The Conquering Hero, Upper Norwood

Sometimes I’m so inspired that I start writing this blog before I even go for a roast dinner.

Sometimes I start writing when I get home that evening.

But occasionally, I just have absolutely no inspiration.

It isn’t like I’m writing a masterpiece. I could just pretend that I’m writing the Vote Leave campaign and make up any old shit. Remind me, was it last October that Turkey joined the EU?

Whilst Brexit might be an absolute disgrace, I think I have found something that has topped it.

Watermelon steak roast dinner. What the fuck?

Yes, I found this on Twitter – apparently being served at The Coburn in East London.

There is quite a plethora of issues this raises. Firstly fruit should not accompany anything savoury. No pineapple on pizza, no peaches in salad, no oranges in beer, no strawberries on lamb chops, no blueberries in sausage rolls, no pears in a bacon sandwich. And absolutely no fucking fruit on a roast dinner. Even apple sauce on pork – why would you degrade a gorgeous lump of pork with apples?

Then there is the language issue – only steaks are steaks. Cauliflowers do not have steaks. Watermelons do not have steaks. A pint of bitter does not have a steak. Steaks are steaks – I’m not even sure pork steaks are acceptable language, but I’ll let that pass. DO NOT CULTURALLY MISAPPROPRIATE STEAK.

Finally, if you really have to serve a vegetarian roast, which is anathema to all those working down pit before Harold Wilson closed them (circa 290 closed under Wilson, circa 160 closed under Thatcher) then watermelon…watermelon…I don’t actually know how to finish this. Hmmm. Brexit means Brexit. By the way I started writing this introduction months ago. Apart from the watermelon bit.

So the place I went to this week definitely wouldn’t have even seen a watermelon inside. My Brexit friend (token Brexit friend is the new token black friend…”I’m not a remoaner, I have a Brexit friend”) wanted to go for a roast dinner near to where Nigel Farage lives, and the nearest place on my to-do list was The Conquering Hero in…Upper Norwood?


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Three tube trains, one mainline train and 30 minutes walk (finished by a very steep hill) later and I would have been there. Except my Brexit friend picked me up in his car so I didn’t have to walk, and nor did I then need to try to navigate the gravel surfaces in the men’s toilets to wake myself up with a line of cocaine.

The moral of the story being that not all Brexiters are wankers.

The Conquering Hero is the furthest south that I’ve reviewed – in fact it was so far into the deep south that I was kind of expecting some Trump supporters to tell me that I had too much of a suntan to be on their train carriage.

Inside The Conquering Hero was…different. Looks-wise it wasn’t the most salubrious – the toilets were old and basic, the padded bench was duct-taped and uncomfortable. The bar stuck out quite significantly into the entrance area, and with a cluster of locals sat at the bar it wasn’t the most anonymous of entrances.

I don’t think many people reserve tables there, and there was no option to do so on the website – which looked nearly as old as the pub’s decoration. I actually had to telephone to reserve. It was like I was in a pub up north. I fear that I may have an element of undeserved disdain in the above paragraphs – The Conquering Hero seemed a community-feel pub with a more affordable menu than most places in London – and apparently a pig in the garden. Not that we realised there was a garden during our visit.

The menu options consisted of beef, half a chicken, herb-encrusted lamb and slow-cooked pork belly (with fucking apples). And a vegetarian option…though they daren’t put details on the menu…it won’t have been watermelon though. All priced between £10.95 and £12.95 – the cheapest roast dinners that I have seen in London for some time, though negated by the extra transport costs. Nearly two hours it took me. Each way. Tell me I’m a hero. Tell me I’m a conquering hero.

I ordered the lamb at £12.95…I wanted to choose the pork belly but concluded that I was too fat already. But as soon as I saw a pork belly go past I was immediately envious. Oh why am I so fat? Except for the fact that I eat too much and avoid exercise. Maybe I’ll stop this blog and start Salads In London.

15-20 minutes went by whilst I watched the cricket and pretended to listen to my accomplices. And our dinners arrived.

There were a few carrot batons on the plate, roasted – though almost soft enough to make mash with them. More on mash later…

A pleasant surprise included a couple of sweet potato wedges – I assume roasted with the carrots as they had a similar feel to them.

There was a tiny pile of shredded kale, enough for two fork-fulls at most. Kale isn’t the most describable foodstuff in the world, and having just a tiny bit isn’t inspiring me to new adjectives.

Then we had a moment of controversy – as if sweet potato wasn’t enough to question your…location. Mashed potato. Now, if you are going to put mashed potato on a roast dinner, then you need to make sure it is fucking good, and also that there are roast potatoes too.

There were roast potatoes. Allegedly roasted in goose fat though they didn’t especially taste so. The two…yes…two roast potatoes were decent enough. Not quite crispy on the outside, and vaguely soft on the inside. Another 10-15 minutes in the oven and they could have been excellent.

For the mashed potato itself, the menu describes it as creamy. I wouldn’t. Like the roasties, they were decent enough, but lacking in creaminess, lacking in swirly, gooey magic. A bit of pepper, a bit of mustard, some chives – just a little more imagination please if you are going to do mash on a roast.

I do feel that I am sounding too harsh as to this point the roast had been pretty good up to now. Every step could have been improved, but everything was pretty good.

Again the Yorkshire pudding continued the pattern of being pretty good. A medium size, it was well-structured and soft enough.

The lamb stepped things up a gear. It was thinly-sliced and seriously numerous – absolutely no shortage of meat that you would get at somewhere more expensive (albeit with nicer toilets). Nicely pink in the middle and tasting of both garlic and herbs. This was seriously good.

The pork belly was even better. A really large long slab of belly, lots of juicy fat going on, really tender meat and crispy crackling – not a million miles away from excellent, though the crackling hadn’t quite got there – it was both crunchy and chewy.

It being a northern-style roast…and northern-style pub, it should be no surprise that there was some stuffing with the lamb. Yeah – we put stuffing with every style of roast up north. In London, I’m lucky to ever get stuffing. Well, unless I wear this on a night out. I wish I had the belly for a crop top. Trending soon for men. Seriously.

Speaking of which I really want these silver sequin shorts. How cool are they? Alas they cost £50. Kinda tempted to do a crowd-fund for them.

Oh the stuffing was really nice but barely a fork’s worth, so like the kale, impossible to critique except to say: Dear London. Give me stuffing.

The gravy was…OK. A red wine gravy though weakly flavoured (thankfully), it had a sliver of consistency to it, but it was a reminder that I was actually down south. More of a relief than a pleasure.

Was it worth the 4 hour round trip from far NW London? No. But if you live in south London and either like buses or steep hills, then it is definitely worth a try. Or you have a car.

You are stepping back in time, you will need a key to bump coke/ket as opposed to being able to do lines, you will get a proper northern-style roast dinner with some bloody nice meat.

There are improvements available for much of the meal, but I didn’t dislike anything which is unusual for me. At a push, I’d say the gravy was the worst part, but only because it is the one improvement that would make most difference to your marginally deranged writer. The lamb was really nice, and my highlight.

And even though they brought our dinners to the table, there was no service charge. How did they manage that? Service was no more than perfunctory but perfectly pleasant.

I’m giving it a 7.67 out of 10 which reflects the generally good, but improveable roast dinner that it was.

This coming Sunday I’m going somewhere central. Somewhere a bit more upmarket. Somewhere that definitely won’t do proper gravy. Somewhere that won’t feature watermelon. And I won’t be wearing sequin short shorts (sadly).

Oh yeah, I found out that the world is ending in December. Sharing this blog is likely to look good come judgement.


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