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?
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.
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.