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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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.

Ominous?

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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