Monday, 26 January 2015

Beef, Pork & Lamb Carvery @ The Crown, Playhatch 25/01/2015

Happy Birthday To Me.  Let’s Eat Some Gravy.

Yes it was my birthday weekend, so I could break all the rules I wished which included drinking red wine for breakfast but more pertinently, revisit an establishment that I had already reviewed.

It being my birthday I had decided to invite my friends to come for a roast at the 2014 RDAR winner – The Crown, in Playhatch.  There has to be a good reason to revisit a venue, under new management for example, or a new chef being in place (The Lyndhurst is back on my to-do list), but in this case I just wanted to go back to my favourite, take as many friends as possible and hope it is still as good as last year.

The Crown is a very popular venue and one I had to book 2 weeks in advance for a sizable group of us.  They have two sittings – one at midday and one at 3pm

I packed a very healthy-sized dinner for just £13.00.  A carvery choice that included turkey, gammon, lamb, pork and beef – I had the latter three.  I don’t think I could have put any more on my plate – and I held the queue up whilst I poured more and more and more gravy on – though this time I didn’t leave a gravy trail like I did the other week at a venue in Northamptonshire (there was no protesting that it was nothing to do with me – the trail led all the way onto my table – it was their fault for serving such small plates).

The choices of vegetables were red cabbage, carrots and broccoli-cheese.  I just had the broccoli as it smelt gorgeous, and tasted so too.  The cheese was just the right amount, more than a hint and mixed in a creamy fashion with the gravy.  The broccoli was a tad on the crunchy side but a very healthy vegetable.

I know I should have had all 3 vegetables for the review but my birthday, my rules.

The roast potatoes were a decent effort.  Not really any crispiness on the edges but still soft inside.  If anywhere can do really good roast potatoes this year then they may take the crown off…The Crown.

Yeah I know.

The Yorkshire Puddings were excellent.  There were some flatter offerings but mine had sturdy edges and soft bottoms like they should – I only went for two.  There were little bits of crackling too which were very tasty and not too crunchy.

All of the meats were good.  The beef was a little red on the inside, which is perfect.  The pork was good.  The lamb in particular was very nice.  It is always nice to see large lumps of meat and the portion-sizes were generous.

And most importantly, the gravy.  It had an excellent consistency (I would make it thicker myself but it probably wouldn’t appeal to the average southerner), it was made with a meat stock and was quite a strong taste.  In fact possibly a touch too strong as I did get a little tired of it towards the end of my very large meal.

Sunday was a success.  Several people told me it was the best roast they have eaten in a while.  Everyone was impressed and it remains my favourite roast dinner.

My rating is an 8.7 which is almost the same as last year.

It remains top of the roast dinner league.  However I have a feeling that somewhere will beat it, somewhere will take the crown off The Crown.  A ha ha ha ha ha ha.

It wasn’t funny the first time was it?

If you appreciate my reviews, please do like, share and invite your friends to my page.  Call it my birthday present, if you wish!

Monday, 19 January 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.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Chicken @ Oakford Social Club 11/01/2015

Around 5-6 years ago, myself and our friends used to go to the Oakford Social Club almost every Sunday.  This was the era when they had crayons, paints and canvasses on the tables for budding artists to draw pictures of bearded dwarves conjoined to tables over a nest of wasps.

It was always busy, sometimes we had to wait for a table.  We always had a roast dinner – sometimes they were very good, other times they were fairly awful.  Generally the staff were hopelessly forgetful and looked like they were on some form of tranquilizer.  It was a great place to spend a hungover Sunday.

Then they stopped doing the art.  They stopped doing the roasts.  And assumedly stopped doing the tranquilizer as the service is much better nowadays.  The really cute girl with short hair left.  We stopped going.

Myself and two close friends actually set off to go to The Blagrave Arms yesterday, having heard good things about their roast.  Alas it was closed so we went around the corner to our old home, the Oakford.  Sadly I had left my fake beard at home but did have coloured trousers on so I didn’t stand out too much.

I was a little pushed for time, having just 40 minutes until I had to meet someone - thankfully there was no kitchen queue.  The menu offered a choice of beef, chicken or something vegetarian that I took absolutely no notice of.  No beef left so chicken was the only option for an anti-vegetarian such as myself.

Despite there being no kitchen wait, it still took 30 minutes for the roast to arrive.  I have to say that I was not especially hopeful for a good roast dinner.  I really like the Oakford as a pub but just had a feeling that the roast was going to be awful.  My expectations were not changed upon arrival.

The vegetables were a seasonal root vegetable mix.  All quite soft and soggy, with a little microwave-warmth.  Swede, carrot, parsnip, onion, possibly some curly kale were in cube-like evidence.  Edible but not enjoyable.  Actually I quite liked the parsnip.

5 minutes later our separately-ordered cauliflower cheese arrived, and my extra gravy.  The cauliflower itself was fine but the cheese was runny and messy – I do prefer more of a sticky kind of feel to the cheese on cauliflower cheese.

The roast potatoes were the worst I have reviewed so far.  The word “roast” would be unjustified – they were cold inside, as if they had been reheated in the microwave.  Which they had been.

The Yorkshire pudding was burnt.

I do have something good to say.  There was a lot of chicken – a whole half of a chicken.  It was a touch on the dry side but more generous than I have experienced elsewhere.  I particularly enjoyed the breast.

And the gravy was a reasonable effort too.  One of those red-wine efforts that kind of taste like tomato.  A meat stock-based gravy would have been far more welcome but it did have a good consistency – this and the chicken rescued the roast – to an extent.

I am saddened to give such a bad review.  There is a lot to like about the Oakford – the staff are friendly, the burgers are excellent, the range of beers is one of my personal favourites in Reading – the crowd is generally good and music far more interesting than most places in the town centre offer.

It’s uniqueness does seem to have been faded by central office control over the years, and the roast dinner is a particularly disappointing example of this.  What might work in an inner-city pub in Stoke does not transfer to a hipster-style pub in Berkshire.  Horses for courses.

The roast dinner being bad isn’t down to the chef – it is down to what the pub is supplied with by central office.  The course is right but the horse is wrong.

A sad, lonely 2.8 out of 10 for what is my favourite Reading watering-hole, my favourite burger joint – and now my least-favourite roast dinner joint.


Monday, 5 January 2015

Lamb Shoulder @ The Packhorse, Mapledurham, 04/01/2015

I decided to head north for this episode.  The Packhorse in Mapledurham was my chosen destination.  I was impressed by the up to date website, and the temptation of lamb shoulder was too much to resist.  Not only that, they serve food from midday until 9pm on a Sunday.

I walked there – via Mapledurham House, through some woods, alongside a golf course and by time I was on the A1074 I was hungry, thirsty and tired.  At 15 minutes’ walk away, I saw the Pack & Saddle, and strongly considered just going there instead.

Perseverance pervaded through my legs and I arrived to the smart, warm country pub that is The Pack Horse.  I can see it being a really nice location for a drink in warm sunshine.  It was busy, I probably should have booked ahead - there were no tables in the restaurant but there was seating available in the cosy bar.  Which was warm – except when some morons decided to hold the door to the garden open and have a conversation for several minutes.

I had high hopes for this roast.  There was something about the menu – the fact it was updated online that morning impressed me (it’s the small things sometimes), the font and clarity of the menu helped too.  £16.95 for the lamb shoulder seemed pricey – there were several other options that were cheaper.

Upon roast arrival, my first reaction was “is that it?”.  It didn’t exactly fill the plate – then again I filled my plate at Toby Carvery and that remains the worst roast in Reading so far.

And then I saw the vegetable offering.  Red cabbage – which I have never enjoyed, some strange mustard-coloured paste and greens – which mainly consisted of cabbage.  And just 3 roast potatoes.  Again.  What is it with the roast potato limit around here?

Undeterred, I got stuck into the red cabbage, mixing it with the paste – which from taste seemed to be like pureed swede – I could be wrong on this.

It ended up a bit of a taste sensation, certainly compared to expectations.  It was the first time I had actually enjoyed red cabbage, and mixed with the swede was quite special.

Mixed greens were next, these were fairly standard – mostly consisting of cabbage, with one solitary pea (I forgave them for this indiscretion), one mange tout, one cube of green bean and one slice of carrot.  Tastier than expected.

All good so far.  Potatoes.  They were a tad crispy on the outside, just a tad, and soft and fluffy on the inside.  Deceptively small as they took 3 bites to consume – I do not have a small mouth.

The Yorkshire pudding was excellent.  Exactly as it should be – crispy sides and a soft, slightly soggy base.  As close to perfection as I have reviewed so far.

Then the meat.  The lamb shoulder was so tender, pieces glided off it like a skier on the snow.  It was supremely tasty and there was a lot of it – far more lamb than I was expecting.  Again – deceptively small.

And the gravy?  It arrived as just the usual southern trickle but more was forthcoming upon request.  It doesn’t win top marks for consistency, it was acceptable to my desires however the taste was most excellent.  A real meat stock-based gravy that I just wanted more and more and more of.

Was anything wrong?  Well, the service was perfunctory at best – it would be nice to at least be acknowledged when saying goodbye.  I also thought it was standard to be asked how one’s meal was.  But there are far more marks to be gained from good gravy than good service.

Dear friends and readers – this was the best roast dinner so far of 2015.  This is the standard to beat.

A truly excellent roast.  8.5 out of 10.