Pork Belly @ The Golden Retriever, Bracknell 24/01/2016

I woke up yesterday with my last hangover for at least a month. I was in no mood to go on a mission. But neither was I in the mood to cook. So I did a quick search for “pubs” on Google Maps, and set out to The Golden Retriever, within walking distance of the total dump I live in, albeit it wouldn’t be too bad if all of my housemates knew how to empty and load a dishwasher. It was so memorable that I just had to load up Google Maps again, to find out what it was called.

On the way there, I realised two things:

Firstly, it is Valentine’s Day soon. Secondly, I do not make enough of an idiot of myself on this blog.

Therefore I am offering a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go on a date with me.

You must match some limited criteria. Female. Definitely single and not a whore. Ideally not the size of a whale. A vague touch of feminity would be appreciated – at least more feminine than me, anyway. You must be able to hold a conversation – not a monologue. Having something to talk about other than the latest Celebrity Big Brother would be useful. Spelling, grammar and punctuation must be of a reasonable standard – bonus points if you are foreign and can still write English to a good level. A sense of humour would help…especially if you are going to cope with me. No older than mid-30’s. A sense of style (not fashion but your own style) is always appreciated. I do particularly like Spanish, Northern, Eastern European and Iranian women, but that isn’t a deal breaker. Not having an aversion to Romanian minimal techno would help.

Am I too fussy? Hmmm, I’ll let regular readers decide.

About me. Well, you’ll have a vague grasp of my personality from reading this, and you’ll know I have a sense of humour…or I try to. Looks-wise, without giving the game away too much to the mafia, I am of average height, I do have a bit of a beer belly but this is in reverse. I have my own sense of style and a penchant for interesting footwear. I have a very unique hairstyle. I am relatively well-read and of reasonable intelligence. I have various interests and lots to say…except on a Monday morning. I am just as happy watching Shakespeare, as watching football. I like roast dinners. I am not going to send you a picture of my nob, no matter how often you ask me – this is not Tinder.

As I expect dozens of applications, or at least dozens of young ladies after a free lunch (yes men should always pay for the first date, I am a tad traditional, being northern), there is one qualifying question that you must answer:

How are your gravy-making skills, and what type of gravy would you make if you wanted to impress me?

Answers and applications on a postcard, or a Facebook message.

Right, now I’ve made a tit out of myself, I’ll get on with writing a load of shit about a roast dinner.

Outside, the pub looked quite elegant with the fake-thatched roof. Then again, so did the Cunning Man. Upon entering The Golden Retriever, however, it reminded me more of a Toby Carvery. Or even the Cunning Man. Kind of dark, clonish and miserable. They are about to close for a refit, though.

I went to the bar and the barman said, “What can I get you, love”. Fearing I may have had a sex change overnight, I rooted through my handbag to try to find a mirror, but to no avail. He then proceeded as gruffly as possible to inform me that “you need to see front-of-house if you want grub, mate”. Quite.

Front-of-house was probably the more slovenly of the staff, and it seemed like an hour before I was seated. It wasn’t, but I was hanging and every minute stood up, hungry, was as painful as catching a train into London in rush hour. Realistically it was probably a good 15 minutes before I was seated despite there actually being tables available, including the one I was seated at.

There were many roasting options, including standard and “vintage” options. The waiter suggested that I avoid the beef, upon my request for advice, as it was often chewy. I went for the pork belly. No option particularly appealed. 1% extra for honesty, if nothing else.

I don’t even really want to write about the roast. I’m almost tempted not to write anything further, and I should definitely delete the introduction. The meal was plonked down on my table and before I could mutter the words “more gravy, please”, the waiter was gone. He did just about acknowledge my request.

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The carrots were _________________________________.

Mixed in with the carrots was some cabbage. It was fairly feature-less but relatively enjoyable.

There was a whole parsnip, cut horizontally. It was particularly chewy and difficult to cut with a fairly awful near butter knife, rather stringy yet still had a sweet and pleasant-enough taste to it.

Peas were also offered but thankfully I had the brain to check in advance.

A standand 3 roast potatoes were supplied, all relatively crispy and cooked in duck fat. Gosh. But they were also suspiciously hot, painfully so for the first one as my eyes watered more than when I sorted than line of salt that I had bought for £40 the night before.

I guess the vintage element was the stuffing and pig in blanket. Neither of which I recall being alluded to on the menu, neither of which were memorable. The stuffing was lukewarm and flaccid. The pig in blanket was surprisingly tasteless.

The pork belly was devoid of joy. I’ve had worse, but it was a touch on the dry side and also quite stringy. I could not determine any layer of fat, nor was there any crackling offered. It seemed very mass-produced.

I like to accompany my meat with a Yorkshire pudding, they kind of complement each other, but there was no improving the meat with a standard Yorkie. It was fine, slightly fluffy but slightly chewy too.

They promise proper gravy on the website but it was more of a jus, albeit with some level of consistency. My extra requested gravy was not forthcoming, and despite the slight dryness of elements of the dinner, I didn’t feel that I missed it.

Overall it was fairly miserable and mass-produced, yet I wouldn’t say that it was a bad roast dinner. Just bland. And quite bad. I’m going to give it a 5.3 out of 10. I’ve definitely had worse.

The blandness means that I struggle to pick out either a highlight or a lowlight. Leaving, was probably the highlight. The scatty, disinterested and slow service was the lowlight. On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale, it rates a Luton.

Next Sunday, if I can be bothered, I will go to one of the places that the random number generator recently picked that I could not be bothered to go to in recent weeks.  Maybe.

In other news, I just ate pizza from Pizza Hut. It was as regrettable as expected. I should have eaten my shoe instead.

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Lamb @ The Bull, Wargrave 17/01/2016

So for this week, I went to The Bull in Wargrave. A gorgeous pub with an open fire in a gorgeous village.

I can see your minds whirring. “But hasn’t he reviewed this before?”.

This week was my birthday roast dinner. Yes I am one of those poor souls that has a birthday in January (not for a few days yet but I’m in London next weekend), and is stubborn enough to insist on celebrating it. So, given that it is my birthday, I trawled my list of friends, Facebook friends, stalkers, politicians and ex-lovers, and tried to persuade a couple to come out for my birthday roast dinner.

It being my birthday means that I can break as many rules as I like, which includes going back to somewhere I’ve already reviewed. I didn’t want to risk a bad roast dinner on those still willing to associate with me. Sadly I’ve lost my crack pipe so this was about as risqué with rule-breaking that I managed.

Back to having a birthday in January and you may want to grab your violin if it is handy. Some people say that having a birthday on Christmas Day, or around then is the worst. But at least people are in the mood to celebrate and spend money they don’t have.

I think I had roughly 600 people interested in coming to my birthday roast at one point during last year. More realistically, 40-50 had verbally agreed – so many people were up for it. Come invite sending time, I’d managed to get 25 confirmed at one point. Down to 18 when I booked and paid the deposit. Down to 13 by time I woke up yesterday.

I feared the worst. The landlady called me when I was on the way to question where we were – some confusion over the booking time. I mentioned 5 had cancelled and she mentioned that is why she took her deposit. I hadn’t even arrived and it had cost me £100. Great.

Things didn’t get any better on arrival where I did that invisible bloke at the bar thing, waiting 10-15 minutes whilst those who arrived after me got served in front of me.

But that is where things stopped going wrong. Slowly but surely my guests arrived, with a handful of very funny birthday cards and a couple of gifts – including, most importantly, a proper gravy boat. Of all the things I don’t have in my life that I feel I should have – a house, a car, a wife, 2.4 children, a gun, a duck house, a castle with a moat, a modelling contract, stockings and suspenders, a criminal record, regular blow jobs – I actually didn’t have a gravy boat. Until now.

Ridiculous.

One by one, the dinners arrived – quite some time after all guests had arrived but this is always a good thing – it means freshly cooked food.

As it was my birthday, I decided against having any of the copious red cabbage that was supplied. Or wonky red cabbage as they now call it, due to some reviewer calling it so. Erm…oops.

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The carrots were polluted with peas, so again, it being my birthday I deemed it unnecessary to try to fish out the carrots from the peas, just in case. Given that I am getting increasingly desperate to find ways to describe carrots, this was probably a blessing in disguise for my readers.

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I did, however, have pretty much a full plate of cauliflower cheese.

A very large bowl was provided, with the offer of more – well, hell of course we want more! It looked as marvellous as it tasted. Freshly cooked, quite soft but not too soft, a hint of cheese and very creamy. Delicious.

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Next up for me were the roast potatoes. I only had three and they were medium-sized at a push, delicately fluffy on the inside, quite crispy on the outside but they could have been crispier. And I wish there had been more. I should emphasise again though – FRESHLY COOKED!

Last time here, the Yorkshire puddings were the only disappointment but I’m pleased to say that this time they were improved. Two medium-sized Yorkies, with a fairly standard taste and texture – yes I’ve had better elsewhere but they were on the good side of average.

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There was plenty of meat. Jayne normally serves beef and pork, sometimes lamb and can do chicken if ordered in advance. The beef looked absolutely gorgeous, culminating in some deep bloody pinkness in the middle. I was truly envious. I should have asked for all three meats with it being my birthday. Doh.

I also tried some of the pork, which was possibly the tastiest of the three, marginally.

For myself, I had the lamb – my favourite – my birthday. There was so much of it, thickly sliced, tasting of…hmmm…the cream from the cauliflower cheese. A touch fatty occasionally but nicely pink in the middle. I couldn’t really ask for more.

Finally the gravy. It was still a little thin for my personal tastes, but a decent home-made meat stock gravy nonetheless. And rather creamy tasting…because of the amount of cauliflower cheese on my plate.

On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale, it rates a Goole (please don’t even think of going there). The highlight has to be the cracking cauliflower cheese. The lowlight…I’m struggling here but an extra roast potato or two wouldn’t have gone amiss.

I enjoyed it just the tiniest fraction less than last time, and therefore I’m going to give it an 8.3 out of 10. Still absolutely very much one of the best roast dinners in the local area and all of my guests thought it was fantastic.

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Thankfully, Jayne kindly relented from charging me any of the deposit, assumedly upon seeing my beauty. The service, bar the wait at the bar at the beginning, was excellent throughout, very friendly waitresses, Jayne also took time out to introduce herself.

As I’d had a few drinks, I also introduced myself and let the mask of anonymity slip. Oops. Apparently business on a Sunday has grown significantly over the last 6 months or so.

For some reason, people actually take notice of the crap I write. So if you are a pub landlord/landlady and you haven’t been reviewed yet – get your roast potatoes sorted out quick sharp.

For the next roast, the random number generator has picked somewhere reasonably close to Bracknell, but far enough away to hopefully be a good roast dinner. Whether or not it will be next Sunday depends on how much I spend in London. Erm…and how much I drink.

By the way I am sure that you all want to give me a birthday present, but I don’t ask for much. Just use that ‘invite friends’ button on the Facebook page (it’s on the menu where the three dots are). Retweets and shares are good too – but using the invite friends button is a proper 36 candles on the cake kind of present.

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Pork Belly @ The Newbury, Newbury 10/01/2016

“It’s not you it’s me”.

Those immortal words. Yes, I’ve been dumped. GetReading no longer want to publish my roast dinner reviews on a weekly basis. They still love me, they still think I’m funny but they only want to see me when I’m feeling the love, on a monthly basis at most. Happy New Year.

I think there is more to it than that though. No I don’t think they are replacing me with a higher quality model, like Edible Reading.

I suspect the work of the mafia. My suspicion is that one of the places that got a bad review in November/December, and there were a few, have placed influencing pressure on them. I do sincerely hope that no physical violence or torture was involved.

You might want to be careful reading my blog from now on. They are likely watching you. Only the foolhardy or brave would consider sharing this page now.

Thankfully my anonymity is assured, although I am going to take further precautions, for example when booking my table I will only use the names Ahmed or Josephine, depending on whether I remembered to slip my bulk growth testosterone powder into my vat of gravy the night before.

I have also bought a potato masher as protection.

Originally I had picked a place in Swallowfield, but I realised that it would take 2.5 hours to get there. Why are there just two buses in the morning from Reading town centre to Swallowfield, then none for about 6 hours, then another two? Bizarre.

So I chose again, checked that the train times worked for me, and got the train to Newbury, to go to The Newbury, in Newbury, getting off at Newbury Station.

The online menu offered beef, pork belly and a chicken to be shared between two. It also suggested that the pork belly was just £5.50. Bargain. However the offline menu had it priced at £17.50. So that with my beer and the train ticket to Newbury was over £32. Not quite a bargain. The same price as my new inconspicuous cow-print trainers. Uber-bargain.

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I wasn’t especially in the moo-d prior to leaving, but I did quite enjoy my little adventure to Newbury. They had a massive Wilko, and also a very quiet Poundland. Do people in Newbury not have the same affection for Poundland as in Reading?

But would I enjoy the food? That sentence just doesn’t work there.

It didn’t take long to arrive, somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, which tends not to be the best sign. On the main plate came the real food, the stuff you are interested in – on a side bowl were the vegetables, slightly crammed together.

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Thankfully I hadn’t had red cabbage for a while, as I find it is something that should only be endured occasionally. This was slightly more enjoyment than endurance, with a powerful fruity flavour and a slight tang, this was about as enjoyable as red cabbage can be.

There was a good handful of baby carrots in the mix, very soft and could easily have been mashed with my brand new Wilko potato masher. Living the life.

Finally in the way of vegetables, there was swede. Mashed, and not too far away from puree form, it was impossible to distinguish a flavour with the strands of red cabbage that had percolated their way into the swede. The texture was good. And that is important to a northerner. Fuck the taste.

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Getting onto the section that you might vaguely be interested in and the roast potatoes were roasted. Perfectly fluffy on the inside, sadly not quite crispy on the outside but there was a hint of crisp. They also tasted of duck fat though that’s normally something that is advertised as a matter of pride so maybe I’m imagining that. Certainly good roast potatoes.

The Yorkshire pudding was a let-down. Fairly small in circumference, it had risen well but was dry and chewy, not really enjoyable. It’s been a while since I’ve had a good one.

You are still wondering why I’ve bought a potato masher instead of a knife for protection from the mafia, aren’t you? Think about it.

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The long chunk of pork belly was close to excellent. A very healthy portion size, and one to counter-balance all my recent salads with soft and juicy, yet still crispy, crackling, on the top, and a crunchier crackling on the bottom, albeit with a small piece of boning.

Within the two slices of crackling came some very tender pork, which could easily have ended up pulled pork, with a slight layer of gorgeous fat. One of the ends was slightly on the dry side, but this is being picky. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

And the gravy? Apparently it is natural gravy, whatever that means. It was by far one of the best gravies that I’ve had on my travels, it tasted as though it had been made with the juices from the pork belly, the consistency was perfectly thick for your average Newburyite – there was only a dribble on the plate but a cute little jug was quickly provided to me by the staff, who were keen to ensure that I had everything I wanted – professional service.

The highlight was indeed the excellent gravy, very closely followed by the pork belly. There was only one lowlight – yep, the YP. Again. The dinner rates a Bromsgrove on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale.

A very good roast dinner. Not often I say that. Whether it was worth the £32 or so that I spent on the adventure, I am not convinced. I could have spent that money more wisely. But I enjoyed my day out enough to ensure that there will be another review next week.

I’m going to give it an 8.0 out of 10.

May I finish by thanking the train companies for actually running their generous hourly services between Reading and Newbury, along with Reading and Bracknell, especially on the way back.

Next week I’m going for a really good roast dinner, and I will have one or two friends with me for a change. I do actually have some friends…until they get spooked by the mafia.

Be safe – don’t tell anyone you don’t know that you are reading this. The mafia did not make me give this establishment a good review.

By the way, what has happened to Edible Reading? Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Ohhhhh I sound a little bit like Iain Duncan Smith there. This blogging business is a dangerous game.

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Pork @ The Cross Keys, Pangbourne 03/01/2016

Happy New Year and all that jazz. Do you have any resolutions? Perhaps you are going to eat more gravy? Perhaps you are one of the pubs I have reviewed and are going to start making decent roast potatoes that are roasted and fresh? Perhaps your resolution is to share each of my reviews to all of your friends, invite your friends to follow the Facebook page and retweet every review?

Or maybe you have resolved to ignore all these crap reviews and spend your time doing something more useful like cross-stitching?

I have two resolutions relating to Roast Dinners Around Reading.

One is to try to monetise the blog. I can hear you screaming about gentrification and the slow creeping commercialisation of everything you hold dear…but you can always use Adblock. I doubt it will get past Google Adword’s obscenity filter anyway so if you want to advertise send me a message.

Secondly, assuming I am certain to be going for a roast, I will endeavour to try to find someone to join me. It is a lonely world walking in the rain with a hangover to a different part of Berkshire to sit there, eat dinner and go back to my glorified council estate shithole of a house again. I can hear your violins.

They are hurting my ears.

This was another post-hangover Sunday, my creaky body was not going to permit too tough a mission but at the 3rd attempt, the random number generator chose somewhere within reasonable travelling distance, surprisingly so, which was The Cross Keys in Pangbourne.

I’d had a disappointing roast before in Pangbourne at the highly over-rated, The Swan – all presentation with only some performance, and as I walked past the Aston Martin garage, and the Bentley garage, and then the Lamborghini garage, all the time defending to myself as to why I really do much prefer catching a Thames Slug, I cannot say my expectations were too high.

As I opened the door to the Cross Keys, I felt a warmth, immediately encapsulated by the low ceilings and the busy bar. The restaurant itself was quiet – the portion that I was sat in was totally empty, which suited me fine seeing as I was all alone, awwwww. The only options available were beef and pork. For some reason I didn’t fancy beef, so for the reasonable price of £11.95, I pigged out on pork. Yeah the jokes aren’t going to get any better this year.

The dinner didn’t take too long to arrive, and it was pleasingly presented, vegetables on a fairly small side bowl, the pork covering the roast potatoes and a little Yorkie to the side. In a mother’s roast dinner kind of style.

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I started, as you’d expect, with the circularly sliced carrots – ordinary carrots with a hint of butter. There were also a few small florets of broccoli – nothing to distinguish it from any other ordinary broccoli.

The shredded cabbage was rather on the yellow side, it was tastier than you’d expect, again a hint of butter, and perhaps of pepper too. I did rather enjoy it. Enjoyable cabbage. It’s almost like one of those impossibly good New Labour slogans.

Then there were a whole 4 roast potatoes – roasted! Two smaller, and two larger potatoes, the smaller ones looked particularly crispy. I was suitably impressed.

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Sadly, they didn’t quite match up to appearances, and were not actually that crispy – the larger ones were a tad chewy too. But considering the consistent turgidity that many places spew out, these were above-average and should be credited as such. If only I had arrived at midday! There was a little bonus in that there was some pepper that has been cracked over them during the cooking.

There were several fairly thickly sliced slices of pork loin. Whilst unspectacular in taste, it was both tender and plentiful.

I’ve not really complained about much, have I? They Yorkshire pudding was ok. A small width, but it had risen well. Sadly a little too crispy and dry but not bad.

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I realised yesterday that someone had posted a question on my page as to where the best crackling in town can be found. The Crown in Playhatch did have a bowl of small pieces of very tasty crackling but I think I may have found the answer. Two fair-sized slices of crackling accompanied the pork, both super-salty, both super-succulent. And edible! Very edible. I could easily have had a plate of crackling.

And the gravy? I had ordered a bowl of extra gravy as per assumption but I didn’t need any of it as it came with plenty. A standard Bisto-ish gravy – unspectacular in taste, relatively thick for southern standards.

All in all, a pleasing start to a roasting year.

The highlight was the crackling – the lowlight was probably just the YP. And on the Yorkshire-Surrey scale it rates a Stoke-On-Trent.

I’m going to give it a 7.3 out of 10. Which is only marginally higher than I rated The Swan, despite not looking back on it too favourably.

Next up, depending on motivation is somewhere south of Reading. A hidden gem in the countryside, apparently.

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