The Lyndhurst Competition: the results!

I’m delighted to announce the results of the competition I’ve run with The Lyndhurst. As always, it was a writing competition rather than a prize draw, and I asked entrants to send me 250 words or less on their favourite food discovery of lockdown. Over the course of four months of lockdown I discovered a love of hash browns, black pudding, Cocio chocolate milk, Ascot Brewery’s magnificent imperial stout, Clay’s ambot tik, making my own coffee and countless other little gastronomic pleasures that have made virtual house arrest far more enjoyable. But what had your discoveries been?

I received a postbag full of interesting entries. From home-made flatbreads to cakes and mimosa for breakfast, from foraged wild garlic pesto to the joy of saying “fuck it” to home cooking and ordering fish and chips from Valpy Street, ER readers are an adventurous, imaginative and hungry bunch. I’m glad I didn’t have to judge this one, because that task fell to Glen Dinning of Blue Collar. Before I announce the results, I also asked Glen to tell me his food highlight of lockdown, so here it is:

When Blue Collar first started at the Madejski, one of my inspirations was The Ribman, a street food regular on Brick Lane who also pitches up outside West Ham’s London Stadium on match days. A flick through his Twitter feed shows the level of devotion he receives – he’s turned West Ham fans into street food obsessives, and made opposition fans wish their own clubs would be more imaginative.

As lockdown hit, he started offering vacuum-packed, chilled deliveries of his rib meat, along with bottles of his homemade ‘Holy Fuck’ sauce. I quickly discovered it became essential to repeatedly refresh his web page at 5pm on Saturdays in order to stand any chance when they became available.

When they arrived, it’s fair to say his instructions were to the point – eat with a soft white bap, no butter, no salad and buckets of sauce on top. A friend of mine gets as excited as I do about these sort of things and had followed the rest of the country in turning to baking, so chipped in with a couple of rolls in exchange for a few dollops of meat.

I’d vowed to ignore the hype but it was, of course, my lockdown food highlight. The meat is so tender, the sauce so beautifully spiced: the whole thing just melts in your mouth. At that moment you understand the devotion he receives, and why even the most clichéd football fan would realise how lucky they are to eat something this special.

Off the back of this glowing write-up from Glen I also ordered a kilo of ribmeat, hitting refresh again and again at 4.59pm on a Saturday afternoon. I can definitely recommend following his example, although I would also advise you that it’s far too much for two people and that you should definitely eke it out over a couple of meals rather than lapse into a meat coma with a frightening amount of it still in the saucepan.

Anyway, on to the results, only pausing for me to add a picture of some of my other favourite slow-cooked meat, the star ingredient in the Lyndhurst’s chilli nachos. I had some last weekend and – seemingly more chilli than nachos – they’re every bit as delicious as I remember.

WINNER: Poppy Rosenberg

In “normal” times I’d say that my day revolves around meals; but in lockdown I’d be forced to admit that this focus has become obsessive. During what’s been a tumultuous time (postponed wedding, job loss, career change) food has been a source of excitement and comfort. Thanks to our town, I’ve been able to indulge from my sofa in style. From the ever-incredible Kung Fu Kitchen, to reliable old Honest burger, to Soju, Thai Table and many great Indians, we are spoilt. 

Surprisingly though, my food highlight of this lockdown was a meal my fiancé cooked. It was a re-make of the first dish he made for me and, sentimentality aside, it was delicious and gave us the impetus to put screens away, stop arguing about what film to watch and attempt a proper at-home “date”. 

The dish was Jamie Oliver’s Duck Ceviche (I know, such culinary ambition!) – a fresh combination of citrus fruits, chilli, avocado and tender duck. Having something presented to me with such interesting flavours, cooked with quintessentially “special” ingredients was a treat. Eating it, I felt like the mouse from Ratatouille with flavours exploding in my mouth (rather than my usual state which is more akin to Pumba scoffing down vast quantities of something slimy yet satisfying.) It may not have been the best dish I’ve had in lockdown (sorry fiancé), but it was the one that felt refreshing, comforting and in a very lockdown way, reminded me how food forces people together. 

Glen says: They were all brilliant entries but this one in particular was written with such warmth and emotion. Even though this was a meal cooked at home, it clearly made a big impact and I think it encapsulates how many of us relied on food so much during lockdown. 

RUNNER-UP: Graham Walmsley

Whisk eggs and sugar, then gradually add heated milk. Add vanilla, then put on the heat, stirring slowly. Magically, it begins to thicken. 

Custard has got me through lockdown. At the end of the day, when I feel myself start to worry, I make custard instead. It’s simple, but takes all my attention: you gaze into the yellow liquid, watching intently for the first signs of thickening.

When it does thicken, things get tense. Do I take it off the heat now, when it’s milky like an eggnog? Or do I push it further, trying for that perfect creamy consistency, watching intently for the first signs of graininess? Both are delicious, especially with tinned fruit: we have a shelf of that, from when we stocked up four months ago, and now we’re trying to eat it all.

I’ve produced more complex meals in lockdown. There were mussels: I cooked them with white wine and cream, then kept the shells and made a velouté the next night. There was a soufflé, which tasted luxurious, and a parsley sauce, which tasted of childhood. And the Bakewell tart was a revelation, with a soft frangipane better than anything Mr Kipling had provided me with.

But it’s the custard I keep coming back to. Eggs, sugar, milk. Sometimes vanilla, sometimes orange flower water, sometimes just those three ingredients. Stir it, stare into it, lose all sense of time, watch it thicken.

Glen says: This one really made me smile – a piece on custard was always likely to get my vote and using it as a way to get through lockdown seems a shrewd move. And the Bakewell tart sounds delicious.

Many congratulations to Poppy, who wins a meal for two at the Lyndhurst, and Graham who wins a curry night for two at the Lyndhurst. Thanks too to everybody who took part!

Competition: The Lyndhurst

I’m delighted to announce an ER readers’ competition in partnership with The Lyndhurst.

Sheldon, Dishon and the team at the Lyndhurst have worked wonders since taking the pub over last year, and many of their dishes have rightly become celebrated across Reading. It seems impossible to talk about them without mentioning their magnificent home-made nachos topped with slow-cooked chilli, or the delicious beast that is their chicken katsu burger.

But the specials are just as good, and when they hosted a readers’ lunch last year they showed off even greater range. I still remember the courgette flowers, stuffed with ricotta and fried with a light, delicate batter. I also often think about the beautifully simple beetroot and goats cheese course they served up before a rhubarb dessert as tart and clever as a Dorothy Parker quip.

I felt like the pub was starting to really spread its wings and show everybody what it could do when the virus cruelly pressed pause, and I was delighted when they returned in early June with a takeaway menu. Many of my favourite dishes were on there – that katsu burger and the nachos – but they’d not been idle in lockdown, dreaming up new dishes which travelled better but still tasted spectacular.

I’ve already raved about the Lyndhurst’s pork tacos and that ancho chile relish, but I’ve ordered so many other brilliant dishes from them – a Scotch egg cut with sobrasada, giving it a superb Iberian kick, or beer can chicken with more of that ancho relish on display (top tip: order a whole chicken even if you can only eat half – the rest will make for a brilliant sandwich the following day, with more of the relish and some of the Lyndie’s spectacular guacamole).

The Lyndhurst announced that they were reopening for eat in trade on the 4th July but even before that, when they started doing deliveries and takeaways, they put Tweets up on Sunday afternoons offering to deliver free Sunday lunches to elderly and vulnerable people living close to the pub. Now that restaurants have started to open the Lyndhurst has been nothing but supportive, relentlessly Retweeting and amplifying Reading’s other independent restaurants and cafés. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the Lyndhurst is definitely doing its part.

In preparation for today’s competition I felt it was only right to order takeaway from them again (for research purposes, obviously) and I can safely say that juggling eat in and takeaway orders hasn’t affected the Lyndhurst’s mojo one iota. The Scotch egg has, if anything, improved with further tweaking, my fish and chips was bloody marvellous but best of all, I had my first takeaway dessert since lockdown began. My chocolate and cream cheese brownie was a soft, deeply indulgent treat and the raspberry coulis that came with it added a fantastic fruity sharpness. It deserved better plating up than I managed, but I was in a hurry to eat the damn thing.

So, on to the competition. First prize is a three course meal for two people (excluding drinks) at the Lyndhurst or, if you would rather, a three course meal for two to take away. There’s also a runner-up’s prize of dinner for two at the Lyndhurst’s Thursday curry night – curry, rice and a pint – again, either to eat in or take away.

To enter, all you have to do is this: write me no more than 250 words on your lockdown food highlight. That could be your favourite takeaway, a meal you’ve fallen in love with cooking during lockdown, an ingredient or recipe you’ve discovered with time on your hands or anything else for that matter. I’ve spent quite long enough banging on about takeaways or learning to make hash browns: now it’s your turn! Email your entry to me – ediblereading@gmail.com – by 11.30am on Friday 24th July.

As regular readers may remember, I don’t judge the competitions myself to ensure complete impartiality. On this occasion, I’m delighted that Glen Dinning, the man behind Blue Collar Street Food, has agreed to do the honours. All the entries will be sent to Glen anonymously, and the results should be announced on Friday 31st July.

As usual, the judge’s decision is final, no correspondence will be entered into and you’re more likely to get a rent rebate from John Sykes than you are to influence Glen in any way. I would feel sad that I can’t take part myself, but the standard for these is always very high and I really wouldn’t fancy my chances. Best of luck to everybody taking part – I can’t wait to read your entries! – and thanks again to Sheldon, Dishon and the team at the Lyndhurst for such a generous prize.

Namaste Momo Competition: the results!

One of these days I’ll learn to do competitions the way most bloggers and influencers do. Like and follow this page to be in with a chance of winning, or All you have to do is tag yourself and a friend who would love to eat Namaste Momo’s delicious momo and all that guff. Everyone loves a bit of something for nothing, don’t they? Unfortunately I’m too old fashioned and not cool enough for that, so people had to work for this one by writing 250 words on the restaurant they’d love to pick up and drop in Reading.

Despite that I had plenty of excellent entries and, as usual, was delighted to have such enthusiastic and talented readers. Reading the entries made me very hungry indeed, whether they were describing bruschetta eaten in a fairy light-strewn square on a warm Pisa evening, a cornucopia of meat, fresh off the grill somewhere in Northern Cyprus or Chinese noodles “as wide as belts”, wolfed down in New York (New York featured in several competition entries: I really must go there).

It’s always a huge relief, reading the competition entries, to know that I don’t have to judge them myself. That arduous task fell to John Luther who has done a brilliant job. John and I went to Namaste Momo last week just to put the menu through its paces and I’m happy to say that we both agree that this is definitely a prize worth winning – the chicken chilli momo and the pan fried lamb momo were both terrific and the Golden Everest lager accompanies them superbly. Just stay away from Kamal’s post-prandial brandies and I’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine.

Anyway, enough faff and preamble: it’s time to announce the winner and runner-up, along with John’s comments. Let’s open some metaphorical envelopes!

WINNER: Catherine O’Hare

Just like the tiny Chinese backstreet it’s tucked away on, this restaurant has no name. There’s no signage, no fancy furniture or smartly dressed maître d’ taking reservations and pushing the specials. In fact, you’d barely know it was a restaurant at all. It’s more like someone’s kitchen they’ve hastily decked out with mismatched tables and chairs. And lots of shouting.

“Rè nao” is how the Chinese describe a good restaurant. “Hot and noisy”. Mama Yung’s ‘kitchen’ restaurant is certainly that. It was just round the corner from my apartment when I was living in Lianyungang, but I would never have known of its existence had my local friend not brought me there for dinner one evening. My first of many visits. It’s probably fair to say that Mama Yung was largely responsible for keeping me alive during my year in China. She would often sit at my table if I was alone, nattering away to me as if I could understand her fast local dialect and I would feel obliged to nod sagely as I chomped my way through Sichuan spiced beef, stir-fried eggs with tomato and big, fluffy bowls of rice.

Every evening, the farmers would come to the street outside and lay their fresh produce out on sheets and every evening on my way home I would see Mama Yung arguing ferociously with them to get the best price.

“Hot and noisy” from produce to plate, Mama Yung’s is very, very special.

John says: This story of year fed well far away from home in a small restaurant in China made me smile. The little details of the food we’re tantalising but the star of the piece was the fierce matriarch running the show, brought to life beautifully. Bring her to Reading!

RUNNER-UP: Sophie Ibbotson

I’m in a battle of wills with a seagull. If I look away, even for a moment, there’s a good chance that not only will I lose a lovingly chosen giant prawn, but that an entire plate of seafood will be stolen from in front of me in a cacophony of screeching and violent flapping. And so I sit, glaring, and unusually possessive of my lunch.

Sydney Fish Market — the self proclaimed home of Australia’s seafood — is the biggest structure on Blackwattle Bay. In between the boats and vans transporting fresh fish across New South Wales are crowds of diners (plenty of them feathered), jostling for space at the outdoor picnic tables.

I spent nearly an hour inside the fish market making my selection. It wasn’t that service was slow, but rather there was too much choice. Would a trio of sushi donuts be more rewarding than a pint of prawns? Could I manage the marinated swordfish skewer as well as a plate of lightly battered scallops, calamari, and mussels?

The solution, as I knew deep down it would be from the very start, was to buy as much as I could carry. I wove precariously with my pile of takeaway boxes and paper plates between the lines of queuing shoppers, out the doors, and down the stairs. I squeezed onto the end of a patio table and unwrapped my mouthwatering fishy treasures, sprinkling them with a squeeze of lemon. That’s when the seagull arrived.

John says: Another little gem of a story featuring pesky seagulls. I’m a sucker for seafood, so was on side from the start, but was seduced by the description of this bustling fish market and al fresco dining.

Huge congratulations to Catherine and Sophie. Catherine wins a meal for four at Namaste Momo (where, in Kamal, she will encounter a proprietor almost as idiosyncratic as Mama Yung: although I can’t help but feel Catherine’s Mama Yung withdrawal symptoms could be solved with a trip to Kungfu Kitchen). Sophie wins a meal for two, and will only have to stop her dining companion scavenging her food. Thanks too to everybody else who entered: the standard was very high indeed.

Finally, to play us out, here’s my 250 words on the restaurant I’d like to drop in Reading. Tune in next week when I’ll have a new review for you – let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a place I’d like to drop as far away from Reading as possible.

I’m sure there are many restaurants in Paris better than Le Petit Marché where you can get fancier food and slicker service. Of course you can, it’s Paris. Yet I’ve been coming to this little restaurant, tucked behind the Place Des Vosges, for over a decade.

The tables are cramped; you always end up knocking elbows with your neighbours. Sometimes you wind up in conversation with them – the French have an uncanny habit of seating any native English speakers in a little enclave, as far from the locals as possible. They have to pull the table out to let you escape if you need the loo. But all that, coupled with the soft, atmospheric lighting, lends a cosy, conspiratorial feel.

The food’s beautiful: no showing off or theatrics. Tuna is served almost like sashimi, studded with sesame, seared on the outside, ready to be dunked in dipping sauce. Pink-middled discs of lamb come with a creamy sauce fragrant with basil. The mashed potato is the best I’ve ever tasted, and that’s not just me looking at it through rosé tinted glasses. The wine is available in carafes, as it will be in all restaurants if I ever come to power.

Two years ago, after my divorce, I went to Paris on my own to reclaim the place.  My one regret is that I didn’t visit Le Petit Marché. I’m back there next month, and I know exactly where I’ll be on my first evening in the city.

Competition: Namaste Momo

I’m delighted to announce an ER readers’ competition in partnership with Namaste Momo.

Back in 2017, when I returned to restaurant reviewing after a hiatus of nearly a year, Katesgrove’s Namaste Kitchen was my discovery of the year. Not quite a pub, not quite a restaurant, it offered a superb mix of Nepalese small plates and, over the months ahead, it became my go-to place (if you want to read my review, it’s here). I took my family, I took friend after friend, at one point I think I was going most weeks. When I started hosting readers’ lunches in January the following year, having the first one at Namaste Kitchen was the natural choice.

A few months later, everything changed. Namaste Kitchen’s co-owner, the affable Kamal, moved on and so did the chef. Namaste Kitchen carried on under the same name, but the menu changed to be more traditional and the prices went up: out went the dried mutton sukuti, pangra (or gizzards to you and me) and the other dishes I used to love, and in came tandoori dishes and biryani. Over the next year and a half we waited in vain for Kamal to reappear on Reading’s restaurant scene, to no avail.

Finally, in August, the announcement came: Kamal was opening a new restaurant, Namaste Momo, at the bottom of the London Road on the border between Woodley and Earley. An unfashionable location, but as the Twitter feed sprung into life and pictures began to appear of the menu I started to get flashbacks of all those old favourites: chilli chicken, paneer pakora, Kamal’s hand-made momo. And I wasn’t alone – plenty of Namaste Kitchen’s customers were excited too, clearly remembering great meals from eighteen months ago.

Sadly, I can’t review Namaste Momo – Kamal knows who I am, and we’ve stayed in touch since he left Namaste Kitchen. So you won’t ever read a full review of Namaste Momo with a rating at the bottom, and it won’t ever feature in my lists to help people make up their minds when choosing where to eat for a night out. That is a real shame for me, and an occupational hazard of letting the mask of anonymity slip. On the plus side, it does mean I can work with Namaste Momo to offer you the chance to eat there as part of this, the fourth ever ER readers’ competition.

I got in trouble last time I did a competition for writing too much about the food. It was too much like a review, people said. So on this occasion, I’ll say a little less. All the photos in this piece are my photos from a recent visit and I paid for my food because that’s what I do. The samosa chaat is probably the best I’ve had in Reading – far less gloopy than others I’ve tried, with a nice kick, free from overpowering tamarind sweetness. Unlike some other Nepalese restaurants, Namaste Momo makes its own samosas and I think that shows.

My visit also gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with some other old friends from the Namaste Kitchen menu. I have many happy memories of eating chow mein at the old premises, and it was lovely to try it again. Paneer pakora almost reached the same heights, but needed a little more crunchiness in the batter. You could almost forget that, though, when the hot cheese was teamed with a beautiful chutney, packed with herbs.

The real draw here, though, is the momo. When I arrived I could see a tray of them being made out back in the kitchen and again, unlike some other establishments, they are made on site rather than bought in frozen. Even steamed they are extraordinary, but once you caramelise them in a pan or, better still, coat them in a deep-red, addictively fiery chilli sauce you are absolutely on to a winner.

There’s also a small(ish) menu of curries if you want to go down that route but I think it’s the momo they will come to be known for – it says momo on the front of the restaurant, after all. It is emphatically a restaurant, though, in a way Namaste Kitchen wasn’t: you can’t nurse a few pints and idly make your way through a few small plates while half-watching the football the way you could at the old place.

I’ve done that thing again where I’ve written too much about the food, haven’t I? Oh well, sorry about that; you can cancel your subscription if you feel really strongly about it. Here’s a picture of the chow mein, because I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Even looking at the photo I can remember the hint of sesame oil.

Anyway, on to the competition. First prize is a meal for four people, including drinks, up to a maximum value of £120. In addition, a runner-up will win a meal for two people, including drinks, up to a maximum value of £60. That’s a lot of pan-fried mutton momo. Or steamed chicken momo. Or chilli chicken. Or, for that matter, anything else. Like this lamb sekuwa, for instance.

To enter, all you have to do is this: write me 250 words on the one restaurant you wish you could pick up and drop in Reading, whether that’s a joint you fell in love with on your holidays, your favourite London restaurant or the place you always make a beeline for when visiting family or friends. Make us all burn with envy that Reading is missing out on your favourite restaurant! Email your entry to me – ediblereading@gmail.com – by 11.30am on Friday 18th October.

As always, to ensure total impartiality I don’t judge the readers’ competitions. I’m delighted to confirm that John Luther, my occasional dining companion (but far more famous for his work at South Street) has agreed to return to judge this one. All entries will be sent to John anonymously and the results will be announced in a fortnight.

As usual, the judge’s decision is final, no correspondence will be entered into and don’t even think of taking this one to the Supreme Court. Thanks again to Namaste Momo (392 London Road, if you fancy checking it out for yourself) for being so generous with the prizes and best of luck to all of you who decide to enter this one!

Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen Competition: the results!

I’m delighted to announce the results of the Edible Reading competition in conjunction with Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen. One of these days I’ll do something like a simple prize draw, but I do like making people work for it and flex their creative muscles, and this competition was no exception. I asked entrants to describe their ideal three course Reading meal in 200 words or less, with each course coming from a different restaurant.

My competition postbag was as eclectic a group of dishes as Reading has restaurants or I have readers, and the whole thing made me inordinately proud of both Reading and my readers. From Thames Lido to Cafe Rouge, from l’Ortolan to Alto Lounge, all gastronomic life seemed to be covered. I was hugely grateful to be spared an agonising decision and the inimitable Adam Koszary has stepped up to do the honours. He’s done a truly marvellous job. I do like to tax my judges’ patience, so before I announce the winners I also asked Adam to (drop to the floor and) give me 200 words on his ideal Reading three course meal. Here’s what Adam came up with:

I would never win the competition I’m judging.

I have been disappointed by too many undercooked, overpriced brownies, and so I eat two course meals like it’s a religion. I’m also terrible at describing food, and my tastes often veer to the meat and potato.

But here goes.

If I had money in my pocket and three courses to spend it on, my first course would be I Love Paella’s Patatas Bravas. Yes, they’re simple, but they’re absolutely lush. I made my parents try them. I’ve tried to make the same sauce at home and failed miserably. My partner and I genuinely reminisce about eating them.

For the main I had a hard time deciding between Bakery House’s humble shawarma and Papa Gee’s Sofia Loren pizza, but if you turned the thumbscrews I would opt for the latter. It’s better than any pizza I’ve had in Italy. Their meat tastes like it’s fresh from some hoary Italian mountain man’s pig, the sauce from an Italian matriarch’s pot. It’s all chili and sausage and fun in the mouth.

I don’t eat desserts so I’d have a Magnum from Cemetery Junction Co-Op on the way home.

Job done.

Personally, I think Adam’s meal sounds pretty good to me: I must get him to come out on duty with me some time. Anyway, without further ado, here are the winner and our two runners-up, along with Adam’s comments. Roll the tape!

WINNER: Graeme Fancourt

A perfect food crawl around Reading on a hot summer’s evening would have to begin at House of Flavours. While we exhale the woes of the day and the hopes of the evening ahead, I’d be enjoying the Adraki lamb chops; a perfect start of crisp fat and tender meat that’s infused with ginger spice and all things nice. And I’d have to do my best not to order it twice.

We’d then have an excitable wander round the corner to the Lyndie where I’d order their just-creamy and just-salty-enough pan-fried brill in lobster sauce. More than any other dish in Reading’s restaurants this is the one, for me, that most closes the gap between the A4 and the ocean.

Mainly to stop me boring everyone about the samphire, we’d leave the Lyndie and wander across to Pepe Sale. We make up for the cheap Lyndie Chardonnay by ordering a bottle of the Moscato, and I’d get my ice cream fix from the cassata fragola. The liquor-soaked sponge cake is just filling enough after the light fish dish to be the perfect end to the evening while we polish off the Moscato and plan our Autumn food crawl.

Adam says: I admire people who can write about food. When I try and do it, my brain can only reach for the words ‘lush’, or ‘alright’. In this competition, then, I was on the lookout for writing which would not only make me imagine the meal on the plate, but also make me want to stuff my face with it.

This entry certainly managed that.

I want that lamb chop. I want that tender meat in my mouth, and I want that crisp fat on my lips. My god.

I also had a slight heartburst at the description of the excitable wander around the corner to the Lyndie – a wander I’ve done many times. The patient wait at the pedestrian crossing, with the beckoning shining windows of the Lyndie across the IDR, feels almost like the final trial before the prize of good food and Yakima Red.

It’s also obvious that the cassata fragola has been chosen logically as ‘just filling enough’, and I get the impression that this writer has thought sensibly about the logistics of a Reading-wide three-course journey. It honestly makes me want to polish off a Moscato and bumble merrily off home.

FIRST RUNNER-UP: Ben Thomas

Fareham Drive Shopping Precinct may look like the set of This is England but it harbours one of Reading’s great restaurants – Himalaya Momo House. Amongst their many knockout dishes is the unmatched aloo papri chaat. This chilled delight incorporates chickpeas, potato, and starchy wafers, but manages to avoid stodginess, as cooling yoghurt and astringent tamarind add the lift needed to make this a perfect balance of spicy, sour, and fresh.

Picking the main was tough, but I couldn’t drag myself away from Thai Corner’s exquisite rendition of my favourite meal – beef massaman. This dish is a product of the influence of Islamic traders on Thai cuisine, and the darker, earthier tones that introduces wrestle with the tropically aromatic base of the traditional Thai curry, and both benefit as a result. Add some coconut rice, and that’s my death row meal right there.

I often skip desert, but if I’m visiting Côte, I’ll leave room for a praline crêpe. Caramelised banana is a textural experience of the first order, and the rest is self-explanatory. If it were possible to eat this after an aloo papri chaat and beef massaman, then I’d be a happy man indeed.

Adam says: This one very nearly won it for me.

What I enjoyed about it is what’s sprinkled on top. The three words ‘This is England’ immediately placed Fareham Drive Shopping Precinct for me, and I love that a culinary jewel can still shine even in the most Grimsby-like of places. I also bloody love the use of ‘astringent’ as well. I admire the audacity of it.

The other thing which put this entry ahead is the historic context. Food is often more than food – it is culture and history. Just as my home’s regional dish of faggots will tell you a lot about the Black Country, I love finding out what other dishes say about where they’re from, and I can just imagine the melding of cultures and cuisines on the silk road. The praline crêpe is self-explanatory.

SECOND RUNNER-UP: Tara Pritchard

I’d begin with the Gobi 65 from Chennai Dosa (sadly closed). Perfectly cooked, crisp florets of cauliflower, bright with spice and bursting with flavour. Perfect way to wake your tastebuds at the beginning of a meal.

Moving onto the baghare baigan from Clay’s: two plumb baby aubergine resting beneath a rich and yet surprising light peanut sauce. This restaurant can pull off the alchemy of blending spices into a perfectly balanced melody and yet still allowing each flavour to sing alone. Paired with fluffy, delicately scented basmati rice it was a dish that hushed conversation as the first taste was savoured. I’m not vegetarian; but finding a vegetable dish that could easily hold its own against the more carnivorous elements of the menu was a delightful surprise.

To finish, I’ll be dragging you to the Griffin for their salted caramel sundae. Sticky and gooey with just enough salt to cut through the sweetness. It’s a guilty pleasure and once, when a friend stepped away from the table to take a work call, I managed to eat two. In my defence, it was a hot day and the ice cream was melting. Any one of you would have done the same!

Adam says: Choosing the second runner-up was also tricky. I’d hoped someone would have taken a pilgrimage of all the Greggs in the town centre, sampling a sausage roll at each one. One entry came close, but I don’t consider their choice of third course – 2009-grade ketamine – as food.

Maybe as seasoning.

As it is, we have this journey from a defunct Chennai Dosa through to baghare baigan and finishing in the Griffin. I appreciated the bittersweet memory of a meal which can never be had again, and the image of two plump baby aubergines fighting the corner for veganism. The cherry on top, however, was the great sundae robbery. I’ve often considered the theft of an absentee fellow diner’s food, and I applaud the audacity of someone who says fuck it and does it.

Huge congratulations to the winner and runners-up. Graeme wins a three course meal for two with a a bottle of house red, or a bottle of house white, or four pints of mango beer (and the mango beer would be a pretty decent prize all on its own). As for Ben and Tara, Clay’s has generously offered a runner-up prize of a portion of free kodi chips if you go for a meal there – trust me, that too is a pretty decent prize. Thanks to everybody who took part, and I’ll do my best to rustle up another competition for you in due course.

Oh, and since literally nobody asked, I also jotted together 200 words on my ideal three course Reading meal, inspired by what Adam said about bittersweet memories. What better way to finish the piece but on a bit of a downer? Exactly…

This is my gastronomic Ghost Of Christmas Past, the three course meal I most miss about Reading, the one I can no longer enjoy.

It begins with the sukuti at Namaste Kitchen. Small punchy cubes of mutton, oh-so-slightly chewy with perfectly crispy fat. The plate comes with a few cocktail sticks and you know you must share, but you wish you didn’t have to. Halfway through, you wonder why pubs don’t serve snacks like this, so perfect with a beer. Except one used to, and then it stopped.

Then you move on to Dolce Vita’s saltimbocca – slender, tender veal with sage, wrapped in Parma ham and cooked just as much as it needs to be, with a sauce you daydream about for days. No longer available, of course. Cause of death: greedy landlord, as so often.

Finally, Tutti Frutti’s smoothly complex peach and amaretto ice cream. You should eat it late in the evening, in the old part of the station (the bit with a soul) watching the workers in their high-vis jackets and people home from their London train, merry or tired. I wish I’d known, the last time I had it, that it was the last time.

Right, that’s enough of that gloom. For every place that closes, another new place opens, so tune in next week for a brand new review of one of Reading’s newest contenders. You might like this one.