Lamb @ The Bull, Wargrave 17/01/2016

So for this week, I went to The Bull in Wargrave. A gorgeous pub with an open fire in a gorgeous village.

I can see your minds whirring. “But hasn’t he reviewed this before?”.

This week was my birthday roast dinner. Yes I am one of those poor souls that has a birthday in January (not for a few days yet but I’m in London next weekend), and is stubborn enough to insist on celebrating it. So, given that it is my birthday, I trawled my list of friends, Facebook friends, stalkers, politicians and ex-lovers, and tried to persuade a couple to come out for my birthday roast dinner.

It being my birthday means that I can break as many rules as I like, which includes going back to somewhere I’ve already reviewed. I didn’t want to risk a bad roast dinner on those still willing to associate with me. Sadly I’ve lost my crack pipe so this was about as risqué with rule-breaking that I managed.

Back to having a birthday in January and you may want to grab your violin if it is handy. Some people say that having a birthday on Christmas Day, or around then is the worst. But at least people are in the mood to celebrate and spend money they don’t have.

I think I had roughly 600 people interested in coming to my birthday roast at one point during last year. More realistically, 40-50 had verbally agreed – so many people were up for it. Come invite sending time, I’d managed to get 25 confirmed at one point. Down to 18 when I booked and paid the deposit. Down to 13 by time I woke up yesterday.

I feared the worst. The landlady called me when I was on the way to question where we were – some confusion over the booking time. I mentioned 5 had cancelled and she mentioned that is why she took her deposit. I hadn’t even arrived and it had cost me £100. Great.

Things didn’t get any better on arrival where I did that invisible bloke at the bar thing, waiting 10-15 minutes whilst those who arrived after me got served in front of me.

But that is where things stopped going wrong. Slowly but surely my guests arrived, with a handful of very funny birthday cards and a couple of gifts – including, most importantly, a proper gravy boat. Of all the things I don’t have in my life that I feel I should have – a house, a car, a wife, 2.4 children, a gun, a duck house, a castle with a moat, a modelling contract, stockings and suspenders, a criminal record, regular blow jobs – I actually didn’t have a gravy boat. Until now.

Ridiculous.

One by one, the dinners arrived – quite some time after all guests had arrived but this is always a good thing – it means freshly cooked food.

As it was my birthday, I decided against having any of the copious red cabbage that was supplied. Or wonky red cabbage as they now call it, due to some reviewer calling it so. Erm…oops.

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The carrots were polluted with peas, so again, it being my birthday I deemed it unnecessary to try to fish out the carrots from the peas, just in case. Given that I am getting increasingly desperate to find ways to describe carrots, this was probably a blessing in disguise for my readers.

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I did, however, have pretty much a full plate of cauliflower cheese.

A very large bowl was provided, with the offer of more – well, hell of course we want more! It looked as marvellous as it tasted. Freshly cooked, quite soft but not too soft, a hint of cheese and very creamy. Delicious.

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Next up for me were the roast potatoes. I only had three and they were medium-sized at a push, delicately fluffy on the inside, quite crispy on the outside but they could have been crispier. And I wish there had been more. I should emphasise again though – FRESHLY COOKED!

Last time here, the Yorkshire puddings were the only disappointment but I’m pleased to say that this time they were improved. Two medium-sized Yorkies, with a fairly standard taste and texture – yes I’ve had better elsewhere but they were on the good side of average.

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There was plenty of meat. Jayne normally serves beef and pork, sometimes lamb and can do chicken if ordered in advance. The beef looked absolutely gorgeous, culminating in some deep bloody pinkness in the middle. I was truly envious. I should have asked for all three meats with it being my birthday. Doh.

I also tried some of the pork, which was possibly the tastiest of the three, marginally.

For myself, I had the lamb – my favourite – my birthday. There was so much of it, thickly sliced, tasting of…hmmm…the cream from the cauliflower cheese. A touch fatty occasionally but nicely pink in the middle. I couldn’t really ask for more.

Finally the gravy. It was still a little thin for my personal tastes, but a decent home-made meat stock gravy nonetheless. And rather creamy tasting…because of the amount of cauliflower cheese on my plate.

On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale, it rates a Goole (please don’t even think of going there). The highlight has to be the cracking cauliflower cheese. The lowlight…I’m struggling here but an extra roast potato or two wouldn’t have gone amiss.

I enjoyed it just the tiniest fraction less than last time, and therefore I’m going to give it an 8.3 out of 10. Still absolutely very much one of the best roast dinners in the local area and all of my guests thought it was fantastic.

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Thankfully, Jayne kindly relented from charging me any of the deposit, assumedly upon seeing my beauty. The service, bar the wait at the bar at the beginning, was excellent throughout, very friendly waitresses, Jayne also took time out to introduce herself.

As I’d had a few drinks, I also introduced myself and let the mask of anonymity slip. Oops. Apparently business on a Sunday has grown significantly over the last 6 months or so.

For some reason, people actually take notice of the crap I write. So if you are a pub landlord/landlady and you haven’t been reviewed yet – get your roast potatoes sorted out quick sharp.

For the next roast, the random number generator has picked somewhere reasonably close to Bracknell, but far enough away to hopefully be a good roast dinner. Whether or not it will be next Sunday depends on how much I spend in London. Erm…and how much I drink.

By the way I am sure that you all want to give me a birthday present, but I don’t ask for much. Just use that ‘invite friends’ button on the Facebook page (it’s on the menu where the three dots are). Retweets and shares are good too – but using the invite friends button is a proper 36 candles on the cake kind of present.

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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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Beef, Chicken & Pork @ The St George And Dragon, Wargrave, 29/03/2015

Beef, Chicken & Pork @ The St George And Dragon, Wargrave, 29/03/2015

Gravy is ever so important to me.  Some people have a bad day at work and go home and open a bottle of wine, some go home and have a spliff – I go home and have gravy.

And the most important ingredient of a roast dinner is the gravy.  Not just any gravy either – it should have a reasonably thick consistency, and be made from meat stock at the least.  There is no need to get fancy with it.

At the risk of being compared to Hitler, it should absolutely not be jus.  There is no room for jus.  Jus should be eliminated from the roast dinner.  Albeit The Black Boy did do an excellent jus – the one and only enjoyable jus of my life.

I did say that I was going to go somewhere cheap this week but I couldn’t face the possibility of another poor/average roast – I was due a cracking roast dinner.  Plus I had already had to borrow money to see out the month, so I might as well borrow even more.

The random number generator picked The St George And Dragon in Wargrave, which if I recall correctly had been recommended to me by a couple of colleagues at work.

I did try to book on their website, however it was only myself dining and apparently solo-dining is not an option.

Wargrave itself is a nice village, not a place I had ever been to.  Some gorgeous houses, particularly near the station – I am pretty sure I saw one with a tennis court.  Not something you tend to see on the estates up north where I am from.  And I am not talking country estates.

I even felt a tad underdressed when I entered the pub.  It is one of those pleasant upmarket gastro-pub type places, near to the River Thames, with a nice decking area for the summer and a cushion on my chair.

It all looked very tempting – and I compromised on the trio of roasts.  I am yet to decide whether this is a wise idea – whilst this way I get to taste a wider variety, I do wonder if the quality is diluted.  I have yet to rate a trio of roasts that highly.

It took less than 10 minutes for the food to arrive, it seemed closer to 5 minutes.  I was very surprised.  I had hardly started reading the article on Islamic State (I wonder if this is enough to attract the attention of our security services to bad roast dinners?).

The vegetables came in this little cup.  Transferring them onto my plate was a little tricky, and various bits of leaf ended up on the table.

The carrots were good.  Thick, plump and tender carrots.  The kale and cabbage were rather non-descript.  I really am rather non-plused about them.

It isn’t often a parsnip is offered, and this was a really tasty parsnip – honey roasted too.  It was quite light coloured and I would have preferred it to have been more, well, roasted.  But kudos on the single parsnip.

I was excited about the prospect of goose-fat roasted potatoes.  But I shouldn’t have been so excited.  Whilst I could taste the goose-fat, there wasn’t much roasting that had been done, the potatoes were even slightly rubbery on the outside.  They were not bad potatoes but calling them roast potatoes would is against the trade descriptions act.

When the above menu states Yorkshire PuddingS, I was expecting a plurality of Yorkshire Puddings.  I did get one and it was dry and almost a touch on the stale side.  I am glad that I only got one.

There were also two little flat rounds of stuffing.  This was clearly factory-manufactured and could easily have been on one a Tesco chicken meal-for-one.

Two bits of crackling accompanied the dinner – they looked like Twiglets.  And perhaps tasted closer to them.  Again they seemed very factory-manufactured.

It isn’t really going very well is it?  But as you can see there is lots of meat to come.  My eyes did light up when the plate originally arrived, and I did question whether I was going to eat it all.

But why would you put a pig-in-blanket on top of some bread sauce?  Why on earth would you do that?  In fact why would you put bread sauce on a plate?  Or horseradish hollandaise?  Or apple and vanilla puree?  Or a flipping chunk of apple?!  I was becoming mildly riled by this point.

Sauces should surely be in a separate pot.  There certainly should not be 3 sauces on the plate, on top of gravy (more to come on this subject soon).

The pork loin was decent.  It was quite unspectacular.  Cooked a little more than my preference with no remarkable features.

There was a nice-looking piece of chicken breast but the chicken itself was really dry.  I actually struggled to eat it.

I left the beef until last to try, but it was really quite well done.  Not at all to my liking.  Like the rest of the meal it was a disappointment, although the hint of mustard was appreciated.

Now I did consider writing about the gravy before everything else.  Though my introduction may have given the game away.

Or perhaps more accurately, the jus.  It looked more like some kind of glitter-face paint that I might wear to a disco-themed paint-balling trip.

Shiny, with lots of oil and red spocks.  The taste was red wine but it was so over-powering and quite horrid that it totally ruined the whole dinner.

A good gravy would have masked the dryness of the chicken, to an extent.  A good gravy would have enlightened the pork.  A good gravy could have masked the softness of the goose-fat potatoes.

Instead, it over-powered the taste of everything on the plate – and it being a horrid taste, totally ruined what was only an average dinner in the first place.

Some people would likely have really enjoyed it – taste is after all subjective.

But appearance isn’t all it seems in life.  The dinner looked good on arrival but was anything but.  In a cute metaphor, the pub looked quite upmarket, yet had a leak from the ceiling.

This was the first time that I have questioned doing this blog.  In total I spent £25.00 that I didn’t have, and 3 hours of my life including the travel time for absolutely no satisfaction or enjoyment whatsoever.  What was initially an adventure to a new village soon realised itself into a chore.

I haven’t even enjoyed writing this.

My score is 3.4 out of 10.  Less enjoyable than the Toby Carvery,

Thankfully next Sunday I am in Yorkshire.

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