Takeaway review: The Lyndhurst

It’s been a month since I started publishing takeaway reviews, and the feedback has been fantastic: I really appreciate all the social media posts, comments, Retweets and emails from people who have discovered new places to order from as a result. It’s lovely, too, that so many people have told me that reading a new review every week makes life feel a tiny step closer to normality. I feel that way too, and by my reckoning we have at least another six more reviews to look forward to after this one before lockdown is eased to the extent where we can all eat outside once more, assuming that the weather – and those pesky virus variants – play ball.

I said that I would predominantly focus on restaurants I haven’t previously reviewed, which means that the last month has been one leap into the unknown after another – some very good, some terrific and some best forgotten (I actually had a very nice email from the Forbury Hotel inviting me in for a comped meal when they reopen and asking me to take my review down in return: you can probably guess how that discussion went). 

By contrast, this week’s review is a return to an old favourite, and about as close to a home fixture as you can get on this blog. The Lyndhurst, the gastropub on Watlington Street, is the closest restaurant to my house, and by my reckoning I’ve probably ordered takeaway from them more in the last year than from anywhere else. And that means that I do have to add a caveat before we get under way: the team at the Lyndhurst have hosted one of my readers’ lunches, so I am not anonymous to them. 

Even so, I’ve seen enough of their customer service, and looked enviously at enough photographs of their dishes taken by other people, to be confident that I don’t get special treatment as a paying customer. In fact, the Lyndhurst is so modest about its cooking that I fully expect them to be amazed to see themselves featured in the blog this week. It frustrates me that they never shout as much about their food as I’d like them to, so I’ll just have to do it for them.

So why the Lyndhurst this week? Their delivery has always felt a bit of a well-kept secret. They started it in the summer and they continued to offer it on the side when they reopened as a restaurant in July, although it never felt like something they promoted very strongly. I made regular use of it in the second half of last year, and had emotional reunions with many of my favourite dishes: the phenomenal chilli beef nachos, their superb katsu chicken burger, that Scotch egg. 

But the Lyndhurst never stayed still for long, so new dishes were always cropping up. There was a chicken dish with a stunning morel sauce that blew me away, another with both pork belly and presa Iberica which livened up several wintry Saturday evenings in front of Strictly and a take on poutine featuring confit duck that had instant classic written all over it. But when Reading went into Tier 4, followed swiftly by a third national lockdown, the Lyndhurst decided to take a break. January passed without a peep, and I found myself worrying about what the future held for them.

Worrying unduly, as it turned out: at the start of February the Lyndhurst announced that it was returning for takeaways. The menu looked good, too, with the old favourites still in place – burgers, fish and chips, the legendary nachos – but supplemented with brand new dishes many of which, like chicken tinga tacos, steak arepas and feijoada, showcased a new Latin American direction. 

That in itself might have been enough to prompt me to review them, but the clincher was that gradually over the last few weeks the Lyndhurst have been ramping up their delivery options. Initially the pub only delivered to the surrounding areas, but when they relaunched on the 4th February they specified that they would deliver within a mile of the pub. Last week that delivery radius was extended to two miles, which opens it up as a realistic option to people across Reading. 

I live just down the road, so I’ve been able to try their food all along, but I thought it was time to review it so everybody else could see what they might have been missing out on. Besides, that whole modesty thing (again) means that most people probably don’t know that the Lyndhurst delivers that far afield. The pub has started mentioning it, almost as if in passing, but sometimes on social media talking isn’t enough and you have to do a little more: not the hyperactive look-at-me-look-at-me style of some businesses, but at least raising your voice somewhat.

The Lyndhurst serves food on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and on Sunday lunchtimes. I booked in a delivery for Saturday evening relatively early in the week and spent a few days idly looking at the menu, trying to work out whether to go for the tried and tested or whether, in the spirit of all those leaps into the unknown, I should pick dishes I knew less well. But I didn’t finalise my order until Saturday lunchtime, because the Lyndhurst also supplements their regular menu with a small selection of specials and I wanted to wait to see what they were.

The Lyndhurst uses specials cleverly, as a way of testing dishes that may graduate to the permanent menu. Not only that, but they told me a little while back that apart from the core dishes they were thinking of changing everything on the menu on a regular basis. So technically much of the menu could class as a special, and it’s possible that by the time this review is published some or all of the dishes I ordered may have been replaced.

Even without the specials, the menu is just the right size and, cleverly, it only loosely distinguishes between starters and mains. Prices range from about eight to fourteen pounds, with most dishes hovering around the ten pound mark. You can tell, from the pricing and the dishes, which ones are technically starters, but when you’re ordering takeaway and everything comes at the same time those distinctions are less useful.  

What is helpful, though, is how smartly the menu has been put together: many of the Lyndhurst’s dishes – tacos, nachos, Korean chicken wings – make excellent sharers, which makes it a lot of fun for bigger households. It also helps – and I know this from extensive personal experience – that portions across the board are really generous. By way of illustration, and bear this in mind when you see the pictures further down, I have pretty large dinner plates. Everything the Lyndhurst dishes up, without exception, manages to make them look small.

Tempting though the specials were, I had got it into my mind that this might be one of my last chances to try some of the dishes on the main menu, so I made my selection, paid the Lyndhurst and spent the rest of my Saturday happy in the knowledge that dinner was taken care of. It arrived bang on the dot at the requested time, and the paper bag which came out of the insulated box was perfectly hot and full of goodies. Laying them out on the kitchen worktop I was struck by the effort that the Lyndhurst puts into its packaging – everything was sturdy, well thought out and recyclable, and everything held its heat superbly.

My previous experience of feijoada – a Brazilian stew with beans – was at Katesgrove’s Pau Brasil where I’d found it gelatinous, stingy and bland. Nobody would accuse the Lyndhurst’s version of any of those things – it was a meaty symphony of a dish, deep, rich and absolutely delicious. I had it shortly after they added it to the menu and at that point it felt a little bit like they’d thrown the kitchen sink at it – so many different types and cuts of meat, along with chunks of sausage that felt suspiciously close to frankfurters. But the Lyndhurst is always tweaking, revising and improving, and the version that arrived on Saturday night was an impeccable v2.0, streamlined with all the kinks ironed out.

There were big, tender pieces of meat along with several ribs, all of which shed their bounty with minimal persuasion, and many more slow-cooked, tangled strands. The black beans added bite and texture, and the crowning glory – pretty much literally – was a good slab of pork belly, soft and yielding underneath but with an exemplary salty layer of crackling on top. I think the Lyndhurst understands how to cook pork belly better than any kitchen I can think of, and the whole thing added up to an embarrassment of riches. 

It came with fluffy white rice, deep, verdant shreds of spring greens and – a good flash of colour in a predominantly brown dish – a few slices of orange. I didn’t realise these were a traditional accompaniment to feijoada but it turns out that they are, and having eaten them with the stew I could completely understand why. This dish costs thirteen pounds fifty, and at that price I somehow felt as if I was conning the Lyndhurst, even though they’re the ones who set it. If it even remotely sounds like your sort of thing, I strongly advise you to grab some before it comes off the menu, to be replaced no doubt by something equally splendid.

The other “main”, so to speak, was the steak arepas. An arepa is a Venezuelan dish made from ground maize dough, a little like a bun made of cornbread, and my previous experiences of them had been mixed to put it lightly. I’d had them in Reading a long time ago, when we briefly had a Venezuelan restaurant called Arepas Caffee, and I renewed my acquaintance last year when Pabellon brought their award-winning arepas to the Blue Collar-hosted British Street Food Awards.

I could tell that Pabellon’s were streets ahead of Arepas Caffe’s, but both times I found them hard to love – there was something fluffy, almost woolly, about the texture that I just couldn’t take to. But the Lyndhurst’s version was absolutely a case of third time lucky.

Eating my steak arepas I was struck by how often it’s the sandwich, not the filling, that lets a dish down – I’ve lost count of the amount of brioches I’ve waded through that disintegrate long before the burger is finished, or bread that simply doesn’t have the oomph to live up to what’s stuffed between the slices. No such problem with these arepa – they were robust, burnished things, perfect for holding together and with a beautiful flavour that worked alongside, rather than fought against, the filling.

And there was certainly no problem with the filling either: tons of steak, most of it tender, a couple of bits slightly chewier, with rocket, red onion and a combination of two sauces that elevated the whole shebang. One was a deep, dark spicy sauce a little like mole that gave the dish punch and heft, the other was a bright, tangy chimichurri that deftly nudged the contrast dial (little tubs of both were provided in case you wanted even more: I did).

This is again a good point to talk about the Lyndhurst’s generosity: one arepa would be a fantastic steak sandwich, accompanied by the Lyndhurst’s chips which are, for my money, the best takeaway chips I’ve ever had anywhere, all crunch and rustle and salt. You actually get two arepa for your money, and “money” in this case means the almost comically generous sum of ten pounds fifty. I said it earlier on, but I have big dinner plates: look at this picture, and see if you can see much room left on this one.

Our third dish was the chicken tikka naanza, and this felt like the only misfire of the meal. The chicken tikka itself was beautifully done, but the naan felt heavy rather than fluffy and generous though the topping of cheese was, it felt dangerously close to just being a chicken pizza. I would have liked to see a more unconventional tomato base with fire and spice in it, a lighter, crustier base, a bit less emphasis on the cheese and the chicken being given more of a chance to shine – and perhaps a raita on the side rather than the garlic mayo that came with it. The Lyndhurst’s garlic mayo is incredible, don’t get me wrong (so good you’ll wish you’d saved it for your sandwich the next day), but it felt like a misstep.

That said, it wasn’t a bad dish by any means: even the Lyndhurst’s less outstanding dishes are better than many restaurants’ star players. More to the point I think the fault probably lies with me, because it delivered absolutely what it said on the tin. I just think, with hindsight, that what it said on the tin perhaps wasn’t for me. 

Our three dishes came to just under thirty-two pounds. That doesn’t include a delivery charge – the Lyndhurst doesn’t charge for delivery, but you do have to spend over twenty-five pounds unless you’re ordering for collection. That said, you absolutely can and should tip them – which I always manage to do, usually after a decidedly Mrs Doyle exchange with them where I insist that I will and they insist that I mustn’t. Their food is crazy value, to the extent that I worry about them making a profit, so tipping is the least I can do.

And for those of you considering delivery, it’s really very easy to spend twenty-five pounds with the Lyndhurst: I see they’ve added a black pudding Scotch egg to their specials for this weekend, so just keep adding those until you’ve passed the threshold (and if you find yourself with more black pudding Scotch eggs than you can physically eat, just let me know and I’ll meet you on the street corner of your choice).

I make no bones about being so unreservedly positive about the Lyndhurst. I think we’re incredibly lucky to have such a good, inventive kitchen in town constantly experimenting and innovating, doing brilliant food which is simultaneously very unfussy but involves a huge amount of thought and hard work. They can be apologetic and reserved about their food in a way that reminds me of Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen, Reading’s other great food introverts – perfectionist, always critical of their own efforts and deeply uncomfortable with bigging themselves up. And yet on quality alone, their food – like Clay’s – shouts from the rooftops. 

It will be all I can do not to get in touch with them between finishing writing this and it being published on Friday morning to book another delivery slot for Saturday night – in fact, they single-handedly present one of the biggest obstacles to my ongoing project to keep making those leaps into the unknown, ordering from new restaurants and different kitchens, trying to unearth more gems for you, boldly going where no restaurant reviewer has been before. But that’s my problem. On the other hand, if you live within two miles of Watlington Street and you feel even remotely peckish you suddenly have one fewer problem than you did ten minutes ago: if that’s you, I truly envy you.

The Lyndhurst
88 Queens Road, Reading, RG1 4DG
0118 9503888

http://www.thelyndhurstreading.co.uk/
Order via: Direct through the pub, Thursday to Sunday

Takeaway review: The Reading Room at the Roseate Hotel

Normally with my reviews, as most of you know by now, you get a preamble. That’s the bit before I talk about the food – the bit some of you think is too long – that gives some context and explains why, this week of all weeks, I picked this restaurant of all restaurants.

I had a preamble all ready in my mind for this week’s delivery from The Reading Room, the restaurant that’s part of the Roseate Hotel. You know, what used to be Cerise in what used to be in the Forbury Hotel. In it, I was going to talk about how, oddly in 2020, Reading’s high-end dining scene saw more activity than you’d expect in the middle of a global pandemic. The Reading Room launched with a new fine dining offering and then the Corn Stores reopened with a constantly-changing Michelin-chasing tasting menu.

I would have gone on to say that both restaurants have pivoted in different directions in lockdown. The Corn Stores seems to have been offering a fancy, expensive, heat-at-home option, in keeping with other highly regarded restaurants nationwide (although best of luck finding any details on their website). By contrast, the Reading Room has chosen to offer gourmet burgers via the usual delivery apps, a limited menu focusing on quality.

I know, burgers. But then I remembered that it’s three years since I reviewed Honest Burgers, during which time they have established themselves at Reading’s favourite burger, the Coke to 7Bone’s Pepsi. And I wondered whether the Reading Room was a genuine contender to that undisputed primacy, so I decided to place an order and see whether they lived up to the promise.

Unfortunately, that preamble has been derailed somewhat by the Apocalypse Now of delivery experiences, one so horrendous that I can’t imagine myself ordering from the Reading Room again, or using Uber Eats for the foreseeable future. Those of you who enjoy my misfortune, and I know there are a few of you, will enjoy picking through the debris of this one. For my part, I’ll just tell you what happened and maybe you can decide whose fault, if anybody’s, it all was.

The Reading Room delivers through all three main delivery partners, but I fired up Uber Eats on a weekday evening to make my choices. The Reading Room’s options were nicely compact: there are three beef burgers, a chicken burger, a pulled pork burger, a “lean turkey burger” (do you reckon that really appeals to anybody?) and a couple of vegan and vegetarian options. They all come with fries and there are a few optional sides – chicken wings, onion rings, that kind of thing. The limited range was more Honest than 7Bone, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I placed an order at quarter past seven and twenty minutes later the app told me my driver was en route. It said he was making another stop on the way to my house, although the map of his route made it look like he was heading all the way across to the other end of town, but I decided to reserve judgment. And sure enough, he was outside my house ten minutes later, holding out a bag to me. So far so good, except that it had a Tasty Greek Souvlaki sticker on it, and somebody else’s surname scrawled on it in biro, all block caps.

“I’m really sorry, but this isn’t my order.” Funny how we always apologise in these circumstances.

“But this is the right address.”

“It might be, but I didn’t order from this restaurant and that isn’t my surname. We ordered from the Roseate Hotel, the burger place. The app said this was your second stop, are you sure you didn’t deliver our food to them?”

“No, I had to drop something off at the Roseate Hotel.”

This made no sense.

“Hold on a second” he said. A car was trying to pass on our narrow one way street, so he pulled away. I assumed he’d come back to continue the conversation, but no – he had vanished, never to return. Shortly after this, my phone pinged to notify me that the order had been cancelled and I wouldn’t be charged. I have no idea why they didn’t send me my food, but they fixed it quickly and the driver was perfectly pleasant, if a little rabbit in the headlights, so up to this point I had no complaints. Uber Eats even gave me five pounds off my next order, which seemed very nice of them.

I did what I expect most people would do in my situation: I fired up the app and reordered the same dishes. With hindsight, maybe I should have cut my losses: the alarm bells rang when about eight minutes later the app informed me that a driver was on his way with my food.

“That’s far too quick for them to cook it all again from scratch, isn’t it?” said my other half, Zoë. Quite.

Our second driver, who was also perfectly pleasant, pulled up in a black cab and got out holding a paper bag with our order in it. He may have had an insulated bag on the back seat but if so, I didn’t see it.

“I’m concerned that this might be my original order, which was ready over half an hour ago.” I said. “This has arrived far too quickly to be a new order. Can you wait while we just check if it’s hot?”

“Sure” he said. We took it into the kitchen and opened it up. It felt around half an hour from being hot – surely it had to be the original order, given that it had arrived so quickly? If they’d cooked it straight away at speed and the driver had scrambled it to us in five minutes flat, I would have expected it to be piping hot.

“I’m sorry,” I said – sorry again, for some reason which escapes me – “but this isn’t hot.”

“You’ll have to take it up with Uber Eats, I’m just the delivery driver” he said, and like that he sped off into the night. So, it was a lukewarm burger and chips for dinner and my main task was to try and work out whether, if it had been hot, it would have been the worldbeating burger you would hope to get from what used to be the Forbury Hotel. 

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it’s a no from me. I went for the “Reading Room Prime Steak Burger”, their premium option with mushrooms, Stilton, tomato relish and “sticky bacon” which I opted to add on. According to Uber Eats the meat is “sourced from the Windrush Valley at the food of the Cotswold Hills”. 

Well, bits of it were nice. The Stilton had a good salty kick and I didn’t mind the tomato relish at all. But the bacon was a flaccid rasher of back, more icky than sticky, and the burger was chewy and unseasoned, grey rather than pink in the middle. I can only guess whether it would have been better straight out of the kitchen – possibly, yes, and that half an hour delay would have seen to any remaining juiciness, but the whole thing was dry and tasteless and I suspect that would have been the case one way or the other. The chips weren’t good either: the last time I had half an hour old chips was in a staff canteen, and even they were better than the Reading Room’s “skin on chips”.

Zoë’s pulled pork burger was a little better – “it’s stayed hotter because it has this big rosti on top of it”. The patty was minced pork, the rosti was apparently pretty good and there were some tender pieces of pork belly on top of the whole thing. “I’d probably order this again” was her verdict, although it’s hard to imagine a situation where that will ever happen. I’m not sure that you could ever describe this as a pulled pork burger, though, unless by “pulled” they meant “pulled a fast one”.

I don’t hugely like chicken wings as a rule, but my burger and chips were so dismal – I didn’t finish either – that I decided to try them. One was pleasant enough, the second had a fishy aftertaste which I couldn’t put my finger on. They were pretty much stone cold. Zoë, who does like chicken wings, could only manage one. “They’re overcooked and dry” was her verdict. A meal like this is barely a meal at all. It’s worse than a meal, the absence of a meal, and was worse than any of the things I could have cooked up with the contents of my fridge. 

After what passed for my dinner, I tried to get in touch with Uber Eats to complain about my cold, late food. Their app does everything it can to guarantee that you can’t speak to a human or call a phone number – to Deliveroo’s credit, they are at least contactable – but I went through the options on their help section and was told that somebody from Uber Eats would be in touch about the issues I’d raised. You can’t fault their promptness, because in less than half an hour I received an email. It didn’t give a phone number, an email address or any way to get in touch with them if you found the response inadequate, which is interesting given what it said. Here is a screenshot.

I contacted Uber Eats on Twitter to see if they wanted to talk about this, but I didn’t hold out much hope. Looking at their mentions, it seems they take over 24 hours to respond to unhappy customers, and I’m guessing that’s because there are so many of them.

“My food took 30mins to arrive after leaving. I’m one mile away. Food stone cold and incorrect” said one. In another, Uber Eats said that they couldn’t do anything because the order was placed 48 hours ago, although it probably took them that long to pick up on the complaining Tweet. “You keep sending me an automated message and ignoring the situation” said a third. My 29p credit probably puts me in the top percentile of people whose dinner plans are ruined. The worst thing is that it’s a credit not a refund, so I can’t even go crazy, go out and blow it all on some Space Raiders.

This is the tricky thing about this model with a middle man involved: the driver says you should complain to Uber Eats, whereas Uber Eats’ line is that you should just give the restaurant a poor rating on the app. I did consider contacting the Reading Room to get their feedback, but the website lists no phone number or contact details and the Twitter feed hasn’t uttered a word since summer 2019. It’s almost like they don’t want customers, which is probably for the best under the circumstances: I can’t see them getting any from this review.

I still don’t really know whose fault it was that I had such a dire meal. Was it Uber Eats, for some kind of software snafu that meant I never got my order from Driver A? Was it Driver A for making it to the Roseate and not realising that he was meant to collect some food there? Or was it the restaurant for seeing the second order coming in and thinking “well, we have that sitting here under the pass and we’ll only have to throw it away”? And weirdest of all, I’m giving the restaurant the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they sent out my food that had been sitting under the lights for half an hour – if it was a brand new order that turned up to my house, tepid and underwhelming, that would reflect even worse on them. 

Or, equally plausibly, maybe I am just a moron who should have foreseen that this was exactly what would happen if I tried to order exactly the same dishes all over again. Who knows? Answers on a postcard. In the meantime if you want a burger delivered to your home stick to Honest, and if you can order a takeaway directly from the restaurant instead of using a third party please do.

In any event, if you really do want Reading’s best burger these days, you need to make your way to Blue Collar on a Wednesday lunchtime and grab one from the dubiously-named Meat Juice. It only comes one way – with proper bacon, a slab of mature Cheddar, burger sauce and pickled red onion. The patty is made from minced chuck steak, perfectly seasoned with just a hint of chilli in the mix. There aren’t any fries with it and it will only set you back six pounds fifty. Eaten on a bench just round the corner from Market Place it is pretty damn close to perfection. 

Having said that, if you want a better meal than the one I had at the Reading Room, you could just go out and buy some Space Raiders: they would outperform it in pretty much every respect. I’d give you the money for that myself but I’m afraid it’s resting, Father Ted-style, in my Uber Eats account, unlikely ever to be redeemed.

The Reading Room
The Roseate Hotel, 26 The Forbury, Reading, RG1 3EJ
0118 9527770

https://www.roseatehotels.com/reading/theroseate/
Order via: Deliveroo, JustEat or Uber Eats