The Fat Duck. The Waterside Inn. The Rivermoor. All centres of Berkshire culinary excellence, with Reading City Football Club surely awaiting their entry in the next edition of the Michelin Guide for their headline-grabbing Chinese Selection Box.
What started as a social media prank went viral and the powers-that-be at The Rivermoor decided to give the much-publicised soccer scran a whirl. Sales – according to Treasurer and Chef extraordinaire Vicky Pyke – were steady as the Selection Box made its debut at the recent Combined Counties league fixture against North Greenford United. So it was time for Football In Berkshire’s resident food critic to get his laughing gear around the best that the Cityzens had to offer.
Now, I have sampled a lot of food at football over the years. A lot of food. Battling the 17 Bus route traffic jams along the Oxford Road caused by temporary traffic lights which seem to have taken permanent residence, I turned up at the Rivermoor for the City Under 18’s side historic FA Youth Cup Second Round tie with Oxford United with only one thing on my mind. No disrespect to the young Cityzens – who hugely impressed me during their Round One victory against Gosport Borough – but it was hard to concentrate on the football with such a famous feast coming my way.
A club record crowd of 622 meant that Vicky and kitchen-hand Club Chairman Martin Law were kept busy, but I was given a warm welcome and – crucially – a ticket with number 57 on it. After a short wait as Vicky delivered burgers, chips and hot dogs to the football-hungry public of Reading, number 57 came up and it was my turn to eat. I lifted the lid on a pizza-box size container, eager to tuck in.
My eyes lit up. Taking centre stage was a polythene container filled with Chinese-style chicken curry. Sat tucked in alongside were five battered chicken balls, three spring rolls with accompanying sweet chilli dip and a pair of generously sized chicken goujons. I could wait no longer and immediately lifted the lid on the curry which was delicious and tangy on a cold Friday night by the river. Inserted neatly in the corner of the box was a generous portion of tasty fresh salad and as I investigated further, I noticed to my delight that the salad was sat on top of a helping of warm noodles.
“Vicky had by now taken to use of a bicycle to ride around the large, assembled crowd to deliver hot snacks to order”
I was in football food heaven by this point. I was rudely interrupted however by the inconvenient award of an Oxford United penalty kick which was saved, juggling updating FiB Twitter on my phone with spooning this creatively presented meal into my mouth with a rapidity that would have caused some social embarrassment were it not for the fact that all eyes were otherwise on the exciting match unfolding in front of us. The balls went down a treat, dipped into the spicy curry sauce. The spring rolls were crispy and melted in the mouth. The breaded goujons were greedily consumed. At one point as Martin shouted over to ask my thoughts, I had a mouth so full with food that I could only reply with an enthusiastic thumbs up. Meanwhile, Vicky had by now taken to use of a bicycle to ride around the large, assembled crowd to deliver hot snacks to order.
The Chinese Selection Box is a hit. True, I am hardly Egon Ronay – I’m not even Michael Winner – but I know nice-tasting food when I come across it. Credit to Vicky and Martin for taking a piece of good humour and running with it, getting this progressive community club some well-deserved publicity. I was generously offered seconds but this meal was satisfyingly filling so, unusually for me, I politely declined. I will be back for seconds at some stage though. Time to get Tsingtao beer on the pumps in the clubhouse perhaps, Martin and Vicky?