Lamb @ Bird In Hand, Sonning Common 27/12/2015

I hope you all had a very nice Christmas, or at least enjoyed the free days off if you are not a devout Christian.

There was no rest for the wicked, or the jumped-up tin-pot Trip Advisor reviewer, as you may know me, and I travelled back down on the Sunday especially for my readers, to ensure that they didn’t miss out. Quite what Edible Reading’s excuse for not reviewing anywhere until 15th January is I do not know.

A roast dinner was actually the last thing that I wanted on Sunday, after a massive Christmas dinner, an even larger Boxing Day roast, not to mention the 6 hour journey down from Yorkshire (which paled into insignificance to my journey up there where my train broke down and was stuck there for 4 hours, oh joy of joys).

You know that blurred la la land that you get from spending hours and hours in a car? Or minutes and minutes reading my reviews? I had that. And not even a tinge of hunger. But the show must go on. Until I give a mafia establishment a bad review. Can you imagine – RDAR has been shot. I do occasionally dream about being shot, or arrested.

I cannot actually remember why I picked the Bird In Hand, in Sonning Common. Was it my random number generator, or did I actually pick it out?

It wasn’t an entirely auspicious start, as the proprietor was expecting us at the final table for 4pm, though I was certain that I had booked it for 4:30pm. He asked us to order quickly and there was some initial gruffness. Maybe I was in the wrong – as we say in my line of work, the customer is often wrong.

Otherwise the venue was very pleasant, some nice subtle decorative touches, a log fire, perhaps a touch on the poncey side for my Yorkshire upbringing, but that is just me. And an absolutely gorgeous in-house dog.

Betraying the descriptive elegance of the menu, the choices for the roast were pork, chicken, beef and lamb, priced between £14.00 and £18.00. I plumped for the braised lamb on the bone, at £16.00.

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We waited for around 15 minutes, and discussed the appropriateness of importing AIDS drugs into America during the early 1980’s.

There was quite a medley of vegetables. Some simple broccoli – there isn’t much to say about it. I particularly enjoyed the greens mixed with halved sprouts – they complimented each other particularly well.

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Carrots are best roasted, and these had seemingly been roasted, thin and long slices which brought out their succulence.

A true highlight was the parsnips. As close to perfection as I’ve ever tasted – they were so delicately sweet, yet had a slight nutty edge to them. Very impressive.

All good so far, but disappointment is often not far away when it comes to roast dinners around Reading, and disappointment is often not far away when it comes to Roast Dinners Around Reading.

I would suggest that I had roast potatoes but they actually more closely resembled chips. They were not quite chips – along the lines of oven-baked potatoes. They had a slightly oily outside and were slightly more robust internally than I’d prefer – acceptable but didn’t fill me with joy.

The Yorkshire pudding was a bit of a failure in that the sides didn’t rise. If they had, it would have been a cracking effort – sadly it more resembled a flat pancake. Though not a patch on the disaster that I made on Boxing Day, I think I actually made my worst ever YP – it ended up a small splodge of oily batter. Oops.

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Redemption was forthcoming. And redemption was supreme. The lamb was cooked close to perfection – falling off the bone as the fork approached, quite pink inside but not excessively so – the hints of balsamic and particularly the ale shone through. It had been…arrrrgh what is the word I’m looking for…not charred but that will have to do, charred on the outside before being braised. Delightful stuff.

There was plenty of lamb too – although my accomplices seemed to have even more on their plates. Not that I was hungry. But I was envious. I wasn’t vaguely hungry but I wanted more.

It was a red wine gravy that had been supplied, with a little bowl of extra gravy already on the plate. Did he recognise me? Despite the initial frostiness, we did receive good service afterwards, along with a goodbye and a wave from the ever-so-cute dog.

Oh yeah, the gravy. It was slightly more of a gravy than a jus, on thickness standards anyway although far from what I would even consider to be thick. It had a very strong taste to it, almost over-powering. Many would love it – I wasn’t keen. But that’s a simple man from Yorkshire thing.

Unquestionably this gets a Chiddingfold on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale. There was nothing northern about it at all. The highlight was the exquisite lamb, closely followed by the parsnips. The lowlight the roast potatoes that weren’t roast potatoes and weren’t chips either.

Ahhhh chips and gravy.

I’m going to give it a 7.6 out of 10 just because of the lamb. Go there for the dog, if not the exceptional lamb – I do hope to get chance to eat off-duty here one time soon. I fully intend on going back. Just to clarify – they do not serve dog, they just have an adorable dog.

Next Sunday I have a suspicion that I’ll still be hanging from New Year’s Day (too many idiots go out on New Year’s Eve for my liking) so I’m assuming it will be somewhere easy to get to that I end up. The random number generator picked somewhere which is horrendous to get to from Bracknell.

So, I wish you a great new year. I only have one plan for New Year’s Eve and that is too eat some gravy.

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Beef @ Peacock Farm, Bracknell 20/12/2015

I had plans for my Christmas special. Firstly I decided that it would be a great idea to take a homeless person for a roast dinner, as a Christmas present. Over the course of time, the reality of how stupid an idea this was grew. How was I going to manage this? Just approach a homeless person on the street, “Excuse me, buddy, fancy a roast dinner?”. How would they trust that a random was going to buy them a roast dinner? Would they find it patronising?

After a while, I concluded that it was a ridiculous and unworkable idea.

And then I realised recently that this week was going to be review number 50. So I concluded that I should go somewhere special. I tried booking a few places but all were fully booked. I guess the Sunday before Christmas probably isn’t the best time to expect to be able to get a late booking.

I then realised that there were no trains from Bracknell either. I didn’t fancy a bus, I was still hanging from a very heavy Friday night so I concluded that it qualified as an emergency situation and that I should go to the nearest place – Peacock Farm.

I was advised before I went by a reader that the food “wasn’t all that”. I’ve eaten there before, and the menu definitely reads better than it tastes. That said, I did have some nice fishcakes there last year.

My expectations were not high.

I sat down, my cider soon followed, and sip of my drink later the food arrived – Wetherspoons-speed. Did they want rid of me that quick? Anyone would have thought that I’d gone to a Michelin star place straight after a night in a crack-house.

There were only a couple of tables so I was lucky. Or not? It does have extensive outdoor seating which is pleasant enough in the summer – some of the décor inside is a little eye-rolling, like the sign saying “On the 8th day God created coffee”. Fuck right off – and I’m saying that as someone unreligious. Bring on Friday’s celebration of capitalism.

The choices were beef or turkey for £10.75. I’d had turkey the week before so I had to break a rule, which is never to have beef unless I was confident that it would be nice. Granted, I have just realised that I could instead have broken the rule of not having the same meat twice in a row. Erm…

Anyway, my heart sank upon arrival – whilst I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be as bad as the Wetherspoons roast, I quickly concluded without eating any of it that it wasn’t going to be a good roast.

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The carrots were your standard mass-produced batons. It is at this point every week where I question why I am writing these reviews. I do spend quite a bit of most Sundays questioning it too, though that is more to do with the lack of motivation to make the effort. I’m cooking the family Boxing Day roast this year (first time I’ve ever been allowed to do more than just the sprouts), and I will be cooking them with oranges and bundles of herbs. These carrots had no such thought added.

The was a blob of mashed swede, a little more mustard-coloured than usual and slightly more appealing than usual, with a nutty yet fruity taste to it.

It took me a couple of minutes to remember what the final vegetable was – some rather washed-out yellow cabbage with the texture of your average dock leaf.

Then there were some roast potatoes. I don’t know how they managed to get them so un-roasted. There was no evidence that there had even been an attempt to roast them. They had this anaemic appearance, yet had some evidence of burnt herbs on top (not to taste) and were at least freshly cooked – rubbery on the outside but squidgy enough on the inside. I had worse last week.

But then it went from bad to worse. The Yorkshire pudding was a true abomination. It was very oily, as crunchy as a biscuit on the outside, rubbery on the bottom. It tasted of oil and I very nearly didn’t eat it. I really do not know why I ate it. I’m struggling to think of worse Yorkshire puddings right now.

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And then we had the beef. I say ‘we’ in the same way that Margaret Thatcher used the word ‘we’. For I was by myself, which made the whole experience even more miserable and lonely than it would have been otherwise.

There were three, thick slices of dry, miserable, over-cooked beef. This is why I only eat beef at places that I am confident will do it well. Then again, they didn’t do anything well. It was at this point that I took a glance to my right, to see the couple next to me struggling to eat their beef roast dinners too. I assume that they have now filed for divorce.

Maybe it is a tad too harsh. The gravy was ok. In that it tasted like gravy – although it was thinner than water. I normally would have asked for more but I had already given up on the idea that I was going to like it as soon as it arrived. At least it wasn’t jus. Just won’t jus. Without you.

It started to rain as soon as I left the pub. It felt appropriate.

I don’t think I have a highlight. Perhaps the swede as it was the only item with any discernerable enjoyment attached to it. Or maybe the rain on the way home. The lowlight was a when I ate some of the dry, over-cooked beef with the biscuit-like Yorkshire pudding in the same mouthful.

It reached a Didcot on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale.

I was trying very hard to forget my two previous roast dinners, but I do think this was worse than both of them, and as such I am rating it a 2.6 out of 10.

I guess that it is a very good job that I didn’t buy a homeless person this roast dinner. They would have wondered exactly what they were being punished for had I taken them here. It would have been an embarrassment.

It does seem that I spend a lot of time moaning about crap roast dinners and I really am on a bad run at the moment. However I do appreciate that it could be much, much worse, so I have decided that I will donate the cost of my roast dinner to XXXXXX in the hope that they can use this more appropriately than I would have been able to. At least I will do once I get paid on Thursday.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas – unless of course you don’t celebrate Christmas in which case I wish you a nice free day off work. I even wish the landlady of The Shoulder Of Mutton a Merry Christmas. I will be back next Sunday in time to go for a roast dinner, so there will be no break from me. My commitment continues…for now.

I’ve made it to 50 reviews. I should make it to 60. Unless something changes, I doubt I will make it to 70.

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Turkey @ Bell & Bottle, Shinfield 13/12/2015

I only discovered the existence of the Bell & Bottle last winter, when I popped in for a pint after a countryside walk around Shinfield, to watch the second half of a football game in which my team were playing. We lost 3-0 in an abject performance.

I discovered that they did roast dinners, but I ploughed onto the excellent Black Boy up the road.

Recently, the random number generator insisted that I paid another visit for one of their roast dinners. I wondered if it might be a hidden gem – no website and a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2010. Yet they offered home-cooked roast dinners. This is the main point of Roast Dinners Around Reading – to get you away from the obvious and average places, to the undiscovered gems.

It took the best part of two hours to get there, 50 minutes of walking, one train and one bus.

I arrived to see a big Fosters sign stuck on the outside of the pub. You know where this is heading, don’t you?

The pub was split into a bar area and dining area, like many are nowadays. Wonderfully tacky Christmas decorations, mingling with fruit machines and TV screens. The tables were sturdy – the chairs I sunk right into, not quite to the floor but I was much lower down than I would prefer.

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There was a warm welcome from the two ladies running the bar. The options were beef, pork or turkey – guess what I selected? It being Christmas, and all. The price was just £7.95 – one of the cheapest roasts around.

Upon arrival there was no shortage of food. Certainly not vegetables, anyway, with 4 different types of steamed vegetables.

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I started with the green beans. There were far too many of them, and they were disturbingly darkened. They tasted fine. Fine in a very average way.

The broccoli (I’m pretty good at spelling that now) had a bit of bite to it, but there really isn’t any more to say about it. The cauliflower was very ordinary, also very soft – it could easily have ended up mushy cauliflower.

I sensed a touch of butter on the carrots, and they were pretty pleasing. I’ve had carrots in most of the 49 roasts to date and I’m really bored of writing about them – you are probably bored of reading about them but my readers stats are holding up, despite the recent loss of my attempted sense of humour. Maybe I need to talk about crystal meth more.

One certainly needed a sense of humour for the roast potatoes. They had been roasted. I am not sure when. There were four roast potatoes, two of which had a good 3-4mm of brown on the bottom. It tasted of burnt oil. It was fairly horrendous – I actually had to cut it off and leave it.

Otherwise they were chewbecca throughout. These may win the award for the worst roast potatoes in the inaugural annual roast dinner awards coming when I can be bothered to write them. A true abomination.

Do you think Ricky Gervais reads this? Maybe I should tweet him?

The Yorkshire pudding was fine. Small, edible – possible an Aunt Bessie’s or similar.

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I quite enjoyed the larger than usual stuffing ball, which the lady that took my order seemed particularly excited about, but even that was rather dry and coarse.

The turkey was utterly forgettable. It wasn’t bad, except the small corner of gristle which was inedible. Three slices that were tender enough and tasted of turkey, but also reminded me of one of those Bernard Matthew’s turkey crowns.

Finally the gravy was watery. Very thin. I am trying to forget about my whole experience.

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On the bright side, I did however have a very nice pint of cider to rest on my Carlsberg beer mat.

The highlight was that I didn’t end up paying too much for it. I did enjoy the carrots too. The worst part was the shockingly bad roast potatoes. And to think Google told me it was a Gastropub.

I am probably being slightly generous giving it a 3.3 out of 10. It didn’t give me quite the level of disappointment as last week’s.

Next weekend is the big 5-0. My 50th review. So I’m going to somewhere good. I am going to get a good roast, even if I have to spend north of £20.00. I don’t care. It is going to be good.

By the way, does anyone else wish the Reading Business Improvement District would invest the Christmas money in giant inflatable Santa’s instead of all these posh-looking pretty white lights?

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Beef @ The Stag, Ascot 06/12/2015

I do feel that this has become a little more like Roast Dinners Around Bracknell recently. Whilst I have had the good sense not to eat in Bracknell (I’m saving those for when I have a huge hangover), there do seem to have been quite a few places closer to Bracknell than Reading.

This is not an attempt to fix that. I think you will forgive me for this one, I was travelling back from the City Of Culture 2017, so after 4 hours of cars, trains and tubes, I was going somewhere on the London Waterloo to Bracknell line.

Of course, when I arrived at Vauxhall, I found out that all trains were stopping at Ascot and there was a rail replacement service to Bracknell. Oh the joys. So to minimise the pain, I decided to find somewhere in Ascot – somewhere more famed for coked-up tossers and horses, than decent pubs. I am not suggesting the horses are on drugs, just the post-chavs that go to Ascot races. I am sure that all aspects of horse racing are 100% legitimate, especially the betting. There is absolutely no fixing whatsoever.

The easy choice would have been to go to the Station Inn, right next to the train station and completely missing from the interweb. Sadly their kitchen was having a deep clean. So I dragged my Ryanair-approved suitcase to the high street and ended up in The Stag. Which is where I ended up last time I was in Ascot…after going to Ascot races.

The Stag is a fairly featureless, modern pub. Clean with sturdy furniture, a smallish bar area with extended seating area at the back. Really quite bland – just like the whole of Ascot High Street.

Two choices were on offer – chicken or beef, for £10.45. And considering that I had chicken last week, I could only choose the beef.

It took about 10 minutes to arrive and I wasn’t overfilled with joy. I do often get comments on Get Reading that the roast dinner looks awful – that is more down to my lack of photography skills normally. But even a professional photographer would have struggled with this.

Sigh.

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There were three vegetables provided. The broccoli was almost upon the point of being mushy broccoli for it was so soft. The carrots were just mass-produced batons. Both I assume were boiled – there was so much water leaking out of them that it totally discoloured the gravy in that area of the plate. On one side I had brown gravy, the other side near-clear gravy.

The kale was edgy. It felt like it was punishing me for something. There was little enjoyment to it, just sharp gravel-like leaves – quite the opposite to the delightful curly kale at The Fox & Hounds the other week.

I suspect that I end up with deep fried roast potatoes more than I realise, but these were category A deep fried. A fresh coating of oil, fluffy both inside and out. Bizarrely, I didn’t despise them as much as I should do. But they did seem like they were right out of a freezer bag.

Initially I had no hope for the beef. It looked limp and well-done, but it was actually quite rare on the inside. Sadly, my initial suspicion was correct and the whole meaty experience was very chewy and not slightly enjoyable. It certainly was not the highest-end cut of beef that I have ever experienced.

And then the Yorkshire pudding. I can sympathise when a YP goes into pancake format, but this went into pancake-sponge format. It almost seemed like a larger than usual Aunt Bessie that hadn’t been given long enough to rise. It was vaguely edible. Vaguely.

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Oooooh I was promised parsnips upon ordering but, sigh, they were invisible parsnips.

By the way, my grandma says hello. She used to make an amazingly tasty gravy when I were young. She has actually been reading this – or more accurately has been shown this, given that she still refuses to use a cash machine, let alone a computing device. She thinks I write a load of rubbish.

My grandma would have been ashamed by the lumpy effort but at least I got a beef-stock gravy. It could have been worse – just imagine how bad the meal was if I had been offered jus. It wasn’t good but at least it was gravy. Sigh.

I think that is called “taking one for the team”. We are a team, aren’t we?

Nothing was entirely dreadful about the roast dinner, but absolutely nothing was enjoyable either. It was punishment along the lines of being beaten by Leeds United and then the train home being rammed full of hoodlums and taking an extra hour to get back. As much as I may complain about South West Trains – Northern Rail are much, much worse.

I can only give the roast a 3.0 out of 10. I guess it simply is not possible to get a decent roast dinner in the centre of Ascot. Am I wrong?

The lowlight was probably the abysmal attempt at a Yorkshire pudding, the highlight was the deep fried roast potatoes. Yes, it was that bad. I’m going to give it a Tamworth on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale. I once dated a girl from Tamworth. She ended up being a stalker.

Next Sunday I will try my hardest to go either south, west or north of Reading. Booyakasha.

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Chicken @ The Dog & Duck, Wokingham 29/11/2015

I eventually woke up on Sunday, still with a monstrous hangover from Friday night, a fair chunk of a cold but even worse than any of that – a missing earphone to block out the noise of Bracknell.

I set myself just one goal for the day and that was to get a roast dinner and go back to bed.

Fortunately the choice of venue was the Dog & Duck in Wokingham, chosen by Mymatedave TM. I do believe that it is important to mix with as wide a variety of society as possible, and everyone should definitely have a mate called Dave. He was pretty much the first person that I met in Reading back in 1998 and a love of pies, beer and of course, roast dinners has helped keep the bonds of friendship 17 years later.

On the way I was wondering whether John Redwood frequented this establishment (for some reason I always want to call him Sir John Redwood), but upon arrival I found that it was not in the most salubrious area of Wokingham – in fact it looked like your typical chav-hole, albeit with some redeeming features on the front of the pub (ignoring the BT sports sticker).

As a venue it did seem a bit confused – I couldn’t tell initially what it was trying to be, but I eventually settled on it having been a chav-hole a while ago, and now possibly under new management, who were trying to take it a little more upmarket.

The clues as to it potentially being under new management continued – as I’m pretty sure I overheard the landlady say that it was the first week that they were doing roast dinners. Had I realised this in advance, then I would have gone elsewhere. One of the many things that I have learnt from the illustrious Edible Reading, is that you should give new places a chance to bed in before you judge them.

However, I wasn’t going to up sticks and find somewhere else to go, so you’ll just have to bear in mind that (assuming I overheard correctly), this was their first roast dinner serving.

I’m really not feeling this review. I’m kind of tempted to delete the whole lot and start again. It doesn’t really flow, does it? Do you think John Redwood reads my reviews? Is there anyone more famous than John Redwood in Wokingham?

There were three vegetables on the plate – the tenderstem broccoli was plentiful, and had plenty of bite to it too. All of the vegetables seem to have been steam-cooked.

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The carrots came whole and with their skin on (the best way). They were slightly larger than baby carrots – although they did seem somewhat undercooked in the middle which is a theme that we will return to.

There were also parsnips, again they seemed to have been steamed and surely parsnips should be roasted? Too bright a light yellow colour, and a little under-cooked too.

I would just like to add that I absolutely love immigrants.

A few minutes into the meal the cauliflower cheese arrived, that I would have totally forgotten about otherwise. It was really creamy – really, really creamy, with quite a bite to it again, and also a sprinkling of fresh parsley. It could have done with just a few minutes in the oven to crispen the top of the cauliflower – it kind of seemed more like the cream was added to the cauliflower afterwards rather than cooked with it.

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There were three roast potatoes (back to the Berkshire standard), all slightly oily on the outside – soft enough on the inside but next to no roasty crispiness on the outside. I was at an advantage having a roast dinner at midday so they wouldn’t have been stood around all day and were freshly cooked. But they could have done with a good 10 minutes more roasting.

The chicken was…a little, erm undercooked. Well, the drumstick was anyway, it even had a couple of spots of blood near the bone which I completely avoided (see mum, I do listen to you occasionally). I like my meat pink and I’m not obsessive about avoiding pink chicken like my mother is, but the drumstick could have done with quite a few minutes more in the oven – I wouldn’t have served it to myself.

No such complaints with the important part of the chicken though, the breast, and there was plenty to eat too. There was a good half a chicken (not a Nando’s half, an actual half) and it came complete with skin. Hmmmm chicken skin.

I really liked the stuffing ball. 3 weeks in a row I’ve had stuffing – it must be Christmas? No complaints on the undercooking, it was a herby delight with a crust to the edges.

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The Yorkshire SpongeBob wasn’t so impressive. How the hell do you turn a Yorkshire pudding into a sponge? I’ve made some Yorkshire puddings in the past that closely resembled pancakes but I really do not understand how they can turn into a sponge ball? How can they go that wrong? Edible but not much else.

A decent effort on the gravy. A fair consistency, it seemed to have a hint of chicken stock but it did linger for some time on the tongue. Perhaps a touch too much salt.

The overall theme was clearly that it needed a little more cooking. It was well presented (as if that matters) and reasonably tasty but didn’t jump off the plate and make me want to eat there again.

As I mentioned earlier, it is perhaps unfair to review somewhere if it is their first week doing roasts, so maybe there is much more to come. They were using tenderstem broccoli which is a promising sign – many places will only give you bog-standard broccoli. Plus there were occasional hints of herbs. Hopefully someone will go in a few weeks and tell me how good it has become.

I’m going to give it a 6.6 out of 10. Slap bang in the middle of averageness – as I mentioned, I suspect there is more to come from this pub once they are properly up and running. Service was good throughout – the wrong beer was initially brought out, we hadn’t realised but they did and came and replaced it. They were keen to ensure we enjoyed our meal, whether we needed anything extra (gravy, of course) and I do wish them all the best on their new venture.

The highlight was probably the stuffing ball, the lowlight was definitely the sponge. On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale it rates a Nuneaton.

Well my review is written and I’m still not happy with it. It is as if I had never written a review before. It seems very undercooked? Does John Redwood go out for roast dinners?

Next weekend I’m up in Hull to see my grandma but I’ll be back in time to grab a roast somewhere. Forgive me if I decide to go somewhere in Bracknell or on the Waterloo train line.

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