Don’t you love a good mystery?
What is Stonehenge? Do planes really disappear in Bermuda Triangle? How did Boris Johnson become Foreign Secretary?
This weekend I was taken on a mystery tour of my own, to Exeter and back – with the roast dinner location being part of the mystery too – from the to-do list but otherwise secret.
After a fairly long journey back, we were all looking forward to the roast – I had expected that it would be in the west of London, perhaps either Wimbledon or Barnes. Then it became clear that it was in Richmond. Then I remembered that I had removed somewhere in Richmond from my to-do list only last week, that I had visited ages ago. Fuck. There was a 50% chance that we were booked into somewhere that I’d already reviewed.
Luck shone upon me and we arrived at the rather busy, The Marlborough pub. It wasn’t clear at first where to announce ourselves – the bar was busy and what appeared to be the waiting staff point unmanned. After a little while we were shown to our table with the welcoming words, “oh by the way guys, it is a 1 and a half hour wait for food”.
The Marlborough is rather large venue with both plenty of indoor seating and a really large outdoor area – and given the totally unexpected sunny and warmish February day wasn’t forecasted, ooooh, 10 days in advance, there were far, far more customers than they were expecting. And had staff for.
At least we had a table. And they still had roast dinners. Albeit our table was in the adjoining “conservatory” which was rather chilly – enjoying neither the warmth of the sunshine or the warmth of being indoors. The “conservatory” was exposed to the elements and was a thin sliver of tables adjoining the main building – the kind of position that you might wish for on one of those “too hot” days.
I was up for leaving. I wasn’t keen on waiting the length of a football match to get my dinner after spending the approximate length of a murder mystery evening in a car driving from Devon, but (thankfully…ish) nobody else took me up on my impatience and we quickly ordered both drinks and food.
On the menu was sirloin of beef, garlic & lemon chicken, pork belly or the Ultimate Roast – a combination of all, with pigs and blankets, especially for fat northerners or people who have been on a two-day coke binge since Friday night, run out of drugs and realised that they might need to eat before work tomorrow.
Despite being a fat northerner, I chose the pork belly at a price of £18.00. What we hadn’t been told is that there was not only a long wait for food, but also for drinks. I actually went off to do my food shopping in the meantime, coming back to find that the drinks still hadn’t arrived.
The mystery of our non-arriving drinks
I would have chased up our mystery drinks round, but I wanted to see how long it would be before anyone realised. And it was around 20-25 minutes before what appeared to be the manager asked if everything was alright. Erm, drinks please. Not that I was that bothered about yet another glass of apple juice.
She did seem semi-mortified and it was corrected with haste. Not the smoothest operation…oh I wish someone would invent weather forecasts. Can you imagine how good it would be to know what the weather would be like in a few days? But we’ve had enough of experts in this country and we most certainly don’t want to be taking notice of people forecasting that the economy will slow, let alone that it will be warm and sunny and more staff might be required for a pub with a massive garden (note to oneself – another place to visit in the summer).
And then the roast dinners turned up. Having waited only 40 minutes – which is long enough (just about) to make decent roast potatoes. Or it should be…
The carrots were fairly ordinary, largeish chunks of peeled and chopped carrots. Boiled/steamed to a good level yet utterly ordinary – the menu reckoned roasted but they didn’t seem that way to me, though perhaps the kitchen had to take emergency action given the unexpected volume of customers.
There was a tiny selection of cauliflower which was just cauliflower. No cheese, no herbs, no spice, no thought – just a little bit of cauliflower.
Also on offer in terms of vegetables, was January King cabbage. This was more enjoyable and had a bit more flavour to it, though more perhaps due to soaking up the sparse anti-gravy.
Yep, those kind of roast potatoes again
Four fairly small roast potatoes were supplied. They were pretty dire. No evidence of crispy outsides and towards solid on the inside. They were supposedly roasted in goose fat but I could barely detect any roasting let alone any goose fat. My vegan-pie eating accomplice weirdly thought they were really nice, but then again she later announced what a brilliant idea it would be if roast dinners came with mash potato instead of roast potatoes. You can imagine the position of my jaw.
The Yorkshire pudding very much had a hint of hanging around the kitchen for a while, though not too much, and managed the feat of being voluminous yet not too pointless. That said, there was too much of it, the outsides were more towards edible than enjoyable, but the soggy bottom was a great textural accompaniment to the pork.
I enjoyed my pork belly – though I normally do. The main downside was that the crackling on top was thin and solid – I could just about tear it apart with my knife and fork, though with quite some effort. Otherwise the meat was pretty juicy, the fat content lower than some pork belly that you can get…not entirely sure if that is a compliment or a criticism, I’ll leave that for you to decide, though it seemed to be a higher quality piece of meat than I’ve had elsewhere. It wasn’t a segment of belly to rave about, but it was certainly enjoyably flavoursome.
My two chicken-munching accomplices found theirs plump yet rather ordinary – a theme running through the roast dinner.
And the vegan pie that one of my accomplices ordered looked disgusting, and I’m not just saying that for obvious vegan-hating purposes, but because it looked dry, with carrot and sweetcorn spilling out – my vegetarian friend wasn’t exactly singing its praises either.
Finally the browned water previously known as gravy. What was on our plate seemed more vegetable water with flecks of oil and meat stock – close to anti-gravy and unsurprisingly sparse in volume, however the second mini-saucepan of extra gravy had more consistency to it, and more flavour – you could probably just about get away with calling it gravy, south of Watford anyway. To Pimm’s drinkers south of Watford, anyway. There are new patterns emerging this year and inconsistent gravy seems to be one – the mystery of differing gravies must end.
I guess this is the summary
I expect that my experience may have been much more positive had it been raining, or had the manager read a weather forecast and planned ahead. When the sun comes out – people come out.
However, I can only review the Sunday roast that I receive – not the one that I perceive I might have received. It seemed as though it was a pub that was overwhelmed and just about managing to put our a half-decent Sunday roast – as opposed to being properly on their game.
My highlights were the pork belly and the bottom of the Yorkshire pudding. On the flip side the roast potatoes were dire, the word “boring” came up quite often in discussion and just how long to bring our drinks?
No service charge was included which is a rare and welcome sight – we did tip, though not as generously as we might have done if we hadn’t waited nearly 25 minutes for our drinks to be brought to us. Service was good when it wasn’t bad, and the waitresses certainly had plenty to say, though one of them was weirdly ranty for service staff.
Two accomplices rated the roast dinner a 5, another a 6. I’d had the pork belly which is the main reason that I feel more generous. I am really struggling to come up with an exact score, as I did feel rather underwhelmed yet close to satisfied.
So I’m giving it a 6.37 out of 10, the score being moderately reduced due to our table being in the cold, and particularly the mystery of the missing drinks…and being told that we would have to wait one and a half hours for food…as if they were trying to get rid of us.
Nothing special planned for next Sunday, just another Sunday roast – their website gallery suggests nothing better than bang average, but you just never know.