Beef, Lamb & Pork @ Crooked Billet, Wokingham 12/06/2016

Yesterday was the most important day of my year, arguably for many years.

Sunday was not. All I needed to do was recover from a hangover, buy a new shoulder bag for work to replace the one that now stunk of piss and ale, have a roast dinner (of, course) and make it home in time for my food shopping delivery.

Simple. Bar the hangover. Just one minute after I posted wondering whether I was going to be able to follow my original plan, my wonderfully craziest friend (and I have a few in that category) messaged me and we were game on. And he invited his even crazier friend.

Can you see where this is going?

I was originally going to go somewhere in Reading but I wanted to impress, and managed to book a table at the surprisingly quiet, Crooked Billet, near Wokingham. I’ve tried on 3 previous occasions to book a table there but always without success.

You’d really have to know this place exists. We found it at the end of a rickety country lane, over a ford of which we decided not to attempt – probably our last sensible decision of the day.

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There were a variety of roasts on offer, pork, chicken, lamb, beef and nut roast at £14.50. There was also a mixed option of pork, lamb and beef at £16.50. As I was feeling utterly incapable of making a decision, I went for the mixed roast, despite having had two large sausages rolls for breakfast.

I had little doubt that I was going to get an excellent roast and I was immediately wowed upon delivery. It took a while, 30 minutes or so, though we did have a starter, plus a pre-starter but that was something not supplied by the venue.

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Easily the largest plate that I’d been served in a long time but I know where to start. The carrots.

Or carrot. After 69 roast dinners reviews I thought I had seen it all when it came to carrots but this was served simply as one long delicate yet delicious stick of orange. Easy to cut into chunks, moist and succulent.

For my personal tastes the mange tout were too crisp and squeaky but others prefer them this way – horses for courses. I do love a mange tout or two and it was exactly what I was going to do do do, come on let’s do the conga.

Yeah maybe not.

Then there was a fine selection of tenderstem broccoli (thank you again spellchecker) – not just average broccoli. Marginally on the tough side of average but very well-appreciated as a healthy higher class vegetable.

There was some blanched-looking dark green stuff which was possibly cabbage – it tasted good but some of the core was just a little too tough to munch.

We had a little pot of cauliflower cheese too. Nicely crisp on top with the taste of cheese evident too. The cream was thick enough not to infect the gravy. Very good.

Before we go on and you might want to skip this paragraph – don’t say that you were not warned. I know that I normally have a fair linguistic talent however I’m struggling to work out how to insert this naturally (worryingly apt language for what I am going to say) but my crazy friends’ crazy friend would like me to insert a sentence explaining that he believes that the only use for celery is to try to insert it in bodily areas that you would not normally associate with the insertion of celery. Ideally before or during sexual intercourse.

This was pretty much the deal to ensure that he kept his hands off my privates during dinner so I hope that you understand this situation. Sadly I did end up seeing his nob – thankfully not in the restaurant.

Erm…moving on. You are going to miss me, aren’t you?

Three fairly small roast potatoes were included. They were actually properly roasted but sadly they had lost their crispy edges. However what they lost in crispiness they more than made up with the exquisite taste of the goose-fat that they had been roasted in. Even if you had never had roast potatoes cooked in goose fat – you’d know these were. Superb stuff.

The Yorkshire pudding was a decent homemade effort – it hadn’t risen incredibly and was quite medium sized but it was good.

Then comes the meat. Where to start?

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I shall start with the beef, which was on the edges just a touch dry but it had a certain flakiness to it of earlier-cooked beef. It had been cooked medium-rare – soft and pinkish on the middle but crispy and grey/brown on the outside. The fatty parts were included too which were divine.

Then the pork which was succulent and juicy, not forgetting the bits of fat that were included to enhance the taste. It also came with a strip of crackling which was perfection – crunchy on top, soft and juicy underneath. Even my crack addict teeth were able to crunch it.

Perfection almost came with the lamb which was just delicious. Sometimes the flavour of lamb doesn’t come out properly, normally when it is quickly cooked but this was superb. As I said, delicious.

All came in sizeable thick slices and it really was a struggle to finish.

And it just leaves to mention the gravy, which was innocuous and very thin. Nothing wrong with the flavour, it was light and complimented the food nicely. But not what you’d call a gravy up north.

There is room for improvement.  It was all very good or excellent but it wasn’t a 9.  It didn’t quite beat The Crown at Playhatch but it was the closest I’ve come to beating it.

It gets a rather marvellous 8.6 out of 10.

So many highlights from quantity to all of the meat, oh and the cracking – but the goose-fat taste on the roasties was that moment.  As a lowlight the gravy was far too thin for my liking but still good.  On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale it gets a Stafford.

And how did the rest of my day go?  Well, I bought a new bag from town.  And then I bought another type of bag down Oxford Road.  And I made it home nearly 4 hours after my food delivery.

And had 3 hours sleep before my most important day of the year.  Oops.

Next week I am going to tell you how to vote in the EU referendum by way of a roast dinner review, the result of which will not be pre-ordained in any way, oh no, just like Boris’ leave campaign was nothing to do with his leadership desire, oh no, all to do with being faithful to his wife as any good, honest husband would always be.  In out in out we’ll shake it all about.  By the way I did decide against posting the photo of my friend’s willies that I had to take on Sunday.

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Chicken @ The Three Frogs, Wokingham 22/05/2016

Dear FirstName.

Don’t worry, no need to close/delete – this isn’t a Labour Party begging e-mail – though if you do want to give me £20 then you are more than welcome.  I’ll use it more wisely – gravy as opposed to gravy train.

I’ve been suffering from a notable case of GMT recently. Grumpy, Miserable & Tired. I’ve relapsed after a weekend of relative joy so I’m in no mood to put a smile on your face. There won’t be any tranny references, no drug references, no prostitutes, no bad jokes, no random digressions, no pointlessness, no politics and definitely no swearing. Just a plain old personality-free review of a roast dinner.

I do need your help though. £20 should do.

Seriously though, I want to know from you which places you think I need to review before I get shot by the mafia or end up like the orange juice man of Ibiza.

Call it a bucket list. I know I’ve been threatening to stop these reviews for about a year but an end point will come and I want to go out in a blaze of glory.

Comment, e-mail me, message me – whatever. If there is somewhere you really, really want to see me review, good or bad, for whatever reason, I want it on my list.

Yesterday’s roast was selected by my only good friend, the random number generator. It was pleasingly within easy walking distance of my house, despite being in another town.

The Three Frogs was the name. Three roast dinners were on offer for £9.49 each – beer, pork and chicken. I went for the allegedly slow-cooked half a chicken. I’d be cynical even if I weren’t grumpy today.

The menu suggested to me that it should be a step up from a Harvester, but not much else. The décor of the pub suggested similar – garish purple-patterned carpet that has been laid in more pubs than your average whore, with ugly haggard tables yet half-decent chairs. More suited for the football fan than the restaurant critic, of which I am only vaguely either.

Shit, I think I accidentally attempted humour in there. Doh.

I had called in advance and reserved a roast dinner. They serve them until close but warned me that they do sell out. And by time I arrived at 4pm, mine was the only one left. Some people might suggest this was a good sign.

I waited around 15 minutes as the queue for the microwave must have been quite long.

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Let’s start with the red cabbage. Never my favourite vegetable, a pile of it was splodged onto the plate. I tried to eat some of it, however there was so much water involved that every time I took a bite, a small river of purple water would run down and infect my gravy, of which there wasn’t exactly a reservoir of.

I quickly gave up and moved onto the broccoli. Unfortunately this had been in some kind of reservoir for it was also soggier than an English bank holiday weekend. It had been boiled/steamed so long that it had just about lost its green colour. Edible.

Also on the soggy side were the carrots. Which was a shame as they were nice carrots – those small chantannoy ones, replete with outer skin, as carrots should be. But could have been mashed with a fork. A plastic fork.

The Yorkshire pudding was average at best. It appeared a home-grown effort, yet was somewhat rubbery and chewy. I’ve had worse.

At least the chicken had some cracked pepper on it, and it was a larger half-chicken than you would get at Nando’s – the most over-rated restaurant chain in the country, living on past glories of when they didn’t use disfigured malnourished mini-chickens, and nobody had yet discovered peri-peri.

I once wrote to Nando’s and offered to write a blog about their restaurant in exchange for two free whole chickens – the deal being that I would have to eat both whole chickens in one sitting, otherwise I would have to pay.

They wrote back to me to thank me for my suggestion, but that the only discounts they have available were for NHS, fire service and police. Why on earth well-paid public sector workers get a discount and average-paid roast dinner reviewers don’t, is another matter. Though I guess they work harder than me. Well, NHS and police, anyway. Hopefully my firefighting cousins will read this and withdraw my invite to the wedding I’m subjected to in a couple of weeks.

I guess that’s why Nando’s was smashed up when Portugal beat England in the football a few years back.

Actually the last time I went to a wedding of one of my cousins on that side of the family, I was served a roast dinner.  It was a pretty good one too. Why on earth don’t we allow firefighters to retire at 40, and double their pay?

Then again, I only got one Yorkshire pudding and those on the top table got two. Vote Tory.

So the chicken. It was tasteless yet edible. The breast portion was a touch dry, the skin was limp and soggy, the thigh nice – the remainder in trace amounts. The cracked black pepper added nothing.

The gravy was a pretty standard Bisto kind of affair – very little on the plate but more was forthcoming on request, albeit not a huge amount more.

Not exactly a great roast dinner but there is something that I have not yet mentioned. Roast potatoes. I can see that you are expecting a variety of rarely-used vocabulary.

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Yes, the roast potatoes were excellent. Almost perfection. Had they been freshly served then they would have been some of the best ever. And despite the obvious cooling and reheating, they were the best this year by some way. Proper crispy edges, fluffy on the inside – there were even 5 of them.

Albeit the one nearest the red cabbage ended up purple.

Surprised?

If only the rest of the roast dinner was that good. The excellent roasties rescued a fairly poor to average dinner – the rating therefore is 5.5 out of 10 – about half of which is for the spuds.

The highlight was the roasties – the lowlight everything else.

On the way out, I was advised that I was the envy of the pub, having had the last roast dinner. Quite.

Next Sunday (hangover dependent) I’m going to somewhere that apparently holds Morris dancing events. Unless I have a willing driver, in which case I’ll get them to head out into the sticks instead.

I hope you didn’t smile. I’m still miserable and grumpy, although I have nearly cracked a smile about the lesbian action at the night I DJ at on Friday.

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Chicken @ The Dog & Duck, Wokingham 29/11/2015

I eventually woke up on Sunday, still with a monstrous hangover from Friday night, a fair chunk of a cold but even worse than any of that – a missing earphone to block out the noise of Bracknell.

I set myself just one goal for the day and that was to get a roast dinner and go back to bed.

Fortunately the choice of venue was the Dog & Duck in Wokingham, chosen by Mymatedave TM. I do believe that it is important to mix with as wide a variety of society as possible, and everyone should definitely have a mate called Dave. He was pretty much the first person that I met in Reading back in 1998 and a love of pies, beer and of course, roast dinners has helped keep the bonds of friendship 17 years later.

On the way I was wondering whether John Redwood frequented this establishment (for some reason I always want to call him Sir John Redwood), but upon arrival I found that it was not in the most salubrious area of Wokingham – in fact it looked like your typical chav-hole, albeit with some redeeming features on the front of the pub (ignoring the BT sports sticker).

As a venue it did seem a bit confused – I couldn’t tell initially what it was trying to be, but I eventually settled on it having been a chav-hole a while ago, and now possibly under new management, who were trying to take it a little more upmarket.

The clues as to it potentially being under new management continued – as I’m pretty sure I overheard the landlady say that it was the first week that they were doing roast dinners. Had I realised this in advance, then I would have gone elsewhere. One of the many things that I have learnt from the illustrious Edible Reading, is that you should give new places a chance to bed in before you judge them.

However, I wasn’t going to up sticks and find somewhere else to go, so you’ll just have to bear in mind that (assuming I overheard correctly), this was their first roast dinner serving.

I’m really not feeling this review. I’m kind of tempted to delete the whole lot and start again. It doesn’t really flow, does it? Do you think John Redwood reads my reviews? Is there anyone more famous than John Redwood in Wokingham?

There were three vegetables on the plate – the tenderstem broccoli was plentiful, and had plenty of bite to it too. All of the vegetables seem to have been steam-cooked.

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The carrots came whole and with their skin on (the best way). They were slightly larger than baby carrots – although they did seem somewhat undercooked in the middle which is a theme that we will return to.

There were also parsnips, again they seemed to have been steamed and surely parsnips should be roasted? Too bright a light yellow colour, and a little under-cooked too.

I would just like to add that I absolutely love immigrants.

A few minutes into the meal the cauliflower cheese arrived, that I would have totally forgotten about otherwise. It was really creamy – really, really creamy, with quite a bite to it again, and also a sprinkling of fresh parsley. It could have done with just a few minutes in the oven to crispen the top of the cauliflower – it kind of seemed more like the cream was added to the cauliflower afterwards rather than cooked with it.

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There were three roast potatoes (back to the Berkshire standard), all slightly oily on the outside – soft enough on the inside but next to no roasty crispiness on the outside. I was at an advantage having a roast dinner at midday so they wouldn’t have been stood around all day and were freshly cooked. But they could have done with a good 10 minutes more roasting.

The chicken was…a little, erm undercooked. Well, the drumstick was anyway, it even had a couple of spots of blood near the bone which I completely avoided (see mum, I do listen to you occasionally). I like my meat pink and I’m not obsessive about avoiding pink chicken like my mother is, but the drumstick could have done with quite a few minutes more in the oven – I wouldn’t have served it to myself.

No such complaints with the important part of the chicken though, the breast, and there was plenty to eat too. There was a good half a chicken (not a Nando’s half, an actual half) and it came complete with skin. Hmmmm chicken skin.

I really liked the stuffing ball. 3 weeks in a row I’ve had stuffing – it must be Christmas? No complaints on the undercooking, it was a herby delight with a crust to the edges.

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The Yorkshire SpongeBob wasn’t so impressive. How the hell do you turn a Yorkshire pudding into a sponge? I’ve made some Yorkshire puddings in the past that closely resembled pancakes but I really do not understand how they can turn into a sponge ball? How can they go that wrong? Edible but not much else.

A decent effort on the gravy. A fair consistency, it seemed to have a hint of chicken stock but it did linger for some time on the tongue. Perhaps a touch too much salt.

The overall theme was clearly that it needed a little more cooking. It was well presented (as if that matters) and reasonably tasty but didn’t jump off the plate and make me want to eat there again.

As I mentioned earlier, it is perhaps unfair to review somewhere if it is their first week doing roasts, so maybe there is much more to come. They were using tenderstem broccoli which is a promising sign – many places will only give you bog-standard broccoli. Plus there were occasional hints of herbs. Hopefully someone will go in a few weeks and tell me how good it has become.

I’m going to give it a 6.6 out of 10. Slap bang in the middle of averageness – as I mentioned, I suspect there is more to come from this pub once they are properly up and running. Service was good throughout – the wrong beer was initially brought out, we hadn’t realised but they did and came and replaced it. They were keen to ensure we enjoyed our meal, whether we needed anything extra (gravy, of course) and I do wish them all the best on their new venture.

The highlight was probably the stuffing ball, the lowlight was definitely the sponge. On the Yorkshire-Surrey scale it rates a Nuneaton.

Well my review is written and I’m still not happy with it. It is as if I had never written a review before. It seems very undercooked? Does John Redwood go out for roast dinners?

Next weekend I’m up in Hull to see my grandma but I’ll be back in time to grab a roast somewhere. Forgive me if I decide to go somewhere in Bracknell or on the Waterloo train line.

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