PUBLISHED: 11:31 23 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013
Reading should recognise its own culinary talents like Forbury's Restaurant and Wine Bar, says Tom Fahey
As I write this review a four-day food festival is being held in Reading's Oracle shopping centre. It's been organised in conjunction with the Oracle's restaurants, only one of which is not a national brand.
Apart from Paul Clerehugh and Daniel Galmiche, I wonder where Berkshire and Reading are in all this. How can a town where everything seems in imminent danger of being replaced by a Starbucks, justify a heavily promoted food festival that routinely ignores a swathe of first rate local food businesses and personalities?
There are four or five locally owned restaurants in the town centre serving good food and Forbury's is one of them. It's stylish and modern with crisp linen, chocolate leather seats, high ceilings, and a huge glass frontage. Art with a French flavour and displays of fine wine enhance this impression.
There are two menus: Market, which changes weekly and costs between £11 and £19 depending on when you come and how many courses you have; and à la carte, which is seasonal and will set you back about £35-40 for three courses.
Before either menu expect good bread and a little cup of creamy soup. The Market menu is a bargain if you choose well. Over the last few months I've had a poached duck egg with wild mushrooms, a pork pie with piccalilli, a fillet of bass with Provencal vegetables, and a shallot tarte tatin. All excellent.
From the à la carte, the foie gras with brioche and caramelised apples is a great dish despite inconsistency in portion sizes. The bouillabaisse is the standout starter. Something that few chefs get right. Gavin Young's version is a light soup with chunks of bass, mullet and scallop that achieves depth flavour without sacrificing the freshness of the fish.
Rump of lamb comes with a ratatouille, two fondant potatoes, aubergine purée, and a meaty lamb reduction. It's a generous portion and carefully balances refined with rustic.
Now, the pig's trotter. Cooked for at least three hours, it becomes a gelatinous glove for caramelised sweet breads and morels, the whole thing glazed in an unctuous reduction of the cooking juices. Done right, it is one of the best dishes in the world. It is very challenging to get right every time, and Gavin is currently 90 per cent there; they are truly amazing.
The trifle from the market menu is completely home made and a steal at £4. The chocolate and caramel tart is good, but at the price suggests the need for more than caramel ice cream as an accompaniment. Chocolate fondant with banana ice-cream and caramelised bananas is excellent.
Can you tell I have eaten at Forbury's a lot? You'd be quite right. It has the look of a fine dining restaurant, bistro prices, and food that sits comfortably between the two. But I can't help thinking that if it was based in a town that showed some ambition to cultivate a culinary reputation, it would do even better.
and Wine Bar
1 Forbury Square, Reading
Tel: 0118 957 4044