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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm.

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

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

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

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

Are you looking forward to The Ashes on Wednesday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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