Monday, 29 December 2014

Chicken @ The Lyndhurst 28/12/2014

The Lyndhurst used to be my local.  It always had a warm, welcoming feel to it, a good range of beers and good food.  Always.

So it was a surprise when it closed earlier this year.

Thankfully it has been re-opened, the kitchen has been refitted and roast dinners are back on.  Served until 6pm so as not to compete with the pub quiz at 8pm and at an efficient price of £9.95 – the cheapest roast I have reviewed to date.

The welcome was voluminously complaisant – warmth and humour exuded from the host and hostess, invigorating my slightly fragile mind and body, which was immediately endearing and I dearly wished to be able to give a review as warm as their welcome.

Beef and chicken were the options, I had reviewed lots of beef recently so it had to be chicken.  But wait a minute, there is a lamb shank available – oh yes please.

Actually, oh no there isn’t.

It is still panto season isn’t it?

When the roast arrived, my immediate impressions were of a home-cooked roast dinner, it looked similar to something my mother would make.

Sadly there was only one vegetable – peas were also due to be served however as they are the anti-Christ of the vegetable world due to their lack of discipline, I was left with just one rooty delight – carrots.  And they were fine.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The potatoes were real home-cooked roast potatoes, sadly no crispiness but these were an improvement on most of the offerings in recent reviews.

Two Yorkshire puddings were served – small in size and soft throughout.  They really should be soft-bottomed only with a somewhat crispy outer shell.  Far from perfection but better than the over-cooked offering from London Street Brasserie.

There were several generously sized slices of roast chicken, along with two wings.  It was definitely from a real chicken, it was tender, nicely cooked – however I felt it was a little ordinary in taste – some lemon infusion or some herbs would have greatly increased the score.

It being a chicken roast, I was disappointed that there was no stuffing offered.

Finally, the gravy.  Good marks for consistency, it was actually gravy-like consistency, however there was that tinge of something like tomato that a lot of places seem to feel necessary to spice up a roast dinner and ends up making the gravy, and hence the roast dinner, a touch tiresome.

I still asked for extra.

It’s a tricky one to give a rating to.  My heart wants to give a higher rating than my belly does, due to the very warm friendly welcome, and general excellent service – it seemed as though nothing was too much effort.

There was nothing wrong with the food and the home-cooked feel was particularly endearing, however there is plenty of room for improvement.

6.3 is my rating.  I do recommend a roast dinner here.

And I have a feeling that if I go back in a few months, which is inevitable, there will be a higher score.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Turkey Christmas Dinner @ Hilton Hotel, Bracknell

Welcome to my unexpected Christmas special.

I didn’t intend to review my work Christmas dinner – it doesn’t really count as a Sunday roast despite having most of the ingredients, however this was something else.

Generally I loathe these types of gatherings – they seem like something a cruel government would inflict on its citizens as punishment, however I actually like a couple of my colleagues, there was gravy on offer, it was free and included some free drinks.  It being a Hilton, I was expecting the lovely Paris to be DJing, sadly there was not even a hologram of her DJing.  Perhaps our Christmas party budget does not stretch to £500,000 for the DJ.

Anyway, I straightened my hair, filled up my new hip flask with vodka and I was reddehtegurrrr, as we say in ‘Ull.  By the way, it is a city in the north of England.  No, it isn’t near Newcastle.

The starter was pate.  I have to gurrrr back up north in 10 days so I thought best to reduce my risk of being beaten up and declined to eat it.  Otherwise I’ll be accused of being a Cockney again.  Urrrrgh yuv lost yurrr akkscent, yurrahCockneh.

The main meal arrived.  This I can eat.  Though whether I should have done is another question.

The sprouts were anaemic-looking green balls which one imagines could have been excreted by Dale Winton after a particularly long greens-only diet.

Carrots.  It is hard to do carrots wrong and they were mass-cooked and microwaved in standard format.

Parsnips.  Uncooked.  At least they were defrosted.

Was there any chance perhaps of some nice, crispy roast potatoes?  Ho Ho Ho.  3 small soggy items with a rough edge, kind of like a fine sandpaper.

And finally, the piece de resistance – the turkey.  Now turkey can be dry when cooked but this was extra dry.  I didn’t taste any turkey and can only assume that it was some recycled cardboard reformed and injected with turkey stem cells.  MacDonalds chicken nuggets have a closer resemblance to meat than this turkey did.

You may also have noticed some gooey thing on top of the processed things.  I couldn’t quite decide what this was – imagine stuffing, but in a jelly texture that tastes of bacon.

The gravy, sorry, I mean shiny brown water, was invisible when my dinner arrived.  However they had a gravy boat especially for me so I could drown my reformed manufactures.  Interestingly, the remaining gravy in said gravy boat actually had some consistency to it an hour later.

Now I have had a worse meal before.  A group of us went to Island Bar many years ago and some food was actually still frozen upon arrival.  At least this dinner was defrosted and microwaved.  Not sure when it was microwaved as I do not recall any particular warmth.

When I was at university, I did once just complete the name section on an exam paper to see if I got a mark for it.  I didn’t.

In a similar kind of way, I feel that the Hilton hotel does deserve at least some credit for not serving frozen food and also not giving me food poisoning.  Not quite a whole point though.

So I give it a 0.8 out of 10.

I did enjoy the bread roll.  And yes I did get chucked out of university.  Voluntarily.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Beef @ London Street Brasserie 07/12/2014

It’s probably my last roast dinner review before Christmas.  Next Sunday I am cooking the house Christmas roast dinner and the weekend after I am away.

So I decided to treat myself to one of the more expensive options on my to-do list, London Street Brasserie.

I forgot about the idea of booking ahead and we were lucky to get a table in the bar area – otherwise it would have been a 2 hour wait.  It is a popular restaurant for a good reason or two.

It was a slightly confusing pricing structure.  Having looked at it online, I had concluded that it was £16.50 for two courses, with a surcharge of £3.95 if you wanted cauliflower cheese.

However on closer inspection, it was actually £16.50 for two courses and a £3.95 surcharge if the main course you desired was the roast dinner.  Or £12.80 plus a £3.95 surcharge if you just wanted a roast dinner.  My friend asked the waitress for an explanation of the pricing structure and was given a rather curt “how many bloody times do I have to explain this” kind of response, a rather inauspicious start.

Apologies for the repetition but I had to review roast beef again – it was the only roast on offer.  As far as I can tell they only offer one option each week.  It was my intention not to repeat meats but I’m not the first person from Hull to break a rule.

Our roasts arrives in a timely manner after a 15 or so minute wait, along with the apparently slightly ungenerous medley of vegetables to share between 3 of us, though this notion was dispelled when the cauliflower cheese arrived 2 minutes later, with an apology for it being late.  Definitely enough vegetables overall.

The medley of vegetables contained carrots, green beans and mange tout (appropriately-named vegetable considering the DJ “Eats Everything” played in our town on Friday night), topped with parsley.  My imagination seems to recall some broccoli in the mix but the photographic evidence does not concur.  The vegetables were on the right side of crunchy, the mange tout perhaps a little much so.  Personally I cook my vegetables a little softer, but…carrots for courses, as the saying goes.  A real food critic would probably appreciate the crunch more than myself.

There were just two potatoes.  Decent size, cooked through but without a hint of crispiness.  If you are only going to give us two roast potatoes then surely they could be on the crispy side?  It isn’t too difficult – Jamie Oliver taught me – just chuff them up (his words, not mine innit pukka bruv).  I am however content with the quantity as the plate didn’t lack depth – especially with the size of the Yorkshire pudding.

Controversially ignoring my usual order and skipping back to the vegetables - the cauliflower cheese was really nice.  Soft cauliflower with a creamy mild cheese – I cannot tell you which cheese – I can tell the difference between Red Leicester and Cheddar but that is about my limitation.

It does look quite superb doesn't it?

The Yorkshire pudding, however, was not so impressive.  It looks impressive but so does Blackpool Tower.  It was overcooked – more crunchy than the vegetables and not even soft-bottomed given the lack of gravy.

Now is probably a good time to talk gravy.  It was that discoloured water-based concoction which foodies probably salivate over but confuses us northerners.  It tasted nice, but there was very little of it and had a viscosity possibly lower than superfluid helium.  We asked for more gravy but it still didn’t satisfy requirements - however the little flat hipster-style gravy pan was pretty funky.

Thankfully I am finishing on a high.  The sirloin of beef consisted of two large slices, around 4-5mm thick, cooked perfect to my tastes – quite rare on the inside, medium on the outside with a slight crisp to the edge.  It really was excellent beef.

What else?  Apart from the initial curt response, the service was good, the staff all smartly dressed in black – there did seem to be an abundance of fairly young good-looking girls, which kind of reminds me of Waitrose in Bracknell where all the staff are fresh-faced and good-looking.

I like the restaurant, there is a good feel in there or ‘ambience’ as my posh southern friends from Bracknell might say.  At £16.95 it was the most expensive roast that I have reviewed so far and not the best.

Expectations can be problematic in life.  Like when you pay a load of money to go see a really good DJ/band/opera in London (or whatever your thing) that you are really excited about – and coming back with a slightly flat feeling for you may have had a better night out than the night before down your local when you went out for one beer and had a ton of fun but it doesn’t seem like it because you expected so much more.  So trying to tie in the slightly unexpectedly disappointing analogy, I had high expectations and these were not met.

But it wasn’t a bad roast.

I have had really good meals in there in the past – a quite exquisite lamb shank particularly sticks in the memory.  Really, really good.

If you are going to go on a Sunday then I would suggest choosing another option - £16.50 for two courses at lunch is a good deal for what is a very good dining experience.

It scored a respectable 6.6 out of 10.  I dearly wish I could have rated it higher and I will definitely be back to eat there.  But not for a roast.

Oh gosh I forgot to mention the Watercress.  How could I?!  It had a rather tangy taste to it.  Or maybe it wasn’t watercress?  Forgive me if I’m wrong, we don’t eat salad where I come from.  It was less pointless than the side-salad at Sweeney & Todd but I still didn’t understand it.  Maybe I should just be quiet and appreciate something different?

All being well, I will be back in 3 weeks.  I wish all my readers and enjoyable festive period.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Scores & Schedule

I've had a couple of requests for a league table - I have also included my to-do list.

1. The Crown (Playhatch) - 8.7                            £13.00
2. The Bull (Wargrave) - 8.5                                £13.95
3. The Packhorse -8.5                                           £16.49
4. The Black Boy - 8.2                                          £13.95
5. Castle Inn (Hurst) - 8.1                                     £18.95 (2 courses)
6. The Plowden Arms - 8.0                                   £16.00
7. The Miller Of Mansfield (Goring) - 7.5           £19.00
8. The Thatched Tavern (Ascot) - 7.5                   £21.95 (2 courses)
9. Malmaison - 7.4                                                 £19.95 + SC (3 courses)
10. The Swan (Pangbourne) - 7.1                          £14.00 + SC
11. Fox & Hounds (Theale) - 7.0                           £10.95
12. The Nag's Head (Reading) - 6.8                      £9.00
13. London Street Brasserie - 6.6                           £16.95
14. The Green Man (Hurst) - 6.5                           £12.50
15. The Bird In Hand (Sandhurst) - 6.4                 £11.00
16. The Lyndhurst - 6.3                                          £9.95
17. The Jolly Farmer (Hurst) - 6.1                         £8.95 
18. The Shoulder Of Mutton (Playhatch) - 6.1     £11.50
19. The Griffin (Caversham) - 6.0                        £10.50
20. The George (Winnersh Triangle) - 5.8            £11.99
21. The Spring Inn (Sulhamstead) - 5.5                £13.95
22. The Cunning Man (Burghfield) - 5.4              £11.50
23. The Moderation (Reading/Caversham) - 5.2  £10.00
24. The World Turned Upside Down - 4.4           £8.99
25. Toby Carvery (Reading/Caversham) - 3.5      £10.99
26. The St George & Dragon (Wargrave) - 3.4    £15.95
27. Oakford Social Club - 2.8                               £10.00
28. The Pheasant Hotel - 1.2                                 £11.00
29. Back Of Beyond, Reading - 0.8                      £6.99

I'm only including those from 2014 onwards.

The to-do list, in no particular order, is as follows:

Barts Restaurant, Reading
Bel & Dragon, Reading
Munchies, Reading
Nags Head, Reading
The Butler, Reading
The Gateway, Reading
The Three Tons, Reading
The Elm Tree, Beech Hill
The Admiral Cunningham, Bracknell
The Hinds Head, Bray
Six Bells, Burghfield
Pack Saddle, Caversham
Fox & Hounds, Caversham
The Horns, Crazies Hill
The Catherine Wheel, Goring
Horse & Groom, Harehatch
The Anchor, Henley
The Bull On Bell Street, Henley
The Little Angel, Henley
The Three Tons, Henley
The Elephant & Castle, Hurst
The Coach, Marlow
The Cross Keys, Pangbourne
The Elephant, Pangbourne
The Farriers Arms, Shinfield
Bell & Bottle, Shinfield
The Baskerville, Shiplake
The Bull, Sonning
The Swan, Streatley
The Crown, Swallowfield
The George & Dragon, Swallowfield
The Millhouse, Swallowfield
Woody Nook, Woodcote
The Rowbarge, Woolhampton
The Five Horse Shoes (drive only)
The Wellington Arms (drive only)

Suggestions welcome.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Beef @ The Fox & Hounds (Theale) 30/11/2014

It’s been a while since the last review.  Weekends away along with rather special hangovers on other occasions have denied my ability to review a roast dinner – and it isn’t exactly as if I can go for a Sunday roast on a Thursday evening instead.

Sunday came and a very noisy house meant that I was awake several hours before I desired, though also before my hangover had kicked in so I span my imaginary compass and headed west towards Theale.  Or is it Burghfield?

A 6.5 mile walk being enough to work up a hunger.  I called the Fox & Hounds in advance to book a table – it was fairly busy though I am sure they would have been able to seat me without the advance reservation.

The pub itself is a country-ish pub – out in the sticks but close enough to local villages of Theale and Burghfield to keep it busy.  Clean and tidy inside, with slightly-rustic tables – plenty of outdoor seating and free Wi-Fi – important when one is dining by oneself (I was hesitant to arrange to meet anyone for a roast in case given the anticipated hangover).  Plenty of seating outside too for pleasant summer drinking.

The final point before I get onto the real subject matter is the drinks – little is more disappointing than turning up to a pub and finding out that they sell nothing more adventurous than Carling/Strongbow, etc.  This wasn’t the case – the drinks available were of good quality – I had a very nice country cider which I had not had before – I cannot recall the brand but let’s face it, the only liquid of real interest here is gravy.

Beef or turkey were the choices – the cows I passed on the way had turned my mind to beef so that was an easy choice.  I waited 15-20 minutes for it to arrive which is what one would prefer – it is always wondrously concerning when a roast dinner arrives just 5 minutes after ordering, like it did at The Cunning Man.

The vegetables were presented in a separate dish to the real part of the roast – the vegetable bowls being larger the more populated your table was.  Overall the presentation was good – not enough gravy for my northern-tastes but this was soon resolved with a request for extra gravy.  And I approved of the carrots standing up.  And if the Moderation chef is reading - more than 2 carrots!


Cabbage isn't my favourite vegetable – especially not the red variety.  It was quite crunchy and made an acceptable accomplice.  The baby carrots were good – perfectly cooked if a tad uninteresting.  The final root-based offering was mashed parsnip.  A pleasant taste but I would have much rather have had whole roasted parsnips.  Overall not my favourite medley of vegetables but I did appreciate the effort to differentiate.

3 roast potatoes seemed a bit stingy.  At least they were sizable and cooked well – albeit with soggy rather than crispy outsides.

The Yorkshire pudding was excellent.  Close to perfection – a soft base, crispy outsides and delightfully large – probably the best Yorkshire pudding in the reviews so far.

An excellent fork-friend to the decent standard beef – which was two pleasingly large slices of an average depth – one assumes topside of beef.  It had an outer rim of fat alongside one edge – not to everyone’s liking but always to mine.  It was good but nothing special.

And onto the item which can really make or break a roast – the gravy.  It was normal beef gravy.  No strange taste.  Like the rest of the roast dinner it was decent but unremarkable.  Nowhere near as thick as I would prefer but one has to remember that I was having a roast in Burghfield – not Bradford.

Given that the last two reviews have featured bad gravy – unremarkable was most welcome.

The price was £10.95 which down here is reasonable.  Up north and one would be moaning.  The service was sufficiently pleasant enough for a Yorkshire man to leave a tip.

Definitely worth noting is that they only serve roasts until 2:30pm.  They advised booking in advance but as I mentioned, I am not sure it is necessary.

It was certainly a commendable roast dinner overall.  The best I have had since early this year at The Crown in Playhatch – which really still stands out as the best in the local area and is clearly going to take some beating.

In numbers The Fox & Hounds roast gets a reasonably decent 7.0 out of me.

Recommended – you will enjoy it but you probably won’t write about it.