intriguing and charming too.

Rib-eye when done well is a fine cut of beef, especially with the little bits of fat around the edge, and this was truly enjoyable. Although a steak knife would have made my life a little easier.

It seemed an after-thought but the jus was actually enjoyable. It had the consistency of a good gravy, but without any overpowering taste – it was complimentary. If a northerner doesn’t complain about having jus instead of gravy then something has gone well.

It’s a tricky one to rate this. Such excellent beef, yet a mixture of decency and disappointment otherwise and for £19.00 – one expects all elements to at least be good. I do keep mentioning the price.

And the service was generally poor. The welcome was excellent, and the lady who took our order was professional and pleasant. However it went downhill with the confused kitchen hand that brought our meal out and a total lack of attention afterwards. We eventually managed to catch someone’s eye to ask for the bill. A while later, someone asked if we wanted a dessert. Plus a lack of appropriate cutlery at times. I would understand at a pub, but not when one is paying £19.00. Expectations not fulfilled.

They didn’t even come over the take our payment – again we were waiting for some time. At least we got some branded M&M’s.

Oh I mentioned the price again. Bloody Yorkshire folk.

I popped into the Lyndhurst on the way home and was discussing the Bel & The Dragon with a couple of people in there, and they advised me that the venue isn’t quite what it was from what they heard. I’d be interested in any thoughts of yours if you have been.

I’m going to give it a 6.9 out of 10. I do wonder if I am being too generous – were it not for the beef then it would have been struggling around the 5 mark. But that the brilliance of the beef is the stand-out thought despite all else, shows they are doing something very right. Just not enough things very right.

Next week, I will go to my random number generator selection made weeks ago. I will go there. Although I have just noticed that there are no trains out of Bracknell next Sunday. Hmmmm. Why did I move to Bracknell?

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Double Chicken @ The Cricketers (Beefeater!), Bagshot 06/09/2015

I can hear what you are saying. A Beefeater? Didn’t he learn anything from the rather Kafkaesque experience the last time he went to a chain pub?

But this time there was an even more important reason than simply the public service I offer to all of my dear readers as your dear leader (of roast dinners), and that was to take a good friend out for lunch.

Again, I hear you ask, why the hell would I take a good friend out for lunch at a Beefeater? Aforementioned good friend had a motorcycle accident some time ago and is in a rehabilitation centre – one’s lack of wheelchair pushing experience limited us to the nearest pub, which was a Beefeater. Sometimes one must be thankful whatever opportunity is available.

I approached the journey with some trepidation – my friend’s health in my inexperienced and hungover hands – it started with an almost 45’ slope on the driveway towards the busy main road – that could so easily have ended very, very badly! I was relieved to have resisted gravity sufficiently and then it was fairly simple to navigate from then on – though I noticed for the first time in my life just how uneven pavements are.

The choices were vegetable wellington (oddly tempting), double roast chicken, rump of lamb and slow-cooked beef. I really didn’t trust the chain to do a nice piece of beef, despite being allegedly slow-cooked (does that mean grilled rather than microwaved?) so plumped for the double roast chicken at £9.99. Oddly, had I gone to the Bracknell beefeater then it would have been £8.99. In Scunthorpe it is just £7.99.

They did miss an opportunity to upsell, as I have just discovered that I could have purchased extra Yorkies, gravy and cauliflower cheese.

We sat down outside in the sunshine, having re-arranged the garden furniture and supped our well-deserved beers.

Now I didn’t have high hopes for a culinary delight and upon arrival my consideration remained on the phlegmatic side. But it didn’t look anywhere near as bad as the Back of Abominations.

Firstly there was a rather tastleless carrot and swede puree. At least I assumed it was Swede. Having no taste I was judging on colour. This was beyond hope and comprehension. Maybe it was my hangover which I still have today, but it was just mulched baby food, and unattractive too.

The green beans had rather more bite to them, albeit on the squeaky side and tasted of water.

It should have come with peas but my regular readers will know my thoughts on peas so instead I had a separate plate of flat mushrooms delivered to me. An odd choice and an opportunity I declined. Mushrooms? Mushrooms??

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There were 5 roast potatoes. At least I think there were as they were not hugely memorable. Possibly roasted at some point but probably factory-prepared and microwaved. They were edible and one even had a hint of a crispy edge. But mostly they had a soggy, rubbery skin with a soft inside. I’ve had worse. Mushrooms???

Despite having ordered double chicken, I was pleasantly surprised to receive two chicken breasts, twice as much as most placed would both with. The chicken breasts were somewhat flattened, and again on the tasteless side though they did have a hint of being chargrilled, albeit on a grill that tasted like it needed cleaning. It was tentatively ok.

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The gravy arrived in an only slightly larger receptacle than a thimble, and immediately evaporated upon pouring. This surprised me as we were not in the Baghdad Beefeater. I did get chance to glance at it before it danced and disappeared hence-forth, and it was exceptionally thin and watery/oil based. As was the trend throughout, it had little to no taste.

I should have asked for more gravy, but I was too busy feeding both myself and my friend, who unfortunately is not currently able to hold onto knives/forks/food. A bit like me the night before. Or cigarettes. As a non-smoker it was certainly weird to light and hold someone’s cigarette. I even accidentally inhaled. There goes my chance of being president.

Finally, whilst I remember, the Yorkshire pudding wasn’t a bad effort. I assume it was a pre-packed effort but it had marginally more charm than an Aunt Bessie’s with a soft bottom and crispy edges. A reasonable effort.

The whole meal was edible but forgettable. You may have noticed though that I wasn’t in the mood to complain and still am not. In the grand scheme of life possibilities, it really wasn’t too bad. 4.0 out of 10.

Next weekend I might go on my adventure to Cookham that the random number generator selected some weeks ago. Or I might take a family of refugees for a roast dinner. Or I might just eat a plate of mushrooms with gravy.

Remember folks, always take your roast dinner opportunities.

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