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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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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