Chicken @ The Swan, Pangbourne 21/06/2015

Chicken @ The Swan, Pangbourne 21/06/2015

Before I go on, I am looking to move the page from Blogger to WordPress over the coming week, so there may be a short period where the website is unavailable.  Wordpress gives me more options in terms of design and also plug-ins, with a bit of luck and work, I should be able to add some interesting features for you in the coming months.

So for the first time in these reviews, the random number generator took me to Pangbourne.  Is there anywhere else near Pangbourne that should (or shouldn’t!) be on my to-do list?

I’d heard mixed reviews about The Swan – some are highly in praise, others in disdain.  From what I gather, it seems to switch periodically between joy and pain, depending upon pub management, so my expectations were confused.

Having a glance at other tables as I came in, I was struck by the amount of people eating almost irrationally perfectly round burgers – with just a couple tempted by the roast dinners.


Some of the comments I’d heard about The Swan were that the service was poor – I remember many years ago going for drinks and it taking forever to get served, however the young lady that greeted me was very pleasant and helpful – she was enthusiastic about the chicken in particular, along with trying to upsell to me – though upselling to a Yorkshireman is close to mission impossible.

Upon her advice, I ordered the chicken.  The only other option was the beef, and a wise man once told me only to order beef if you are confident the venue will know how to cook it.  And I wasn’t confident.

So 15 minutes later, it arrived.  And my initial thoughts were that it was well-presented.

But it was jus, not gravy as advertised by the menu.

I’m going to start with the “gravy” for a change.  As you can see it was very thin and watery – some of it delightfully splashed onto my decade-old misshapen t-shirt to add to my slightly shabby look of the day.  It was however inoffensive, adding nothing in the way of taste of substance – which given the distasteful jus’ served in some other wannabe venues, was a relief.

I did order more and it came in a very inconvenient milk thimble, which wasn’t the easiest to pour, or hold given how hot the liquid was.

The vegetables were a mixed medley, in more ways than one.

First up was the swede, which came in baby-bite sized chunks, and was very much on the soft side, with a slightly bitter, yet slightly nutty taste.  Not bitter in a bad way, may I add.

Then there were some fine green beans which were slightly less cooked than my personal preferences – they had that slightly squeaky rubbery texture to them.

And definite points for the roasted peppers – an unusual inclusion on a roast, I hadn’t even considered roasted peppers on my own roast dinners previously, and it kind of worked.  Slightly sweeter than a pepper assumes normally to be.

Next up were the roast potatoes.  And they were actually roasted.  But the big question is – when were they roasted?  As it certainly wasn’t any time close to been presented.  They very much had that cooked 6 hours ago and microwaved feel to them.  On the bright side, there were 4 of them.  Ooooh the generosity.

I was a little disappointed about the amount of chicken served, especially given it was one of my more expensive roasts of late – just a chicken breast.  Albeit a nice-sized chicken breast – not one of the under-developed chickens that a certain chicken-franchise seems peri much to specialise in.

It was tender and there was surprisingly enough of it.  By the end of the meal, my somewhat over-sized belly was full, despite not having eaten since breakfast, 8 hours ago.

I didn’t quite understand the stuffing.  Served in thin-burger form, I was a little confused.  Stuffing should come in home-made lumps, like at The Shoulder Of Mutton.  Not in flat burger form.  It didn’t add anything to the meal, I didn’t even taste any particular herb.  It was just kind of there.  I wonder if they put it on top of their burgers?

Finally, the Yorkshire pudding.  It was fairly large, soft on the bottom (post-jus) and crispy on the edges – cooked just right.  A really good yorkie.

My closing thoughts after eating matched my thoughts upon the roast arriving – more style than substance.

But this has to be taken into context of very good presentation.  There are points gained for an excellent Yorkshire pudding, and creativity on the vegetable side, though points lost for assumedly-microwaved roast potatoes and the drearily-thin but inoffensive jus.

Also it was a touch on the pricey side for what it was – £14.00 plus a 10% service charge.  If I had realised that there was a 10% service charge I would have walked to the bar to get my beer – £4.50 for a pint of Estrella plus 10% is almost London prices.  Given that I had two drinks, I could have saved myself 90p.

Generally I don’t stray away from my immediate rating too much, I allow a little time for my thoughts to settle, and the more I think about this dinner, the more contented I am with it.

I shall give it a score of 7.1 out of 10.

I really do wonder why so many people were having the burger though.  Touching upon something that the indelibly descriptive Edible Reading tweeted about the other day, perhaps there is need for someone to find the best burger around Reading?  If I had the time and money, I would be onto it.

There really should be more than 2 food blogs for the local area.  Best sandwich, best fish and chips, best kebab, best breakfast, best salad, a vegetarian-only blog.  Maybe one day my mission will be complete and I can tackle another subject.  But until then, I shall just sit here and hope for someone else to grab a keyboard.

Next Sunday I’m going to somewhere that has been highly recommended to me by several people.  It is two months since I’ve had an excellent roast dinner.  It feels overdue.

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Pork Loin @ The Bird In Hand, Sandhurst, 14/06/2015

Pork Loin @ The Bird In Hand, Sandhurst, 14/06/2015

Hello, it’s your favourite Trip Advisor critic that Get Reading are taking too seriously, with another roast dinner review.

You may have seen the hoo-hah over the weekend – yes just 3 of my reviews have kindly been published by Get Reading so far, and they have already had a complaint to the editor.  Hopefully they don’t have a Putin-esque outlook, and my roast reviews will continue to reach a wider audience.

Nothing here changes.  I’m from Yorkshire – if a roast potato is crap, then I’ll tell you it’s crap.  This blog continues until one of the following conditions is met:

1. There are no more roast dinners to review.
2. Every venue makes perfect roast potatoes and thick gravy.
3. I move away from Reading.
4. I give a bad review to a mafia-run establishment and am gunned down.

I think the complainant is warming to me now.  I can see us being good friends soon.  I think she is married so a date is out of the question.

Gosh, what a great idea that is.  Roast Dinner Dating.  Maybe The Shoulder Of Mutton would host a Roast Dinner Dating event?

How do I trademark this?  I could probably build my own dating website – every other person seems to run a dating website nowadays.

I am really going off course here, thankfully I don’t have many followers.

The plan this week was to go to a chain – however my friend could not make it so out came the random number generator and it chose The Shoulder Of Mutton.  Touché, random number generator.  So I removed the ones that I’d already visited and it gave me The Bird In Hand, in Sandhurst.

Somebody had recommended it to me, I cannot remember if it was a reader or someone from work.  I’ve never been to Sandhurst before – it seems quite well-off, plenty of good-sized housing – though not on the posh side.

The pub itself was split into a restaurant which was fully-booked but did look upmarket, and a pub half showing the darts with a pool table.  We sat outside and awaited our roasts.

The choices were beef, pork and turkey – I was very tempted by the turkey but I went for pork.  The out-of-date website suggested that it was £9.99 though I think I was charged £11.00.  They didn’t charge my friend for his dinner.

We had a 10-15 minute wait whilst we discussed our expectations and neither of us came to a conclusion – the signals were mixed but I did suspect another unspectacular but decent roast was ahead.

There were lots of carrots – sliced into rings and halved again, with a little black pepper on top.  I really don’t know what else to say – I’m obviously not that good at reviewing.

The swede came in a unceremonious lump – it had a rather buttery taste.

We were granted some tenderstem broccoli which is a rarity on a roast and was a nice treat.

However the cauliflower cheese was distinctly non-cheesy and had a slight alien-like neon-green glow in patches.  Acceptable and edible but I cannot profess any admiration, despite it being a particular favourite of mine.

We were predictably granted three roast potatoes – each of them very large.  However they seemed distinctly deep-fat-fried in texture, colour and especially taste.  There was still something bizarrely charming about them – not bazaar like my personal profile apparently is.

The Yorkshire pudding was fairly large which is pleasing – I never understand just giving someone one small yorkie – on the now-rare occasion I make a roast, I ensure there are at least 2 though often 4 of the little beasts (probably why I am losing weight).  Then again, I’m just a pratt who cannot cook beans on toast (I actually don’t know how to cook beans – toast I can manage).

Apart from the size being redeeming, the yorkie provided no further joy as I found it overcooked, dry and brittle.  I hope that is enough adjectives.

Three fairly thin slices of pork loin were provided – it was tender enough though I thought that the portion size was on the small side.  It did come with over-cooked crackling – though once the crackling was doused in gravy, it did become edible without causing me any dentist fees.

And the gravy.  It was either Bisto, or a very good copy of Bisto.  And very watery too.  Which is acceptable.  Much preferable to a dodgy red wine jus – I’m looking at you Cunning Man.

Overall I am going to give it a 6.4.  Nothing stood out as a taste sensation, it was another decent roast with areas of improvement – especially the yorkie.

Next weekend the random number generator has picked a pub in a very nice location – but one that seemingly has as many excellent reviews as poor.  Although I reserve the right to be dishonest and unprofessional, and go somewhere else.

Yours pompously.
Roast Dinners Around Reading

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Gammon @ The Shoulder Of Mutton, Playhatch 07/06/2015

Gammon @ The Shoulder Of Mutton, Playhatch 07/06/2015

So the random number generator decided that I should go back to Playhatch, the scene of the greatest ever roast dinner (except those I’ve cooked myself, of course).  Until I realised that England had a friendly against Ireland at 1pm.  And I don’t usually miss England games.  And according to the website, The Shoulder Of Mutton only serves roast dinners until 2pm.

What was I going to do?  Roast dinner in the gorgeous sunshine, or watch the football?

And apart from the fact that the last time England and Ireland played in Ireland, there was a riot, why exactly was the game kicking off at 1pm?

I chose gravy over football.  Was it a wise decision?

Confusingly when I called in advance, they seemed to suggest that they served roast dinners until 7:30pm.  Contradictory to their website.  Dear businesses – people do actually use the internet.  And then when I arrived, they didn’t have a record of my booking.  Not to worry, as there were plenty of free tables.

Now let’s be Frank Spencer about this.  A pub serving a roast dinner within 100 metres of The Crown, is going to end up being compared to The Crown.

I’ve been told both that they do really good roasts, and also really disappointing roasts.

I was initially very encouraged as the menu had slightly unusual choices – gammon, turkey and mutton are not often offered, and I really like trying different foods – on a slight tangent I went to a Moroccan restaurant in Windsor on Saturday night, and their spicy sausages would have gone down a treat on a roast dinner.

Anyway I chose the beef.

Only joking.  I plumped for the gammon, and after a 10-15 minute wait in the gorgeous sunshine, the food arrived, looking on the home-cooked side – with the vegetables on a side dish, and extra gravy upon request arriving in a gravy boat.

I’m never really sure about vegetables being in a side-dish.  I feel that it is just for presentational purposes, however it really worked here as the cream from the creamed leeks somewhat infused the carrots, and to a very minor extent, the broccoli.  Damn, I spelt it wrong again.

Carrots were flat and fairly thin.  They tasted like carrots.  Did you know that carrots in Spanish, are zanahorias?  I really am scraping the barrel on how to describe carrots.

Likewise the broccoli was broccoli.  Both the zanahorias and the brócoli (it’s not spelt wrong – it’s Spanish) seem to have been steamed, and had the added complexion of the cream from the creamed leeks, which was a nice touch.

I don’t ever recall having creamed leeks on my adventures, so again marks for doing something different.  As I have demonstrated above, there are only so many ways I can make carrots interesting now I am on review number 27.  Although they were creamy, there was something missing, as creamed leeks really should be a taste sensation.  But they were good.

Now onto the not-so-good parts.

The roast potatoes did taste like they were out of a bag and put in a deep fat fryer.  There were 4 potatoes, all small.  Two slightly crispy, one of which was fairly uncooked inside.  The other two not at all crispy and not cooked enough inside.  Oh Betty.

The Yorkshire pudding was one of those small sponge-like ventures, and over-cooked.  Not good at all.  Ohhh Betty.

But we got stuffing.  Yes there was stuffing, and it was home-made with both sage and orange evident on my tastebuds.  I was quite impressed.  All roast dinners should come with stuffing.  Perhaps not beef and lamb, but all others should.

Onto the gammon – the reason why I was rather excited.  It was a tiny bit overcooked for my preferences, giving it a slightly dry complexion.  Average at best – the last time I had gammon was at The World Turned Upside Down, and it wasn’t as good as that.  Albeit that was the only thing I enjoyed at The World Turned Upside Down.

There was plenty of gravy, and it was real gravy.  Well, except in consistency where it more resembled a jus, especially with the many oil spots.

One day I will go on a photography course.

Overall it definitely gets extra marks for trying to do something different, the pub is nice, the garden was really nice in the sunshine, the service was good and the price of the roast was a pleasing £11.50.  And I can go into celebratory mode – they forgot to charge me for my second cider.

But there is much room for improvement, especially for the more crucial components.

And the question will always be asked – why are you going to The Shoulder Of Mutton when The Crown is just 100 metres away?  Unless The Crown is fully booked, then you should always go to The Crown.

I’m going to give it a 6.1 out of 10.

Next Sunday I’m going to another chain.  My expectations are higher than they were for the Wetherspoons, and hopefully it beats the Toby Carvery.  But it certainly has the potential to be dreadful.  Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Betty.

So how was the football?

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Lamb @ The Nag’s Head, Reading 31/05/2015

Lamb @ The Nag’s Head, Reading 31/05/2015

I’d been living in Reading not far off 15 years before I went to The Nag’s Head for the first time.  Quite shameful for someone who consistently bemoans the blandness of the town centre chains.

So this is a little bit of payback for my earlier ignorance, for it is fairly unlikely that you are aware that they serve Sunday roasts.  The website doesn’t allude to it (it pretty much only tells you which the most recent Led Zeppelin track played was – not much use to a minimal techno fan), nor is there any board outside advertising food, there is certainly no mention of it on their Facebook page – and apart from pies, they don’t seem to do food during the week.

I was only made aware by a reader, some months ago.  I do listen to you.

In a town that can too often serve up pints of chemical in bland pubs, The Nag’s Head is a real pub, for real pub people.  The place has personality and a fantastic range of beers.

I really wanted to like this roast.    Though let’s face it, anything was going to be an improvement from last week.

The options were beef, lamb, chicken (and stuffing!) and nut roast.  For just £9.00.  I asked the barmaid for her recommendation, which was the lamb, and sat down to read about the last days of Gordon Brown’s government.  Apparently he used to use a very rude 4 letter word beginning with ‘c’ quite a lot.

15 minutes passed before it arrived, looking presentable in a homemade way.  By appearance, it reminded me of my mother’s roast dinners.

The sliced carrots tasted rather on the buttery side, and were very much on the soft side.

The broccoli was less soft (yes I needed the spell-checker again), just two florets that were perfectly edible.

Unusually for the area, there were 4 large roast potatoes, as opposed to the usual Berkshire 3.  Soft and fluffy on the inside, and a hint of crispiness on the very edges of the potatoes.  Far from perfect but a decent enough standard.

Next up was the lamb – three reasonably thick slices.  Very ordinary tasting lamb, but that isn’t a criticism at £9.00 a portion.  I’d expect something more elaborate from a restaurant – this fits my expectations of a local pub.  There was a hint of pink, and it was on the tender side, very easy to cut.

As an Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire pudding connoisseur, I’d suggest that these were as such.  There is nothing wrong with that – I occasionally use them myself when I am short on time or willpower.

The most pleasing aspect of the lunch was not only to get gravy, but to get a whole gravy boat’s worth of gravy.  So many roasts have been ruined by bad gravy or a disgusting red wine jus.

This may have just been Bisto but it was actual gravy with a fair consistency to it too.

Overall, though it is nothing to start a blog about, it is a decent roast dinner, just like my mother’s, and you could do far, far worse.

They got absolutely nothing wrong, yet will not be in contention for any Roast Dinner Around Reading end of year awards.

Worthy of a solid 6.8 out of 10.

Next Sunday (unless I change my mind) I shall be going to a venue that I’ve been told is highly recommended, and by someone else, really disappointing.  I look forward to being the judge.

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Chicken @ Back Of Beyond, Reading 24/05/2015

Chicken @ Back Of Beyond, Reading 24/05/2015

So this is the first roast review of mine that Get Reading will be posting.  Probably not in it’s entirety as I do tend to waffle on tangentially at times, not to mention the occasional pea-influenced obscenity.

I decided I should kick off in style, and what better way to do it than review a Wetherspoons?

I am sure this is exactly what Get Reading readers are looking to read about.

Forgive me but I am not going to review all 3 Wetherspoon’s pubs in the town centre.  I chose the one with less clientele that appear to live there.  Did I manage to come across not to snobby there?!

The choices were chicken, beef, turkey and a vegetarian option.  For just £6.99.  And I got a pint of Stowford Press cider for just £0.99.  Quite why other places sell it for £4.50 I don’t know.  Also worth mentioning that you could have a large for £1.50 extra.  I declined, which is not the sort of thing I normally do.

Slightly off-tangent, but I went to the Purple Turtle yesterday, and ordered a slightly unusual beer and the barmaid said, “it is £4.50, you know?” in a do you really want to spend £4.50 on a beer kind of way.  £4.50 sounds a good price to me nowadays.  I have to say I do like what the Turtle are doing in terms of trying to bring something different music-wise to the town.  But that is a story for someone else to tell.

Anyway, back on topic and the barman serving me was exceptionally unwelcoming and made me almost feel a tad uncomfortable in ordering.  Every response was grunted with a real unwillingness to want to serve or even be polite.  Quite awful.  I did ask what vegetables it came with, and he nonchalantly suggested carrots and broccoli whilst looking in the other direction.  I always have to correct broccoli in the spell-checker.

Perhaps he just took a dislike to my bright purple chinos.

So I sat down, opened Facebook (not to check in, may I hasten to add), had a sip of my £0.99 cider and the dinner arrived.  It took just 3 minutes.  3 minutes.  They clearly wanted rid of such an undesirable as oneself.

I know what you are thinking, at least my regular readers, not the 7 and a half new followers that Get Reading have kindly sent my way.


Apologies to regular readers for repeating myself but I have a phobia of peas.  I just cannot have them on my plate.  It’s all down to the lack of discipline.

I dealt with it my pouring my gravy on the Yorkshire pudding and then scooping the peas into the gravy pot.  I did consider pouring all the peas onto the table or the floor but decided it was probably a tad immature.

So after spending longer removing the peas, then it took them to “cook” my roast dinner, I tucked into the carrots.  Well, I had three of them, for they were cool, rubbery and just tasted of water.

The broccoli (YES!  I spelt it without the spell-checker!), was vaguely better.  Soft, floppy but slightly less-watery.

If you look carefully at the mash, you can see the almost perfectly rectangular edges which suggest how it was packaged.  It was edible, but my disdain for it was almost on the level of the barman’s disdain for service.  I had one bite which was enough.

Onto the roast potatoes.  Which would be a trade descriptions act offence.  They more resembled potato croquettes,  There were 4, one of which was pretty much uncooked, the others were cooked but perhaps more likely put in a deep fat fryer 10 days ago, frozen then microwaved 10 seconds after Mr Miserable pressed the send button on the till.  They were awful.  I really do not see how they could have been worse.

The Yorkshire pudding was ok.  Think Aunt Bessies 4 minute in the oven job, and you are nearly there.  But not quite that “good”.

And penultimately onto the roast half chicken, seasoned with black pepper.  It was perhaps the driest chicken I have ever been served in my life.  Think back to Christmas 15 years ago, when your Grandma over-cooked the turkey, and you were still eating it a few days later.  That level of dryness.

It was quite abominable.

The gravy wasn’t too bad.  It was at least, gravy.  Though by time it was on my plate, it was very much of a watery-consistency.  In hindsight it may have been better to dip the food in the gravy whilst it was in the pot.  Then again, in hindsight, the Iraq War might have been better if we had sent more troops.

Or maybe, just maybe, in ultra magical hindsight, it was better just not to go in the first place.

Gosh, that was a good analogy.

Sometimes I say, please share just for my own vanity.  But this time, I ask that you share this review for the sake of your fellow human.

I am trying to think whether it is worse than The Pheasant Inn.  I think when it comes to the quality and taste of the food, it was marginally better than the totally abominable Pheasant Inn.  However the overall experience was generally heinous – at least The Pheasant Inn was hilariously bad, and had cute barmaids, this was just dreadful from minute one.

There is scope to be worse, but this was the worst roast dinner I have ever reviewed.  It gets a 0.8 out of 10.

There are so many better places to try – even if you have to go to a Wetherspoons for budgetary purposes, please just save a little extra money and go somewhere else, then go to Wetherspoons for a drink.

Next week will be somewhere town-centre based as I will be short on time again.

I  did quite like the design of the plate.  Oh and I did throw a few peas on the floor.

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Leg Of Lamb @ The Green Man, Hurst 17/05/2015

Leg Of Lamb @ The Green Man, Hurst 17/05/2015

I would like to start off with an apology to my UKIP readers.

I decided that I would take an immigrant to dinner on Sunday, to try to impress her enough to want to stay here for the rest of her life.

Firstly we went to Slough for a walk around, to show her the cultured side of the Thames Valley.  There was perhaps not as much to see as I expected, and apart from a Wetherspoons and a really dodgy pub named after the factory in The Office, there was nowhere to eat a roast dinner – plus Slough is perhaps slightly too far out for my readership.

So we headed back west, and after some careful research, I selected a place in the country – which had the magic g-word on the menu.

Plus it was somewhere highly recommended by a good friend last week.

Hidden in the countryside and rather on the quiet side, The Green Man in Hurst had plenty of olde-England charm, with modern touches, and it served food from midday until 9pm which was helpful given that we didn’t know how long we were going to be in Slough for (not long, you may not be surprised to read).

The options were beef, pork, chicken and leg of lamb, along with a nut roast.  Will I ever try a vegetarian roast?


We both went for the lamb, and chose medium-rare.  I’m not massively funny when it comes to roasts, except for wanting gravy instead of jus, but there is one vegetable that really disturbs me and that is the pea.

Those that have followed me for some time, and those that are my real-life friends, will understand that I do have a phobia of peas, and in particular their lack of discipline.  So I asked for an explanation as to what their “mixed vegetables” were, the waitress was uncertain but would ensure that there were no peas.

I counted six fucking peas on my plate.  Sorry to use the f-word but I could not have made it more clear how much they disturb me without disturbing the waitress when ordering.  As I was accompanied by a young lady, I had to look manly and battle to overcome my fear, so I stringently searched my whole plate for any further little critters before placing them in the empty glass on my table.

Panic over, my heart-rate subsided and I felt able to start my dinner, after yet another quick safety check under all of the food for any more pesky peas.

It wasn’t the most generous portion ever.  But it was priced at a lean £12.50.

Yes I ate the sugar snap peas.  They don’t have a lack of discipline.  They were rather on the sweet side – different but would much have preferred mange tout.  I don’t actually mind the taste of peas.

There was also some sprouting broccoli, which was surprisingly tasteless and on the floppy side.  A wasted opportunity.

The baby carrots were excellent.  Perfectly cooked, with enough crunch but yet still tender, this scattering of carrots was very impressive.

Also on the impressive side were…drumroll…the roast potatoes.  Only 3, of course, but sizable efforts and just about as close to perfection that I have come across.  So crispy on the outside, yet so fluffy on the inside, and cooked in goose fat.  Oh yes oh yes.  So, so good.

However, the lamb gets more of a slow clap than a drum roll.  I’m not quite sure why my dining partner received fresh-looking nearly medium-rare lamb, whilst I had dry medium-well done lamb, despite both ordering medium-rare.

Had it been the soft, succulent lamb I was hoping for, then I’m sure it would have had a much higher rating.  Sadly it was disappointing.  I did want to give a good rating to this place, given the look and feel it had, and that it wasn’t overly busy so perhaps all 8 readers would be inspired.  The community-minded Tory in me wants to share the knowledge of lesser-known venues that do a really good job.

There was, at least, plenty of lamb.  Unlike the Yorkshire pudding which just simply didn’t exist.  Us northerners have Yorkshire puddings with any meat.  I even had one with fish once.

The gravy tasted like gravy but it was exceptionally thin and almost jus-like.  Almost.  Certainly on taste, it gets the thumbs up.

I’m going to give the roast dinner a 6.5 out of 10.

Don’t worry UKIP readers, this wasn’t good enough to persuade my immigrant friend to stay forever.  Likewise, I’m not about to emigrate in horror either.

There were clearly some highly commendable parts such as the roast potatoes and carrots.  But had I turned up 30 minutes later, I suspect that I may have struck lamb-gold, and instead I was stuck with lamb-coal.

Not sure if I will get time for a roast this Sunday as it is the last day of the football season and I’m going clubbing in London straight after so I might not fit it in.

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Beef Rib-Eye @ The Spring Inn, Sulhamstead 10/05/2015

Beef Rib-Eye @ The Spring Inn, Sulhamstead 10/05/2015

I was getting my hair cut the other morning, and my new hairdresser told me that he is aware of my work.  Word is getting around.

Word is going to spread even more soon as Get Reading have discovered my eloquent writing talents/are desperate for content (delete as appropriate) and are keen on publishing shortened versions of my reviews, assumedly without any descriptions of vegetables tasting like arse.

I did think about it for an evening, but it is a no-brainer really.  Nothing will change except more people will read it.  They did ask whether I wanted to publish in my own name, or stay relatively anonymous, and I think I am going to go for the second option.  Your thoughts are welcomed.  The only reason to go fully public would be to make it easy for a future book publisher/film company to employ me to review roast dinners around the world.

How cool would that be?  To go around the world and get paid to eat roast dinners.  Gravy Oliver eat your heart out.

For now, I shall have to contend with local fame, remaining relatively anonymous.  I am considering the pen name of The Earl Of Gravy.

For a second week in a row, I have usurped the random number generator by using the random number generator.  The place of doom can wait – Get Reading deserve a special treat for their first review.

This week, I headed to The Spring Inn, in Sulhamstead (west of Theale).  I wasn’t sure what I would get.  The menu clearly advertised jus, and you know what I think when I get that abomination.  However when I called to book that morning, the earliest they could get a table for me was 4pm, so clearly they are very popular.

I had two options to travel – either get the number 1 bus straight down the A4, or get a train and a 30-40 minute walk.  I like a walk but decided the bus was probably the easier option given all the housework I had to do yesterday.  My life isn’t all gravy, you know.  I thought it might be more pricey than the standard £3.70 return within Reading but there was no information to get on the rather cluttered Reading Buses website.

Anyway, I was rather shocked by the £6.40 charge when I boarded – I only had 40p more change on me, and that was after emptying my silver jar.  Reading Buses, please accept my Soggy Roast Potato In Jus award for your opaque pricing structure and cluttered website.  Twice the price of the train.  Get out of here.

So 419 words later, I guess it is time to get talking about the food.  Get it?

The offering was rib-eye of beef at £13.95, or pork something at £12.95.  Quite reasonably priced.

The food took 11 minutes to get from the kitchen, which always seems on the speedy side to me.

Starting, as is traditional, with the vegetables, and the carrots in particular, which were orange.  Forgive me, I really am struggling to find new ways to describe carrots.  And new placed to sneak in the word “get”.  There were a small sprinkling, and fairly soft and juicy, with a hint of honey which they had been ‘roasted’ in.  They certainly were not roasted like I roast carrots though.

We also had parsnip, which is a nice touch as it seems rarely attempted.  Again fairly soft with the hint of honey.

Then there was cabbage.  Cabbage isn’t something I have worked out how to cook well myself – I can do amazing carrots, but cabbage I fail on.  This was pretty nice and tender, with more of a hint of butter to my simple Northern taste buds.

Only now have I realised that I could have got some very interesting side orders, including chilli tender stem broccoli; French beans, shallots and crème fraiche (I really want to write fresh) and the not so interesting cauliflower cheese.  Doh.

For some bizarre reason, the roast potatoes came out afterwards in a large bowl of freshly-heated roast potatoes.  Was this to excite me as to just how many there was?  Could I have more than the standard Berkshire 3?  Am I the only one that expects 6 roast potatoes on a roast dinner?

Of course, there were just 3 roast potatoes plonked down, soggy, non-crispy and very much like what you would get at the Toby Carvery.  Hmmm.

My talented chef friend, who is a plumber, surprised me once by advising that he thought Yorkshire puddings were a waste of time.  Just needless filler instead of real food.  Well, this one small effort was just filler – quite tough sponge and totally pointless.  Unlike a good yorkie.

I think I chose the beef because it came with a Yorkshire pudding.  Despite the previously described aberration, the ribeye of beef was a good choice.

I asked for it rare, and it definitely was not rare.  Somewhere between medium-rare and medium.  Which is still fine to me.  It was exceptionally generous in volume, with two very large slices of good quality beef – more than twice the amount that I had at the far more expensive Miller of Mansfield.  There was a little fat but that just adds to the taste in my eyes.  And mouth.

By some measure the highlight of the whole dinner.

On the flipside, by far the lowlight of the whole dinner was the jus.  To me, there is no excuse at attempting some shoddy red wine jus.  It had a particularly horrid taste, which disfigured all that was eaten, as I just could not get the taste out of my mouth.  I wanted gravy so I kept putting jus on, thinking it would be ok, but bite after bite I was just getting disappointed.

It wasn’t disgusting, it was edible.  But just plain wrong.  I hardly even touched the extra jus I had ordered (and received at the second time of asking).  I don’t even know why I asked it.

Apart from the excellent beef, the dinner was pretty average but the jus was so disappointing.

A 5.5 out of 10 seems a reasonable score.

It is a popular venue with an interesting menu , yet in the middle of nowhere, so it must be doing something right.

Next week, ooooh 3rd time unlucky perhaps?  Do ya get meh?

By the way if anyone needs a really old monitor, there is one in the hedgerow on the bus stop 5 minutes or so walk from The Spring Inn.

There wasn’t much else to photograph.

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Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder @ The Thatched Tavern, Ascot 03/05/2015

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder @ The Thatched Tavern, Ascot 03/05/2015

Those of you that read my review last week may recall that the random number generator had picked a venue that I really didn’t want to go to.

Despite my northern upbringing, Ascot is not actually a place that strikes fear into my belly.  Yes, I usurped the random number generator.  How rebellious of me.

It was a fine day, and I fancied a walk, finished off with a spot of outdoor dining in a beer garden, perhaps I was inspired by the ever-excellent Edible Reading.  The place that the random number generator had picked does have a beer garden, but I wouldn’t prefix the word ‘nice’ to it.

Also, my housemate seems to think that the dungeon of doom will surprise me and wants to go with me, alas he wasn’t around this weekend.  Another reason to put it off.

But most importantly, this is election week.  And I realised that I had to do an election special.  So the only pub of choice was one probably not named after one of our most famous Prime Ministers ever – The Thatched Tavern.

Apart from once briefly visiting the high street, I had never really had a look around Ascot and I have to say that it has a lot of trees.

The pub was a rather old-fashioned and traditional venue, a bit like Jacob Rees-Mogg.  It also has a pleasantly sculptured outdoor area, quite resplendent like Ann Widdicome’s shoes.

A quick check on their website and you can see how shockingly outdated it is.  Dennis Skinner would shouting be in admiration.

The choice of roast was a bit like all the party manifestos – they all look appealing on the outside, though whether they would be able to deliver upon their promises was another matter.  I think it was rib-eye of beef, slow-cooked lamb shoulder or corn-fed chicken, forgive my Miliband-like lapse in memory, at least I have only forgotten the menu choices, not the deficit.

Dinner arrived surprisingly quickly, in less than 10 minutes, which reminded me of how quickly the coalition agreement was arrived at back in 2010, and I wondered how long they had spent preparing it before-hand.

It was presented with plenty of Blairite style, though I did have to give some education, education, education beforehand on my pea-phobia – otherwise I would have had a nasty surprise like a post-election VAT-rise.

Cauliflower, carrots and swede were the vegetables supplied.

The cauliflower was very much on the tough side, like Theresa May.  Crunchy and not the easiest to eat – some people’s ideal but not mine.  They do seem to store more taste that way though.

The baby carrots were again minimally cooked and very much on the tough side.  They were rather pugnacious in character and reminded me of little Ed Balls’.  Again, however, the minimal cooking seemed to bring out the taste in the carrots.

I said last week that I wasn’t a fan of swede and I remain so.  This was soft and fairly tasteless – kind of a unique combination of Natalie Bennett and Godfrey Bloom.

Onto the potatoes and finally I get the chance to compare to a Liberal Democrat.  4 roast potatoes were more liberal than the usual standard, though they were rather on the soft side and there was no detectable crunch to them.  Necessary and decent enough, yes, they reminded me of Nick Clegg.

The Yorkshire Pudding wasn’t the best.  A homemade affair, at least, but more of a lightly-filled sponge than a traditional yorkie.  Danny Alexander?

So far, not especially overly convincing.  However the lamb was pretty gorgeous.  Succulent and tasty, the slow-cooked nature meant that it pulled apart easily, and at 16oz pre-cooked, there was a lot of lamb.  In fact, it went on and on like the pretty gorgeous Margaret Thatcher did.  Easily the highlight of the rather pricey roast.

Annoyingly, jus was supplied.  Like the top-down NHS re-organisation, I was not expecting this.  Though I probably should not have been surprised about such in upmarket Ascot.  It was thin, watery with oily blobs scattered all over, a bit like Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.  It looked presentable but it not the sort of idea a northerner can accept.

Special mention must go to the exceptional home-made mince sauce.  Like the Green Party, it is normally something I avoid but it was quite divine.  Had I had gravy I would not have bothered.

The service was good at first, though I did have to go back inside to order my dessert and get a second drink.  I must have been forgotten about.

The clientele were mostly Tories, though Nigel Farage would have been pleased about the ethnic mix, without a non-white face in sight.  However I did hear two people speaking a foreign language.  Probably Nigel’s wife.  Does anyone remember Nigel from Eastenders?  Yes I didn’t have a life in the 90’s.  Though I was far more racist back then than Nigel Farage could ever dream of.  This is prior to meeting anyone from a foreign land, from ooooh somewhere like Leeds.  And prior to getting an education.  And prior to moving down south.  My cousin has a British Bulldog tattoo on his arm.

Hull wass definitely different to Ascot.  And still is.

At £21.95 for two courses, it was on the pricey side and a bit like Labour’s health and education spending binge, I didn’t get value for money.

Overall it was high on style, but not always high on substance.  In some areas rather tough, but in other areas very pleasing.  It was on the upmarket side, but not everything was suitable for a northerner.  You can guess this one surely?  My roast dinner most reminded me of…

David Cameron.

I’m going to give it a 7.5 out of 10.  It should have been better but like the coalition government, they certainty got some things right.

Aptly, I saw this rather resplendent car on the way home.  Sex on wheels.

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Pork Shoulder @ The Bull, Wargrave 26/04/2015

Pork Shoulder @ The Bull, Wargrave 26/04/2015

Wargrave was the scene of a recent failure so it was with some trepidation that I headed back to the area.  Although the random number generator has picked somewhere truly ghastly for next weekend.

According to the website, The Bull is a 15th Century former coaching inn.  I was particularly excited to read that the food was cooked by someone called Jayne.  Not that I have any particular emotion connection to the name, but it gave the suggestion that their roast dinner was home-cooked, rather than mass-produced.  And it has a good website.

The pub itself was cosy but upmarket – and for those interested it was dog-friendly.  We had a nice table reserved for us near the window, and next to the log fire.  I am particularly keen on pubs with wooden beams.

One curiosity was noticing that almost every other building in Wargrave has this flowering tree wrapped around it.  Is anyone able to illuminate upon this?

The choices were beef, pork and chicken.  I went for the shoulder of pork at the pleasing price of £13.95.  Shortly after we had placed our order, the waitress/barmaid came over to advise that a party of 22 had snuck their order in before us so there would be a bit of a wait.  We were offered some bread to keep our stomachs occupied, which was a nice touch, and the bread was gorgeous – soft and warm, albeit with exceptionally salty butter.

It didn’t actually seem that long until the dinner arrived.  I hadn’t finished my pint.  And it was a case of “wow” when the plates arrived.

I am under the impression that as much of the food is sourced locally as is possible – I’m jumping the gun here but the strawberries for dessert, assumedly grown in the polytunnels near the train station, were just sensational.  Albeit they came with a choice of ice cream, cream or custard.  Has anyone ever had strawberries and custard?

Starting with my least-favourite of red cabbage, this was the strongest tasting red cabbage I have experienced.  It was crunchy and a touch wonky, and there was far too much served to be able to eat.

Swede isn’t something I would normally consider.  We were again provided with a generous unfinishable serving, a wondrous orange colour and a delightful kind of nutty yet fruity taste.  The swede was topped with butter and chives.

Next up was cauliflower cheese, with added broccoli in the mix.  Another massive bowl, and tried as we did it was again impossible to finish. Delectably creamy, with the vegetables just soft enough, and a hint of cheese.

So far, so very, very good.

There were just 3 roast potatoes supplied, as per the Berkshire usual it seems.  However these were very large roast potatoes, soft in the inside but only minimal crisp on the outside.  Good but not perfect.

Two homemade Yorkshire puddings were supplied, fitting with the theme of ample provision, unlike last weekend’s experience.  They were just a bit too crispy for my tastes, I feel a softer bottom is required.  But they were good.

The crackling was delightful, crispy yet soft enough to eat, and even melted in the mouth a bit.

Penultimately, pork proved plentiful, plus positively pleasing.  Ooh I do like a bit of alliteration.  Again it was nicely cooked, there were 4 slices of a medium-thickness, it was tender and very nice to taste.

Last to talk about is the gravy.  There isn’t much to say, it was very thin.  But complimentary.  And befitting of the excellent service, more was forthcoming upon request.

For £13.95 this was an exceptionally generous serving.  Easily the largest plate I have been served (clearly not beating the carveries for self-chosen quantity) and the quality was good to excellent throughout.  And that it was home-made made it all the more special.

I’m struggling for downsides.  I don’t understand why pubs in nice areas like Wargrave sell shoddy pints of chemicals like Fosters.  Also the music piped over the naff 80’s speaker in the corner was rather on the miserable side.

This leaves me with a bit of a conundrum.  It isn’t as good as The Crown which I rated 8.7.  But it is better than The Packhorse which I rated 8.5.  I would ideally like to retrospectively go back and change their ratings to 8.9 and 8.3 respectively.  Am I allowed to do that?  I don’t have a rule against it.  What would you think?

I feel that 8.5 out of 10 is a fair score.  This was a really enjoyable experience in every way.  I left absolutely stuffed but not out of pocket.  There is room for improvement.  But it really was excellent.

In my opinion it is the second best roast in the local area.  I highly recommend a visit – and do book beforehand.

With next weekend being a bank holiday there is a chance I may end up partying in London instead of roast dinnering around Reading.  I can confirm that the random number generator has picked somewhere for my next roast that I am really not at all looking forward to.  The ultimate antithesis of home cooking.

Maybe I will be surprised.

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Roast Beef @ The Miller Of Mansfield, Goring 19/04/2015

Roast Beef @ The Miller Of Mansfield, Goring 19/04/2015

Good afternoon.  How are we all?  Did you miss me last week?

Firstly I am going to ask a favour.  If you don’t already do so, please consider following the page on Facebook.  Consider it an electronic version of a crispy roast potato.  And if you are feeling generous, please do hit the button that invites your friends.  That would be analogous to proper gravy.

I’ve reviewed 19 roast dinners so far – 3 of the last 4 have ended up in the bottom 5 of the league table, the other slap bang in the middle.  I was overdue a success.

Again picked by random number generator, but this time it seemed on the face of it to have everything going for it.  Set in the picturesque village of Goring, it had good reviews Trip Advisor, the website was reasonable, the wording of the menu was delicate and intriguing – the price was on the high side – £19.00 for the beef or £15.00 for the pork belly.  I had no reason to believe it would be a bad roast dinner.

The nibble’s menu was tempting – what are “proper sausage rolls”?  Are they saying that Gregg’s do fake sausage rolls?  I had gone with the intention of resisting all other temptations, partly financial but also because I just didn’t need to.  However the idea of a sack of bread for the starter was too difficult to ignore for both myself and my linguistically-gifted accomplice – a bag of bread wouldn’t have appealed.  Neither would a basket of bread.  We wanted the sack.  A sack of bread.

Anyway I’m not here to talk about starters, nibbles or desserts.

It took a little while to be attended to upon arrival.  There were 4 people behind the bar busying themselves, I couldn’t quite work out what with and it was 2-3 minutes before we were greeted and another 2-3 minutes before anyone thought to ask why we were there or if we wanted any service.  Do I look that out of place in upmarket Goring?!

An inauspicious start, and it wasn’t exactly busy either.  There were far more free tables than occupied tables.  We seated ourselves on two stools around a barrel and ate our rather excellent homemade bread rolls.  Only four balls for £2.99 and perhaps we had fallen for their sneaky marketing of a sack.

We did get the slightly odd question of whether we wanted to be seated in the restaurant when our dinner was ready – quite how we were supposed to eat a roast dinner on a barrel, whilst sat on a stool I did not comprehend.  Perfect for a drink and nibbles – but it wasn’t dining room furniture.  Perhaps it was just automated like when you place your bag for life on the counter of a shop and they ask you if you want a bag.  I always find that very hard to respond to without automatically resorting to sarcasm.

Am I being picky?  It looked like it was going to be a fine dining experience – at least in terms of being a roast dinner so I was expecting service perfection.  More on the service later.

The venue itself was beautiful on the outside – really picturesque.  On the inside it was split into a restaurant with mustard-coloured walls and good quality wooden seats and tables – the bar area was an attempt at a rustic feel, and a pretty good job too.  Overall a pleasing aesthetic – and the toilet roll was high quality too – with the added pointed touch.  You can judge places by the quality of the toilet roll that they offer their patrons.

Also worth mentioning before I get into the meat of the subject is that it is dog-friendly, and though it doesn’t have a car park, we could park close by.  Also a short walk from the train station.

The vegetables arrived in two small bowls – one of spring greens, the other of carrots and cauliflower cheese.  I thought that we were advised that purple sprouting broccoli was one of the vegetable offerings but maybe I imagined that.

The carrots were on the crunchy side.  In fact they were some of the more-crunchy carrots that I have ever had.  I like that there was some extra effort made – they were cooked in butter with added chives – I thought I could taste a hint of honey too but that could just have been their homemade butter.

Continuing the crunchy theme was the cauliflower cheese.  A creamy crunchy affair – yet again another portion of cauliflower cheese that didn’t taste much of cheese though.  It was still enjoyable.

There wasn’t much in the way of Spring greens to be able to ascertain any specific taste or opinion.  In fact the whole vegetable offering was what should really have been offered to one person – not two.

Panic had struck me when the plate initially arrived.  Can you guess why?

For despite the beautiful presentation – without doubt one of the better-presented plates so far – I could only see one roast potato.  One?  How tight.

Fear not though as the other two were hidden under the beef.  Three roast potatoes felt generous after my initial worry but in reality is anything but.  However the roast potatoes were excellent.  Very tasty as they had been cooked in duck fat – and you could tell unlike some places that tell you they cook their potatoes in duck fat but it might as well be cooked in paper oil.  Crispy on the outside – fluffy on the inside.  Pretty damn perfect.

3 pretty perfect roast potatoes beats unlimited and distinctly average potatoes as per the last review.

The Yorkshire pudding on the other hand wasn’t so excellent.  Rather on the soft side throughout, and not just on the gravy-dampened bottom.  It wasn’t a bad yorkie.

Penultimately there is the beef.  Again not exactly enough to have trouble eating it – but wow.  It was quite exquisite.  Very much on the red side which is how it should be, it was so tasty.  It just came apart with the smallest of effort – the beef was the definition of tenderness.  The waitress did ask if it were cooked enough for our liking which was a nice touch.

After the early disengagement, the service was much improved.  Attentive when required, with questions asked about what we thought of the meal (was I rumbled?!).  Good enough for a tip.

And finally – the gravy.  It was a beef gravy though it did taste a little on the buttery side – perhaps still from the carrots though?  Thin – but consistency is always on the light side at the more upmarket places.

Which I think it quite a good analogy for the whole experience – a little on the light side.

There is lots to praise – particularly the really excellent beef and roast potatoes.  There is nothing to complain about in terms of food quality.  But for £19.00 I just expected a little more volume – the vegetables in particular seemed very under-provided.

Perhaps I am being a tad piquant, but it is only going to receive a 7.5 out of 10.

Next Sunday I am planning on revisiting the scene of a recent failure.

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