Turkey @ Bell & Bottle, Shinfield 13/12/2015

I only discovered the existence of the Bell & Bottle last winter, when I popped in for a pint after a countryside walk around Shinfield, to watch the second half of a football game in which my team were playing. We lost 3-0 in an abject performance.

I discovered that they did roast dinners, but I ploughed onto the excellent Black Boy up the road.

Recently, the random number generator insisted that I paid another visit for one of their roast dinners. I wondered if it might be a hidden gem – no website and a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2010. Yet they offered home-cooked roast dinners. This is the main point of Roast Dinners Around Reading – to get you away from the obvious and average places, to the undiscovered gems.

It took the best part of two hours to get there, 50 minutes of walking, one train and one bus.

I arrived to see a big Fosters sign stuck on the outside of the pub. You know where this is heading, don’t you?

The pub was split into a bar area and dining area, like many are nowadays. Wonderfully tacky Christmas decorations, mingling with fruit machines and TV screens. The tables were sturdy – the chairs I sunk right into, not quite to the floor but I was much lower down than I would prefer.

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There was a warm welcome from the two ladies running the bar. The options were beef, pork or turkey – guess what I selected? It being Christmas, and all. The price was just £7.95 – one of the cheapest roasts around.

Upon arrival there was no shortage of food. Certainly not vegetables, anyway, with 4 different types of steamed vegetables.

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I started with the green beans. There were far too many of them, and they were disturbingly darkened. They tasted fine. Fine in a very average way.

The broccoli (I’m pretty good at spelling that now) had a bit of bite to it, but there really isn’t any more to say about it. The cauliflower was very ordinary, also very soft – it could easily have ended up mushy cauliflower.

I sensed a touch of butter on the carrots, and they were pretty pleasing. I’ve had carrots in most of the 49 roasts to date and I’m really bored of writing about them – you are probably bored of reading about them but my readers stats are holding up, despite the recent loss of my attempted sense of humour. Maybe I need to talk about crystal meth more.

One certainly needed a sense of humour for the roast potatoes. They had been roasted. I am not sure when. There were four roast potatoes, two of which had a good 3-4mm of brown on the bottom. It tasted of burnt oil. It was fairly horrendous – I actually had to cut it off and leave it.

Otherwise they were chewbecca throughout. These may win the award for the worst roast potatoes in the inaugural annual roast dinner awards coming when I can be bothered to write them. A true abomination.

Do you think Ricky Gervais reads this? Maybe I should tweet him?

The Yorkshire pudding was fine. Small, edible – possible an Aunt Bessie’s or similar.

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I quite enjoyed the larger than usual stuffing ball, which the lady that took my order seemed particularly excited about, but even that was rather dry and coarse.

The turkey was utterly forgettable. It wasn’t bad, except the small corner of gristle which was inedible. Three slices that were tender enough and tasted of turkey, but also reminded me of one of those Bernard Matthew’s turkey crowns.

Finally the gravy was watery. Very thin. I am trying to forget about my whole experience.

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On the bright side, I did however have a very nice pint of cider to rest on my Carlsberg beer mat.

The highlight was that I didn’t end up paying too much for it. I did enjoy the carrots too. The worst part was the shockingly bad roast potatoes. And to think Google told me it was a Gastropub.

I am probably being slightly generous giving it a 3.3 out of 10. It didn’t give me quite the level of disappointment as last week’s.

Next weekend is the big 5-0. My 50th review. So I’m going to somewhere good. I am going to get a good roast, even if I have to spend north of £20.00. I don’t care. It is going to be good.

By the way, does anyone else wish the Reading Business Improvement District would invest the Christmas money in giant inflatable Santa’s instead of all these posh-looking pretty white lights?

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Slow-Roasted Pork Belly @ The Black Boy, Shinfield 18/01/2015

Slow-Roasted Pork Belly @ The Black Boy, Shinfield 18/01/2015
This roast dinner was selected from my to-do list by the
random number generator.  I like to use
the random number generator wherever possible in life to enhance
decision-making.  Sometimes it makes a
good call – other times a dubious call, but one has to follow the instructions
of the random number generator – there is no over-riding it.
What I wasn’t willing to leave to random choice was my
choice of dinner.  Beef sirloin, chicken
or slow-roasted belly of pork.
There was only one choice, despite that fact that it was
advertised as coming with a red wine jus. 
I am a gravy man.  I hate
jus.  I do have to pronounce this
carefully – I had to delete a Facebook friend once for anti-Semitism.  I really cannot believe people still have
such views.
Anyway, before I go too far off topic, my choice was
pork.  Slow-roasted belly of pork.  It sounds good doesn’t it?
I have always liked The Black Boy.  Welcoming with a good menu, a reasonable
choice of drinks and reasonably-priced (at least for down here), a good garden to sit in – a good ambience.  They serve food from midday until 9pm on a
Sunday – we arrived around 4pm and it was busy. 
I would suggest if eating at a more traditional time then booking in
advance would be wise.
The food took around 25 minutes to arrive – it was nicely
presented with a substantial chunk of pork belly on top of a bed of mash, with
a moat of red wine jus around it.  The
vegetables came on a separate serving plate.
The vegetable offerings were carrots, broccoli and red
cabbage.  The carrots and broccoli were
fairly indistinct – seemingly steamed, quite soft and plain.  The red cabbage on the other hand was
notably-tasty, especially when mixed with the mash and jus.
I was saddened that there were no roast potatoes, though on
reflection this was probably a wise move given how so many places seem to get
them wrong.  My fellow-diner had roast
potatoes with his chicken roast and advised that they were a little burnt.  My mash on the other hand was excellent –
just the slightest hint of apple and again, went really well with the jus.
Finally to the piece of no resistance.  The pork belly was substantial in size and a
succulent, juicy piece of pork.  It was
really, really good.  But not only that,
it was topped with crackling that was crunchy but edible, and so, so tasty.  Writing this right now is quite difficult as
I just want repeat the experience yet all I have in front of me is fruit salad
or salad salad.
 
And the jus?  I have
to admit that it was really nice.  There
was just enough, it soaked into the mash nicely and accompanied all parts of
the dish with additional flavour – though the pork belly was so succulent that
it didn’t need any liquidity.
I may need to review my antipathy towards jus.
This really was a very good roast, one worth making the
effort to get over the M4 for.  I made
the right choice, my friend very much enjoyed his chicken dinner and my other
friend was raving about his plate of chips.
A suitably impressive score of 8.2 out of 10.
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