Sunday, November 20, 2005

Roast

roast
It seems such a simple idea, create a restaurant above one of London's best known markets cooking British food with all British produce. A showcase for all the food that you can buy from the stalls below and a celebration of all that is great and good in our indigenous cuisine. Does it work? Almost.

Roast occupies the newly renovated Floral Hall in Borough Market, and it is a stunning space. Light streams in from windows on all sides and the simple decor is a touch reminiscent of St John, though distinctly less severe. The comparisons with Fergus Henderson's seminal restaurant don't end there. The menu at Roast simply wouldn't have been possible without St John leading the way with its focus on British food; roast meats, smoked fish and offal cooked simply and competently. Despite the comparisons the menu at Roast is distinctly more conservative than Mr Hendersons, featuring only a few stand out eccentricities, a couple of which I'll get to in a moment.

Some of the reviews I'd read of the place did not bode well. Small portions, bad service, overpriced, you could do better at home etc others had been gushing with praise. I figured the bad reviews had been a case of opening jitters so booked myself, the girlfriend and some friends in for that most upright of British dining experiences: Sunday Lunch. I figured with all that this restaurant promised, down to it's very name, Sunday lunch would be the benchmark, the optimal expression of the restaurants personality and, frankly, how badly could they fuck up a roast dinner?

roast2


First up, the service was pretty good. The staff were nice and friendly, probably a bit paley for some tastes, but, what the hell, I figured it was Sunday they could be forgiven a lapse in the usual po-faced cool that comes with a new restaurant. They were keen and attentive for the whole meal if a touch under informed. Down to the food. I started with Chicken Livers, Young Beets and Dandelion on Toasted Bloomer. Nice combination and competently done, the livers were plump and soft and melt in the mouth. The Potted Shrimp and Toast was a crowd pleaser, the Monkfish and Clams a bit of an anti-climax. Mains were on the whole better, Ox Heart and Bone Marrow (below) was the stand out eat-if-you-dare dish and it was surprisingly tender, with a beefy liverish flavour which worked well with the marrow, though, there wasn't nearly enough of it to enjoy with the large portion of heart. The Calf's Liver with Devils on Horseback was a lovely piece of meat, however, it was overdone. The really stand out dishes were the Roast Pork and the 24 Day Hung Fore-Rib of Beef (above) both of which were lovely pieces of meat cooked very simply. Puddings included a good hearty Quince and Apple Crumble and a surprisingly light Custard and Rhubarb Tart.

roast3

So, how did it stand up? Pretty well, to be honest, in terms of quality, the produce was excellent and the standard of cooking was good. Yet, there is something quite sad about the whole thing that one of my friends pointed out. This is simple British cookery, this food was ubiquitous a hundred years ago and, yet, here we are celebrating it in what effectively amounts to an ivory tower. This is the kind of food that I should be able to find in my local pub, this is the kind of Sunday lunch that I should be able to eat with the Sunday papers, a pint of ale sat on a squishy sofa whilst someone's dog dozes in front of the fire, it's back legs twitching as it dreams. I shouldn't have to sit in the rarefied air of a restaurant like this. But, I do.
All in all, I suppose it is a good thing, this kind of restaurant, as it gets us all thinking about our own cuisine and gets people talking about it, which will hopefully mean in years to come I can get my Roast Ox Heart with a pint, read my paper and maybe glance up at the football to see what the score is. Maybe.

3 comments:

Sam said...

i think i am about to go through a roast pork craze. But i looked in Wholefoods and they don't have belly of pork. California see, they dont like fat.

Even my mum can cook a good sunday roast.
Must do one here, but not until the weather worsens. When, like us, you have been sweltering at 25C for almost a week, classic British comfort food is the furthest from your mind!

anna said...

Your Sunday lunch sounded great. I love offal and would probably order it over the roast meat. I agree that it is a shame how hard it now seems to be to be able to go out and eat what are traditional British dishes, of the type that were regularly cooked at home and sat down to by thousands each weekend. It is daft that it can be repackaged and sold back to us in this way, although perhaps the success of places like St. John's (and Roast) will pave the way for an increased interest in our food heritage both in terms of ingredients and dishes. In the meantime it's over to you to get us all thinking!

Sao Mai said...

uauuuuuu!!! very good your glases picture!! I like it so much.