Of all the things I associate with growing up in England, there is one I particularly miss. Drizzle. I’m kidding. It’s my mum’s roasts. Every Sunday afternoon we’d sit down to a belt-loosening feast of roast chicken, beef or lamb with homemade Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, peas, carrots and sprouts, all drowned in ladles of gravy.
I’ve tried numerous roasts in Sydney and I’m just going to come out and say it – they’re not in the same league. The potatoes aren’t as crispy, the gravy isn’t as meaty and there’s just something intrinsically wrong about eating a Yorkshire pudding while wearing thongs.
So the next time you’re in London, set aside a Sunday afternoon, don some elasticated pants and check out one of the following purveyors of what is arguably England’s greatest culinary contribution.
Ask 10 Londoners who serves the best pub roast and you’ll get 10 different answers. However, the White Hart, a bright, airy pub tucked away in a quiet residential street behind Waterloo Station (thewhitehartwaterloo.co.uk), came recommended by several roast aficionados.
When I arrive at midday on a Sunday, there are already two large groups tucking feverishly into great platters of Norfolk pork, Shropshire chicken and 21-day aged West Country beef. While the beef is excellent – three tender, juicy slices still rare in the middle – the accompanying Yorkshire pudding is on the doughy side and the roast potatoes are a tad too firm. The great redeemer is a lavish serving of cauliflower cheese that is dessert-like in its decadence.
Another venue worth investigating is The Old Red Cow in Barbican (theoldredcow.com). It’s located next to Smithfield meat market, so there’s no doubting the freshness of the meat, and groups can pre-order from a medieval banquet-style “Beasts” menu that includes whole suckling pig, haunch of wild boar and whole roasted kid goat.
For award-winning pub fare, The Truscott Arms in Maida Vale (thetruscottarms.com) beat 300 contenders to win Best British Roast Dinner during this year’s British Roast Dinner Week. Praised for its “fine-quality, locally sourced ingredients and seasonal produce”, the menu features free-range English rare-breed pork with mustard sauce and smoked lamb shoulder with garlic and rosemary roast potatoes. Given its recent accolade, you might want to book ahead.
If you’d like to make a special occasion of it, most high-end eateries will do a Sunday roast but, for sheer theatre, you can’t beat Simpson’s-in-the-Strand (simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk). Its mahogany-panelled Grand Divan dining room has been serving roasts to British prime ministers since 1848. The signature dish is the 28-day aged roast rib of Scottish beef, which is carved at your table by a chef in full whites (they run carving lessons should you wish to master the art). Roast potatoes are served on a separate plate along with a delightful copper pot filled with Savoy cabbage. But is it any good? Mum gives it 3 out of 5. “The setting and service are wonderful,” she says, “but the meat is a bit chewy.”
If there’s one London eatery that can claim to specialise in this field, it’s the appropriately named Roast Restaurant, located above Borough Market (roast-restaurant.com). Every day it features a different roast, ranging from honey-glazed leg of free-range ham to roasted sirloin of Galloway beef. I opt for the roasted fillet of Aubrey’s 28-day dry-aged beef on the bone, which comes with a pile of beef dripping roast potatoes and a Yorkshire pudding so large I could wear it has a hat. The verdict? Roasted perfection.
Fancy your roast with a side dish of history? Rules (rules.co.uk) was established in 1798, making it London’s oldest restaurant, and its plush velvet booths are just the spot to enjoy seasonal meats such as grouse, crown of pheasant and leg of hare. Don’t worry if you miss the autumn game season, the 28-day aged rib of beef with dauphinoise potatoes and Yorkshire pudding is a year-round stalwart.
Many London pubs claim a literary legacy but The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead (thespaniardshampstead.co.uk) can prove it, having been immortalised by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers. Allegedly, Keats wrote Ode to a Nightingale here too. Perhaps both were drawn to this charming 16th-century inn for its impressive Sunday roasts, which today include a loin of Norfolk pork and a 21-day aged rib of British beef.
Dickens clearly got a lot of his inspiration from pubs because he alludes to another one, The Grapes in Limehouse (thegrapes.co.uk), in the opening chapter of his novel Our Mutual Friend. Oscar Wilde does the same in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes to the area in search of opium during The Man with the Twisted Lip. Now owned by actor Sir Ian McKellen, The Grapes’ cosy wood-panelled bar is a wonderfully atmospheric spot for a lazy Sunday lunch.
Tired of the traditional roast? Let Anna Hansen at Modern Pantry (themodernpantry.co.uk) re-ignite your tastebuds with one of her inventive alternatives. Options include smoked paprika marinated pork loin and mint and garlic marinated leg of lamb, both of which come with a hearty serving of duck fat roast potatoes, curly kale, spiced carrots and parsnips.
If it’s a change of scene you’re after, try Cafe in the Crypt underneath St Martin-in-the-Fields church opposite Trafalgar Square (stmartin-in-the-fields.org). Despite its touristy location, the impressive vaulted brick crypt is a delightfully tranquil space in which to pay your respects to roast beef with all the trimmings.
Equally reverential is The Restaurant in the crypt under St Paul’s Cathedral (restaurantatstpauls.co.uk). A surprisingly contemporary space given its historic setting, it serves a seasonal menu showcasing the best of British produce. On Sunday there’s a choice of two roasts – sirloin beef with horseradish or slow roast pork shoulder with apple sauce – and both come with roast potatoes, roast carrots, buttered curly kale and Yorkshire pudding. Major attractions have a nasty habit of charging major prices but two courses will set you back a wallet-friendly £24.
For years, inviting a vegetarian out for a roast was nothing short of a cruel joke. Occasionally, there’d be a forlorn-looking nut roast on the menu but more often than not they’d end up nursing a salad while their fellow carnivores feasted on a veritable banquet of meaty treats.
How times have changed. Many of the establishments mentioned above offer a vegetarian roast and some of them sounded so enticing I almost indulged myself (only almost, mind you).
The White Hart’s vegie roast is a nut extravaganza of cashews, peanuts, almonds and walnuts with a sprinkling of cheddar, vegetables and herbs thrown in for good measure.
Vegie visitors to Roast Restaurant may find their carnivorous companions drooling enviously over dishes such as whipped butternut squash with chargrilled flatbread and white bean and spinach casserole.
But the vegetarian gold medal goes to Modern Pantry for its tastebud-tingling caramelised celery with cavolo nero and ricotta briq, purple potato veloute and pickled gooseberry salsa. Vegelicious.