Foreign visitors looking to sample a slice of the ‘high end’ part of the traditional British restaurant scene. Patriots, jingoists, Anglophiles – individuals looking for food quality to confirm their beliefs about the supposed superiority of British culture in various domains*
Well heeled people who would like to combine people watching and high quality traditional British food. Those in search of the ultimate Sunday Roast (note: doesn’t have to be on a Sunday)
In a Word
Going to Roast for a Roast, before giving Roast a Roasting
And how’s that for a stupid title?
If your brain is anything like my brain (…asides from tired) ‘Roast’ conjures up thoughts of roast dinner. As this place bills itself (quite accurately) as a paragon of traditional British cuisine, the name is appropriate.
For the restaurant itself we have to thank Iqbal Wahhab (the enterprising OBE behind the Cinnamon Club), who opened Roast in 2005. Prior to this, the building was used, apparently, for storage (which in retrospect seems a badly missed opportunity)
As I understand it, the Floral Hall in which Roast lives was actually moved and partially rebuilt here from its original home in Covent Garden. Why? I don’t know. It’s good that they did though, as it is quite a striking building and it sets the backdrop nicely for the kind of dining experience Roast wants to create.
Entering via the stairs, Roast reveals itself to be a little larger than you may have suspected from the front. It seats 120 – with a snug and lively bar at the front, with restaurant seating (some of it a little haphazard, in hindsight). It’s definitely a formal operation in terms of service and presentation, but the atmosphere is a lot more convivial (and frankly noisy) than a first glance might suggest.
This is partly down to the acoustics of the place, the building is old – original architectural features intact, and was not designed exactly as the optimal sound space for classy dinner. Despite this, the venue is busy with regular live music – and they champion a lot of independent and undiscovered acts. It’s also worth mentioning that they also have a market stall called Roast to Go, I am not sure what the differences in pricing and options are.
An important aspect of the Roast experience is getting a window seat and watching the people on the market below as they go about their lives. As we are here on an evening after the market has shut, we are deprived of this experience in its full glory – but the view is still quite striking, with St. Paul’s to our left and the ghostly, mostly empty market to our right.
We are sat in an excellent spot in the corner by the window. It appeals to the same tortoise-like part of my nature that used to have me sitting at the back of the bus, headphones on, emotional spears up against the world. This ‘remote location’ turns out to be no barrier to service, however.
The Food and Drink
Taking a look at the menu, there’s not too much variety on the menu in terms of culinary style. The (firm) proposition is British cuisine. That’s what you signed up for, and that’s what you are going to get. The menu is huge though, perhaps proving that the traditional food of Britain is a little more varied than many people think.
As for the ingredients? Again, keeping with the British theme. Mainly British produce, as far as I can tell – sourced from all over the country. Supplier provenance is a big deal, they name and acclaim all their suppliers on the back of the menu – some of which, conveniently, are based beneath in Borough Market. On the main part, the quality is excellent, so they must be doing something right. This is barring the bread served pre-starter. Hard and dry, it’s more like ‘non-starter’.
The drinks menu is as large and impressive as the food menu. Wine particularly stands out – the and theme of ‘championing British; continues into a more than reasonable selection of British wines, including the expensive sparkling numbers that have become so popular of late.
Service is on the main part friendly without being unctuous, though a little frenetic when it comes to drinks. This is hard to explain – as I am still a little confused by what exactly transpires when we try to get some wine to pair for our first and second courses. The sommelier designed wine pairing arrives eventually, mine turning out brilliantly, my partner’s…not so much
I later watch our waiter clean the crumbs off of the table with what looks like a cutthroat shaving razor, which is something I can’t say I have seen at any other restaurant.
Various tip-offs have advised that meat trumps fish at Roast, so we opt for ‘turf’ over ‘surf’. At least with the starters, the presentation is very ‘nouveau’ but the portion size leaves a lot to be desired for the price. Later dishes are presented in a somewhat more traditional style – as you’ll see, and they also seem more reasonable in terms of portion size. Again, they’re not cheap.
Eel salad £?
Though delicately arranged, the eel is predictably potent (which is what you sign up for with eel). Mystery Sommelier’s wine pairing is spot on, the acidity cutting through the wall of eel. like armour piercing rounds through thin sheet metal. The rhubarb is a thoughtful and tasteful, though I don’t really see any coherence with the rest of the dish. Anything at fault? Yes – this really is a tasting menu sized portion, not a starter.
Spinach, pine nut and Cheddar Scotch egg £8.75
Mustard. Mustard everywhere. This scotch egg somehow manages mustardy in a non-excessive way, but to be honest, doesn’t feel like it’s quite up to scratch. It alludes to pine nuts, but we see no evidence of them. The amount of mustard to egg balance in this one is excellent but they probably could have done to add a little more to the desolate looking plate. Again, not a hearty portion to price ratio, and the tiny scotch egg isn’t dense and savoury as a scotch egg should be.
“Roast” burger – 48-Day dry aged sirloin of beef with ale cheddar, pickled red cabbage, carrot piccalilli, potato and rosemary bun, horseradish cream and Yorkshire pudding £26.50
This is a bit more like it. They’re onto the mustard again. The Burger is mustardy, even more so than the egg. A little above my level of comfortable tolerance. I’ve never had a burger quite like it. Extremely satisfying however, as any good multi-layered delicious burger monstrosity should be. It’s essentially pieces of steak buried amidst layers of layered goodness, and whilst on the large side, is not excessive. I like that the mustard keeps my nasal passages active, but I find that it interferes somewhat with the individual flavours. So what you get is a phenomenal texture and what could be some questionable ingredients.
Not too big and not too small – highly satisfying. The burger actually costs more than their Wagyu Burger which leads me to think it’s partly the name and maybe additional filling you’re paying for?
48-Day dry aged roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, rosemary roasties and horseradish cream £35.00
From the second it arrives, the roast ordered by my partner inevitably becomes the main event of the meal. It should have its own theme tune, and maybe a backing band. There should at least be, at the very least, a firework set off upon arrival. Absolutely perfect, there is not much more I can say than it is the perfectly executed signature English dish. The beef is juicy at a level of rare perfection, the gravy tangy, and the Yorkshire Pudding, the perfect ratio of crunchy to squashy. It reflects well on our proud and eminently hungry country.
The beef is juicy at a level of rare perfection, the gravy tangy, and the Yorkshire Pudding, the perfect ratio of crunchy to squashy. It reflects well on our proud and eminently hungry country.
None of the sides fail to excite, arriving one after another and quickly taking over most of the real estate on our table. Gastronomically, this is a success – logistically, a failure…why does the table have to collapse when more than two sides are ordered?
Heritage carrots £?
I am so impressed by the tiny, ultra flavoursome carrots that I spend a few minutes trying to come up with something to say about them on Instagram.
Grilled field mushrooms with garlic and parsley butter £4.75
Surprisingly, these don’t taste nearly as much as like garlic or parsley butter as you may expect. Instead, they taste like delicious ultra concentrated mushroom.
Rosemary roasties £4.50
The layer of rosemary quickly falls to the bottom of the bowl, but the flavour it has left on the potatoes remains. They’re immaculate, just as crunchy and rich as you could desire a pile of potatoes to be.
Creamed spinach with nutmeg £5.25
Probably the least impressive of the clutch. The nutmeg comes through strong – the cream is…predictably creamy, but the ratio of ‘moisture to spinach’ is a little off, and it comes across as a bit soggy. Tastes great, but also tastes soggy. I still enjoy it.
No dessert is required at this point and we instead watch the closing festivities of the party table next to us. They’re a well-behaved bunch, however, and nothing exciting or controversial appears to happen.
Well, it’s a bit hit and miss – I suppose more hit than miss, if we try to put the overpriced/underpowered starters to the back of our minds.
When Roast hits, it hits you like a right cross from some imaginary-culinary Golden Age Mike Tyson. When it misses, you feel like you’ve just paid a lot of money for not a lot of food (….and said food that is not great). I can’t comment on the bar but based on size and promise of the drinks menu, but I can say that it’s at least worth a look in – and it may work out to be more friendly on your wallet.
In hindsight, I feel that, unless you’re purposefully trying to put on a financial show of force, it may be worth coming to roast for one of their set menus or regular online deals. I’d definitely come back just to see if they’d let me get a coffee and watch the people walk by during business hours. Or just to the bar where peoplewatching can be combined with mild inebriation, and a go at their bar snacks.
It is probably the best traditional British roast (plus all the trimmings) I have had in any restaurant, regardless – and that must count for something. You get what you pay for, most of the time…
The Floral Hall, Stoney Street
London SE1 1TL
*may or may not be accurate