As you’ve probably gathered by now, the review of Jackson’s California Lake over a month ago is the last review on Edible Reading for the foreseeable future. I knew the blog was coming to an end: not enough town centre restaurants left, and I always wanted to stop on a high note before I was reduced to schlepping to Ask, Zizzi or – saints preserve us – TGI Friday. Originally I had a plan to slowly run things down, tackle a few last places and have a big party to celebrate (maybe even reveal my identity!) but a change in my personal circumstances means it makes more sense to stop now.
That might be for the best: looking at my list of places that remain, I find there’s very little regret. It would have been fun to review Rafina (might have to pop there for an omelette at some point), and I never quite got to Memory Of Sichaun to see if it was the Chinese restaurant Reading has long needed. But beyond that, it was largely breakfast places and cafes, with the more interesting options further afield in Newbury, Pangbourne, Wokingham, out in the shires. So I think I can safely say it’s time to knock it on the head.
I like to say this a lot, but the transformation in Reading since I began the blog three years ago has been marked. The local paper (pardon the pun) has folded, and the website which has largely replaced it doesn’t really cover local issues or culture in the same way, and certainly doesn’t do restaurant reviews. In its place we’ve had Alt Reading, the sadly departed and much missed Roast Dinners Around Reading, and me.
But look at the transformation in that time: a proper food scene is starting to emerge. So now we have independent shops like the Grumpy Goat and the Tasting House, producers like Caversham Jam Lady and Pop-Up Reading and entrepreneurial cafés like Tamp and C.U.P. In an ideal world, we’d have more good, successful independent restaurants in the town centre but even now, it isn’t as bad as all that: if you look beyond the Pizza Expresses and Stradas we have Bhel Puri House, Bakery House, Dolce Vita, Pepe Sale, Sapana Home and Papa Gee.
I recently went to The Horn to sit in the courtyard and eat delicious Georgian food from Caucasian Spice. Normally I Love Paella – another huge success story of the last three years – operates from The Horn, but Enric was on honeymoon and so Caucasian Spice stepped in. And the food was beautiful: flat breads filled with cheese, baby potatoes roasted with dill, butterflied chicken, bean stew. The owner was engaging and enthusiastic and – most crucially – busy. Trade had been good; it’s a tribute to our town’s growing food culture that Caucasian Spice can step off the sub’s bench and play a blinder. And now that I Love Paella is back, Caucasian Spice is going to move to the Turk’s Head. Life goes on, innovation continues and Reading’s residents get another amazing place to eat dinner. Everything is as it should be.
There are loads of things I will miss. The moment when I went somewhere new and realised it was that rare thing, a little-known gem that I love and that I’m confident others will too (it’s a bit like that moment in X-Factor – not that I watch it any more – when someone shambles up to the mic, you hear the first few notes and think “Blimey, they really can sing!”). I’ll miss that big grin I get when I order a truly perfect dish, or when I start planning my next visit long before the end of my first one. I will miss people telling me that they’ve picked restaurants for date nights, birthdays or even just to banish the midweek blues based on one of my reviews. I’ll miss the buzz and excitement of Friday mornings at half eleven, too – just like some of you, I was always at a computer hitting refresh, waiting for the review to go live so I could Tweet it.
That said, there are consolations in retirement. It will be nice to be able to go where I like and order what I want, not to have to worry about whether I’m eating the same dish as everyone else. It will be nice to be able to just visit the places I love without feeling like I should be going out on duty and hitting my deadlines (maybe one day they’ll have a plaque on a chair at Dolce Vita just for me). It will be nice to eat out a little less, I guess – kinder on the wallet and much kinder on the waistline. But it’s still a sad day, and stopping writing the blog is a decision not without regret.
I don’t know what the future holds, so I can’t make any promises. I will keep the blog updated in terms of closures (farewell to RYND and, ironically, Jackson’s California Lake) and name changes (the strange business of the disappearing Kyrenia as it very gradually morphs into Ketty’s). Funny story about that: when I went to Kyrenia last, a woman came to our table to take our card payment.
“Was everything okay for you?”
“Everything except one thing.” said my friend. “I don’t like the name Ketty’s. Kyrenia was a much better name. Why did you change it?”
“Because I’m the new owner and it’s my name.” came the reply. “I’m Ketty.”
Beyond that, I’m not sure. It’s possible that I may come out of retirement to review anywhere new that opens in Reading, if it’s exciting enough, but time will tell. I will stay on Twitter, though, (burbling on about crisp sandwiches and KitKat Chunkies, probably, because that’s my thing) and I’m always there if you want restaurant recommendations. It will be nice, too, to be able to be a bit more open about what I’m eating and where I’m eating it, without having to be all secret squirrel because a review is about to go up. Oh, and if I start any other writing projects, I’ll definitely let you know.
If I have a parting shot or a final thought, it’s one I’ve said many times over the last three years. Reading is a lovely place, but not a perfect one. It’s what we all make it, and the sum total of what we put in. Every one of us has a responsibility to spend our time and our money making it the kind of town we want, whether that’s going to a Pop-Up Reading event to buy their bread, or spending a little more on a bottle of wine from the Tasting House rather than getting some random multibuy from Sainsbury’s. If you want a town to have places like Papa Gee and Bakery House you need to eat at them, even if they’re slightly out of the way, rather than going to Pizza Express because you have a voucher or Wagamama because it’s on the Riverside.
And, of course, it’s wider than that. I just talk about food but we have theatre, live music, independent cinema, comedy and art which all need and deserve support. People sneer a lot – I’ve always hated that – and they focus so much on all the things Reading isn’t, how easy it is to get to other places from here. But I hope I’ve spent the last three years celebrating all the things it is, and all the things it could be.
Last but not least my biggest thanks have to go to all of you. The readership of Edible Reading has snowballed over the three years in a way which never ceased to amaze me. I always hoped that if I built it – Field Of Dreams-style – people would come, but maybe I didn’t quite anticipate the extent to which you would. It’s given me faith in the internet, faith in Reading and faith in people. The people who read ER are a brilliant, funny, committed, enthusiastic bunch. Any town would be lucky to have such people living in it; I’m so proud to have been a part of that.