Lamb @ The Rose And Olive Branch, Virginia Water 22/11/2015

Yesterday, I had good intentions of getting up at 8am, doing a few hours studying, going for a bike ride and then going on a mission to the pub south of Reading picked by the random number generator – maybe even fitting a shortish country walk in too.

Instead I woke up at 10am, accepted my food delivery, made breakfast and went back to bed until 1:30pm. I didn’t even drink that much on Friday night and yet I was still suffering yesterday. In fact I am still suffering today as I write this. I guess it might have something to do with not going to bed (properly) until Saturday night.

So none of the components of my original plan happened. But I wanted to get out of Bracknell…nothing new there. And I recalled reading that Virginia Water had become the first place outside of London where the average house price topped £1m. What a great contrast, from Great Hollands to the greatly expensive Virginia Water. Great. Let’s get on a First Great Western train….oh no it’s a South West Train. Not so great.

It was just turning dark when I left my house and not for the first time, I was questioning my sanity. Cold, creaky, tired, not really that hungry. Why the hell was I doing this? I got the train to Virginia Water, and then switched Google Maps on. I was under the impression that the pub of choice was just 10 minutes’ walk away. No, it was 28 minutes’ walk away. I was in no mood to keep walking.

But my only other choice was to go back to Bracknell. I kept walking.

I was under the impression that there were lots of lakes in Virginia Water, but apparently not. Not that I could see much in the dark except lots of ridiculously large houses. Some of them had staircases larger than my whole house. Some of them had chandeliers larger than my bedroom.

I’m not jealous. Fair play to anyone who does that well for themselves. I measure my life satisfaction on happiness, enjoyment and the thickness of gravy.

8 paragraphs in and I am pretty close to talking about food. For do rich people have access to roast dinners as good us commoners? That is the question I am here to ask.

Contradictory, the roast dinners were cheaper than any I’ve had for a while at £9.95. I had rung up in advance to check (always wise especially on a mission with no back-up close by) and though they normally do chicken, beef and lamb – they only had lamb left.

During my 28 minute walk, I had started to worry in case they ran out, as I turned the corner half-way, I then sighed as I saw the name of the road was something Hill. Oh joy. Thankfully not too steep a hill, but the lamp-posts did stop and I feared the pavement doing the same as cars flew by, but it didn’t. Albeit it wasn’t easy at times to see the difference between verge, pavement and road.

Oh why was I putting myself through this?

And then I arrived. I was instantly charmed. A fairly small horseshoe-shaped bar, around 10 tables of varying sizes. The menu’s read delightfully, including a list of around 8 really interesting homemade pies, a menu full of wellingtons, not to mention a delicious-sounding specials board – sadly I realised too late that they had a lamb shank roast on specials. Doh. Sometimes it is good to take your time.

They didn’t take their time as I only had enough time to pop to the loo, check the train times and my dinner had arrived, accompanied by a rather poor-tasting pint of Kronenbourg – the only let down of the pub itself was the common choice of draught – Strongbow, Fosters…you know the score. Maybe I’ll get into ale one day like a proper northerner.

In fact, the last time it had been microwaved that quickly was the Wetherspoons. Ahhh the memories.

A mixed vegetable medley was offered, a medley of presumably steamed vegetables as they had kept their taste despite their slightly disfigured colouration. Gosh, colouration actually is a word.

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There were sizable amounts of both broccoli and cauliflower, including their stalks, including their vitamins and taste although they were exceptionally soft and almost dissolved upon being forked. The handful of leeks were a nice touch too.

Not so generously portioned was the one long strip of carrot, one baby sweetcorn, one slice of courgette and one green bean. Yes, one green bean. I have very little to say about any of them, I am not entirely sure how I can judge one solitary green bean. All on the slightly soft side, all seemingly steamed.

No shortage of roast potatoes with eight, yes 8, roast potatoes, albeit all small roast potatoes, and of course not crispy. There were signs of earlier roasting, though once warmed up in the microwave, the outside were more soft than crunchy. Inside were towards fluffy. Considering that they had been heated, they were a good effort.

I’m really not sure what had happened to the Yorkshire puddings. Two wonky affairs, perhaps they had risen at some point but they had clearly gone all floppy. Spot the accidental innuendo. That said, they worked as an accompaniment to the lamb, the structural deficit not impairing edibility.

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The lamb really was plentiful. It had a robust, earthy taste to it – quite a strong flavour. I would have preferred it to have been at least a touch pink – alas it was cooked medium, perhaps even a touch on the well done side. But it’s a minor point in a generous supply of very enjoyable meat, especially when taking in the low price of £9.95.

Then there was a lump of home-made stuffing. Personally I wouldn’t put stuffing with lamb (maybe I’ve lived down here too long) but this was really good herb-filled stuffing, possibly some of the best pub-made stuffing that I’ve ever had.

And then the gravy. Oh the gravy. Thick, copious – exactly how it should be. A simple meat stock affair, with a very slight hint of mint, though that could have been my imagination. I was so happy. Actual, proper gravy. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeha!

Yes, it was worth the effort to get here. What a little treat this place is. So, rich people not only get a cheap roast dinner but a really good roast dinner too. And thick gravy. Oh the irony.

I’m going to give it a 7.9 out of 10. Highlight was the gravy. Lowlight – well I don’t like baby sweetcorn, and more than one green bean would have been nice. I’d like to give it a Harrogate on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale (Harrogate being the poshest place in Yorkshire) but I think it is more of a Pontefract.

This place is definitely worth a visit – and I’d love to go back for either one of their wellingtons or pies. In fact, I could happily go back so often that I might move to Virginia Water. I’ve even found somewhere I can rent for £23 a week. Granted, it is a garage.

Until then, back to my own 6 bedroom mini-mansion in Bracknell.

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Pork Belly @ Browns, Reading 15/11/2015

Everyone is different. Wouldn’t it be a dull world if we all thought the same. Some people think I am a marvellous writer. Others cannot believe that Get Reading publish this rubbish. Personally, I cannot believe that I do not yet have TV companies banging on my door offering me 6-figure sums to do Roast Dinners Around The UK.

Think of me as the northern Michael Portillo, where I travel around the country, sampling the delights of roast dinners at the end of obscure branch lines that you thought Dr Beeching had closed down in the 60’s. And then, of course, there would be a follow-up show – Continental Roast Dinners, where I sample the finest exotic roast dinners in cosmopolitan centres of cuisine, like Istanbul, Paris, and Benidorm.

Until such a day, I will be yours truly, and I hope I do annoy some of you on occasion. In my view, I can only be a good writer if some of you think what I write is a load of shit. The only opinions I fear are no opinions.

As the Christmas lights had been switched on in Reading town, I thought I should venture into the beautiful, cultured heights and lights of cheeselog-central (you do know what a cheeselog is, don’t you?) and ended up at Browns on the Oracle riverside. Actually, my best friend chose Browns because she fancied the nut roast. Not so interesting. Although I do want to give it an apostrophe.

The menu was temptingly written, with beef, chicken, pork belly, lamb and nut roast all available. I did have a suspicion that it would be more style than substance. After all, Brown’s isn’t really my kind of place.

I love a country pub, like The Bull in Sonning which was delightful. I like a more standard boozer with home-cooked food like the Fox & Hounds. I don’t like chains – I believe there are around 25 Brown’s in the country and I certainly am not keen on places that I view as poncey, admittedly coming from Hull, I used to view the Back Of Beyond as poncey.

Arriving to find someone playing the piano (from a sheet of music on his ipod) was a little eye-rolling for the boy from Hull.

I just want beer, meat and gravy.

We were seated downstairs, ordered our food from the convivial waiter, who had semi-recommended the chicken and I did fancy the chicken. So I chose the pork belly – pretty much on the basis that I love pork belly. Forgetting that it is very easy to get it wrong.

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Well, I think you’ll agree there is style. But what about the substance?

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Firstly the red cabbage which came in one of the sharing pots. I’ve never been a fan – even when it is done brilliantly I find it a bit gruesome. And this didn’t help the red cabbage reputation, having lost much of its colour and a fair portion of its taste through cooking.

At least this week I didn’t need the writing skills of E.L. James to describe the carrots. They were honey-roasted and guess what? I’m not keen on honey. I probably could get over that but they had a consistency which suggested they had been bathed in honey rather than roasted, for they were so soft and flimsy. My friends loved them. I didn’t.

I assume the parsnips had been roasted together with the carrots. Coming in the same pot kind of gave it away, and although not anywhere near as soft the carrots, they were certainly edible for those without teeth. I still have most of mine despite being brought up on a diet of sweets, gravy and crystal meth. Parsnips are great, and tend to be a rare treat on a roast dinner and these were certainly tasty and enjoyable, if not a tad on the soft side.

The green beans were as close to perfection that you can do ordinary simple green beans I did once cook them with parmesan and what was wow – but for ordinary green beans with nothing at all special about them, these were very good – the only real characteristic to judge them on was how soft/crunchy they were and they just had enough crunch to make them perfect.

Less perfect were the roast potatoes. They came in a pile on the shared serving tray, which was an odd way to do it. That certainly would not happen in Bridlington. They were half-way there to being good roasties. All the preparation had been done, they look like they had been chuffed up around the edges and had they been roasted another 10 to 15 minutes, they could have been excellent.

As they were they were too soft on the outside, and a tad under-cooked on the inside. They were not bad – I’ve had far worse. But very middling.

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My photography really is getting worse.  Either that or my phone.  It doesn’t help that WordPress distorts the photographs when they are larger than a thumbnail either.

Sadly I enjoyed the pork belly even less. The meat itself was quite dry, stringy and almost slightly coarse on taste, not that there was much taste. And the fat on top, which should have been the highlight of the whole meal, was just pointless. As I said earlier, it is easy to get pork belly wrong and I regret choosing it. Worse was to come but I’ll save that for later.

My friend that ordered the chicken really enjoyed his chicken so for the second week in a row, it seems that I chose the wrong roast. And further to that, my best friend who had the vegetarian option – the nut roast – gave her dinner a 9 out of 10. Apparently one of the best roasts she had ever had. In case you haven’t worked it out already, it isn’t going to get a 9 out of 10 from me.

Only the beef option came with a Yorkshire pudding, but I asked the waiter if I could have one anyway. Of course, I could. Although this apparently meant that I could have 4 for £1.50. Of course. Apart from this slight confusion, I do have to say that the service from both the bar tenders, and our waiter was very good throughout. Always friendly, talkative – politely waiting on occasion to ask how our food was, or if there anything else he could get us, did we need any more drinks, etc. Although when he asked what we thought of the food and I said “terrible”, he did reply with “perfect”. I was, at that point, being facetious.

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So back onto subject and the Yorkshire puddings. I managed two of them, although they did taste a little too much of the oil that they were cooked in, and were too crunchy on the outside. Not bad efforts.

The stick of crackling seemed to be there more for decorative effect, but it was more than welcome – it was quite gorgeous and salty – yet crunchy though not too much for my crystal meth teeth.

The waldorf stuffing ball was the smallest stuffing ball that I’ve ever seen, with only two bites it was difficult to ascertain a taste, though there was definitely nut (walnut I assume) and parsley. It was a little burnt on the edges but I appreciated something different.

Oh and don’t forget the….erm…green thing near it. Maybe it was watercress but seriously what was that doing on my roast dinner? It was as pointless as the side salad you get at Sweeney & Todd.

Last, and least was the gravy. Or red wine jus. Before I tell you about mine, let me tell you about the vegetarian gravy. It was an onion gravy, thick and lumpy. I’m not so keen on onion gravy but it was good. Us carnivores had red wine jus. You know my thoughts on jus, although consistency-wise it was closer to a gravy – taste-wise it was horrid. It had that burnt kind of taste – it reminded me of the jus at The Cunning Man I had many, many months ago. Yuck.

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And bad gravy can ruin the best roast dinner. Fair play to the waiter who did understand my advance request for extra gravy and brought 3 small gravy boats over. I didn’t use all 3 small extra boats.

It seems as though it may have been a bit horses for courses – both my friends were either happy or very happy with theirs. I didn’t enjoy mine and the £14.75 price tag didn’t help either.

I want to give it a low score, but there were some redeeming features so it gets a 5.4 out of 10.

The highlight was the green beans – the lowlight was definitely the awful red wine jus. And on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale it rates a Guildford.

For next weekend the random number generator has picked somewhere south of Reading. I doubt many of you will have heard of it, and I do not have high expectations. However it is quite a mission to get to, and if it snows or I have a large hangover, both are possible, then I might just go somewhere within walking distance or one or two train stops and make it easy on myself.

By the way, I wasn’t actually brought up on crystal meth.

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Gammon @ The Fox & Hounds, Caversham 08/11/2015

Getting a good roast dinner in or around the town centre of Reading is pretty difficult. Malmaison scored a 7.4 and Cau an 8.1. Most others have been distinctly average, or sometimes bad. And then there was the Wetherspoons in a category of its own.

Which is why I started this blog in the first place – the amount of times I have seen people ask the question “Where can I get a decent roast in Reading?” over the years just begged someone to answer the question.

I’d long over-looked the Fox & Hounds. I’d assumed that I had never been there, though when I walked into the doors, I realised that I had memories of some east Asian people selling me copied DVDs that they’d downloaded from Kazaa, whilst it snowed, in March/April. Anyone still use Kazaa?

Fast forward, ooooh, 12 or so years and I was back to eat a roast dinner.

I’ve wanted to go here for some time but I work on instruction, either by friends or the random number generator (which could perhaps be classed as my best friend) – but finally a friend wanted to go here so I walked over the shiny new bridge and set foot in the Fox & Hounds.

By the way, I like the rusty metal look.

The Fox & Hounds is a pub pub. It has a good selection of ales, is decorated with a vast array of beer mats and is split into two rooms – one was quite busy, the other with a pool table totally empty. The two ladies working behind the bar were friendly – and somewhat ebullient about the roast when I called earlier in the day to check they were doing roasts.

Two choices on offer – beef and gammon. And nut roast for vegetarians. And keenly priced at £10.00.

So I chose gammon as it was the first time that I had had the opportunity to do so since, oooh the Shoulder of Mutton controversy.

After around 15 minutes the home-made roast dinner turned up – packed with differing types of vegetables and a full plate.

The carrots were carrots. And they were orange. Did you know they used to be purple? I wonder if J.K. Tolkein could find 44 different ways to describe Harry Potter’s carrots?

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Moving on. I really enjoyed the curly kale, it hadn’t been cooked too much yet was still slightly on the soft side of average, as the carrots were. I’m not sure I’ve ever had it before, I thought they were spring greens until my friend corrected me. I guess the closest taste I can think of is spinach. I really did enjoy it – especially with the gravy which complimented the curly kale superbly.

The red cabbage didn’t quite have the same fruitiness to it as last week’s review had, though that was an exceptionally good roast. I’m not a fan of red cabbage and this was just kind of there. I was very indifferent to it.

At least there wasn’t too much of it – which cannot be said for the roast potatoes. I constantly complain about just getting 3 roast potatoes but 5 roast potatoes were too many as there were a bit of a chore to eat – they had been roasted at some point, but sadly had become rather rubbery and were quite dry inside.

I’ve had far worse but…yeah…

Controversially I’m now skipping back to the vegetables for the cauliflower and broccoli cheese which I’m pleased to say was good, the vegetables themselves were tender, creamy and tasted of…cheese! Yes a cauliflower cheese with cheese. How rare. And with broccoli too. Not quite up to the standard of The Crown in Playhatch (oooh remember what happened last time I compared somewhere to there….eeek) but it was pleasing for my tastebuds.

The Yorkshire pudding was quite crispy on the outside, but more in a shell kind of way. It wasn’t the best effort – perhaps it was cooked in vegetable oil. Something wasn’t quite right about it.

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I’m not sure gammon roasts are for me. It is good to mix it up, and this was cooked in cider so had a slight edge to it but it wasn’t as succulent as gammon can be, I feel that it was cooked too long, at least for my preferences.  And it was salty.  I know gammon is salty but this was very salty.

I did try the beef that my friend had and that was really good. Tender and nicely pink in the middle (on request)…it would easily have had another half a point on the end score had I not wanted to mix things up and go for gammon. Going for, going for…gammon. I’m pretty sure there used to be TV show with that name.

The gravy was tasty. An onion-influenced gravy, I thought I could taste a hint of red wine too. Enough in the way of consistency, though never as thick as 99.9% of northerners like it, and thicker than 99.9% of southerners like it (ie water).

So it was a bit of a mixed bunch.

Ooooh we had a stuffing ball too.  I cannot remember the last time I was served stuffing – it did add some extra contrast to the gammon, though the balls could have done turning during cooking – mine was dark well-cooked on top and not so on the bottom.

It’s the kind of place that if I lived in Caversham I could make my local. It has a far better feel than the vastly over-rated Griffin down the road, not to mention a better roast dinner. It feels like a pub that has been lifted out of mediocrity and is the kind of place that I passionately believe should be supported.

We had good service – the option was there for us to have beef and gammon.  And at £10.00 it is definitely one of the lower priced roasts so it was pretty good value for money.

I’m giving it a 6.6 out of 10. I’d love to give it a higher score but it is what it is. As I said earlier, it would have been higher if I had had the beef.

 

Favourite part – curly kale.  Worst part – roast potatoes.  On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale it rates a Grantham.  I assume you know what the Yorkshire-Surrey scale is?  Granted I may have just made this up.  I’ll leave it for you to work out until next week.  Or maybe I’ll just tell you at Christmas.  Call it your Christmas present from me.

Next week I’m not sure where I’m going. I know I am going for a roast with my best friend, but whether my best friend chooses where we go or my best friend chooses where we go, I do not know.

I guess I’ll have to toss a coin.

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Beef @ The Bull, Sonning 01/11/2015

This week I was really looking for somewhere that would go off with a bang, perhaps where I could roast my hands around a bonfire…I wanted a good roast dinner…if it wasn’t sparkling then there would be fireworks. Sigh.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to put you through a pun-laden themed review again. There I was last Monday thinking how brilliantly-written my Halloween roast dinner review was, but what did I get in return? Nothing. Not a “thank you that was hilarious”, no job-offers, no date-offers, not even a new follower.

So this week, I just went for a roast dinner. Chosen by random number generator. Paid for by my tax credits that the Lords kindly let me keep last week. Well, it was either spend it on a roast, or get a pedicure.

Oh damn, I said no theme.

The pub in question was The Bull in Sonning. Not the easiest to get to without a car – I ended up walking to and from the town centre which is around an hour or so each way – plus with the time to get to and from Bracknell and some shopping in the town centre, meant this was a 5 hour round mission. I need more friends with cars.

I was surprised when I arrived to find that it wasn’t actually the pub I thought it was – I thought it was The Great House with its river views. The Bull I found around a few corners, in a secluded spot next to a church.

Inside was charming, and dark. Low ceilings and black wooden beams gave it an authentic and aged feel, I can imagine that it might be a nice place to take a young lady on a first date. Assuming she liked walking or had a car. For it did have a romantic feel to it too.

The roast dinners on offer were beef, lamb and pork. I dearly wished I could have had a special as they just read beautifully, but you know, public service and all that. I asked the waitress for her recommendation, and she convinced me that beef was the way forward. In fact she was the epitome of good pub service, welcoming, friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. On the off-chance that management are reading, give her a gold star (short, thin young lady with light brown hair). Granted, I should have left a gold coin, it totally slipped my mind to tip. Doh.

It did take a while to arrive, perhaps just over 20 minutes, but this is absolutely no problem for me – if I wanted quick food I would have gone to Wetherspoons. I am always happy to sit there, wait and let them take their time over the dinner.

And when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much food there was. Especially with the size of the Yorkshire pudding.

I’ll start with the side-dish. Half of it was red cabbage, it is was elegantly fruity, soft but with a bite to it. It did seem to go on forever though, there was so much of it to eat for just one person.

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The second half was broccoli cheese. Except it was very white for broccoli and had the texture of cauliflower. I still cannot write broccoli without the spellchecker. Well, I did that time but only because it was already on screen. Anyway, the cauliflower again was soft, but had a bite to it – there was some kind of sporadic orange dusting, and a burnt spot, which suggested it was supposed to be cauliflower cheese but there was no cream evident, nor cheese flavour so I’m not entirely sure what happened. It was nice cauliflower though. Maybe the waitress should get a silver star seeing as her promised broccoli cheese was cauliflower.

There was a large pile of mashed swede. I’m still not overly convinced by swede. Is it actually from Sweden? Again like the red cabbage, there almost seemed too much of it which should be an oxymoron on a roast. I had a hint of another flavour, but my simple taste buds could not quite work out what.

Actually I just remembered that the swede was on the side-plate and red cabbage on the main plate.

So onto the part of the review that you care about even more than my introductory wibbling. Roast potatoes.

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They were not a patch on last week’s crispy delights, but they were freshly cooked. Sadly they had more of an oily rubbery edge to them, but they were soft in the centre, there were 4 decent sized roast potatoes and they were good enough. Considering the amount of places that serve duff spuds, I’d say these were a little better than acceptable.

Then onto the piece de resistance. The waitress had promised me that the beef was perfectly cooked. I had to question her further on this, as what is “perfectly cooked” beef? To me, it would be rare. To my mum it is fairly well-done. Her explanation was explanatory – lightly pink in the middle, but quite well done on the edge. She explained the reasoning behind it but I cannot remember.

It worked.

To elaborate, the beef was indeed very tender, so easy to cut, it was slightly pink as promised, possibly slightly more pink than slightly pink but it was difficult to see in the darkened room. It was pretty close to melting in my mouth.

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It was complimented well with the very large yorkie, which had crispy edges and a gravy-induced soft bottom. Close to yorkie perfection. I certainly cannot do better. Or even half as good.

And finally, the gravy was a fairly standard meat-stock based affair, not especially thick but enough consistency for a northerner not to throw a banger at the chef. Oh.

I guess you’ve worked out that it is going to get a good score. There is slight room for improvement, especially with the roast potatoes but this was easily one of the best roast dinners I’ve had on my travels. My main gripe is that there was too much red cabbage! Which seems very odd to say.

I’m going to give it an 8.1 out of 10. Which makes it the joint 5th best roast dinner around Reading. And gives me the opportunity to say that The Bull is nearly as good as The Bull.

I did have to book a table, and they were fully booked until 4pm (they serve until 9pm) – clearly others know how good this place is. It was on the expensive side at £16.50 but I guess it keeps the riff-raff out. But not yesterday, a ha ha ha.

By the way, I don’t actually get tax credits. But I am considering applying to be a Lord. Lord Gravy of Berkshire.

Next week I’m going somewhere which will really interest you. And I know they want me to review them. Let’s hope they know what they are letting themselves in for.

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