Big news: I am Over the West End. Sort of. At weekends, at least.
Monday to Friday, I work in an office directly across from the septic shit-swamp that is Leicester Square, so I’m used to nights out – both impromptu and planned – in Soho and Covent Garden. But whereas the area is a veritable wonderland after work on a Wednesday, heading to Central on a weekend is about on par, enjoyment-wise, as a spinal tap. Or a trip to IKEA.
I had this brought home to me a few weekends ago when I unthinkingly agreed to meet some non-London friends for dinner on a Saturday night. They’d won tickets to the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Friday Forty and they had a two hour slot between Parts I and II to fill with something vaguely dinner-shaped. I was naturally furious they’d managed to scoop a pair of the bargain tickets, which were second row seats, especially as I saw it in July after paying £160 a whole year in advance (!!!), but it was a good opportunity to catch up so I suggested Flat Iron on Henrietta Street, on the basis that that branch is massive and we’d be able to get a table because we’d be going super early. How wrong I was: even at 5pm the wait was 90 minutes, and it was the same story at pretty much everywhere except the dodgy-looking hole-in-the-wall selling noodles next to the station.
What I’m trying to say, is that we’re going out a lot more in Hackney and Southwark areas now because they are a) closer to our place in Stratford and b) not as likely to move me to violence. (See recently, Lahpet in London Fields and Lupins near London Bridge.)
And so to Roast then, which is a restaurant perched so cockily upon Borough Market I always assumed it would be a raging tourist trap. It actually turned out to be quite a good find, housed in a large atrium shaped like a birdhouse that I would kill to be inside of during a thunderstorm. The best thing about it, if you
demand are lucky enough to get a window table, is the people-watching. Mike and I spent half our meal absorbed in whether a couple at the pub across on the road were on a really awkward first date or just workmates who really fancied each other.
The name is a mistake, though I’m sure lands it plenty of business in the winter months when passing bodies are craving hunks of roasted meat in lashings of gravy. Because there’s much more here than just, well, roasts. In fact, it’s almost like the proprietors, after choosing the name, ordering the stationery and securing the social media handles, realised how poorly it stood up to the rising tide of London’s meat-free trend, and overcompensated wildly by putting out lots of really excellent vegetarian options.
The cheese souffle (£8.50), for example, was unequivocally once of the loveliest things I’ve eaten this year, the kind of thing I might have written songs about if it were 1622 and I were a bard. Light in texture but intensely cheesy to taste, it resembled a volcanic island sitting placidly in a lake of molten cheese. In the interest of waste reduction I requested more bread, which I used to mop up like I wasn’t in a nice restaurant but one Leighton Buzzard’s scummier chip shops.
In comparison, the ‘signature’ Scotch egg (£8.75), which both Mike and I were EXTREMELY excited about, was underwhelming. The eggy nucleus was properly cooked and its yolk was the sort of glorious orange you get from chickens who enjoy luxurious bubble baths and premium craft ale, but the mantle wasn’t thick or meaty enough to reach anywhere near optimal succulence. 6/10.
I immediately regretted the cheesy bread binge when the mains came out because they are enormous. Like, dad-sized portions. I nearly chose the truffle and burrata parcels but begged off because it’s Roast, duh. Meat was good quality, the pork belly (£24.75) encircled with a piece of improbably perfect crackling that shattered most satisfactorily between the teeth, prompting the chewer to simultaneously want to go for a run and visit the dental hygienist at once. Braised ox cheek with creamed onion (£28.00) came with a jaunty sprig of rosemary and a beautiful split bulb of roasted garlic, and was huge and filling and comforting but lacked that luscious velvetiness you get with the very best ox cheek dishes.
We need to talk about gravy, briefly, because thinness appears to be a city-wide epidemic. I have had crap gravy at Vinoteca, Quaglino’s and now Roast, and it’s really time that somebody took some sort of stand. Gravy needs to be thick and silky and oozing with oniony, winey, meaty flavours, but I am yet to find anywhere in London that does truly brilliant gravy of adequate consistency. Is it me? I am just some uncouth thick gravy-muncher? Who knows, but I dream of a day when restaurants like Roast have gravy menus like the Four Seasons has pillow menus.
Anyway. Roast. It’s not the place to go with your trendy mates, or after work on an impromptu night out. It’s the place to go with your clients, or your parent-age relatives, the ones who still appreciate proper table linen and prefer their own three course meal to two hours of negotiating the finer points of small plate etiquette, which is basically just saying, ‘No, you have the last bit!’ until one of you dies. It isn’t the cheapest spot in town (though its Bookatable deal is very good value), but for ambience, service, vegetarian options and, oh, god, that crackling, it’s a good one to have up your sleeve.
Roast, The Floral Hall, Stoney St, London, SE1 1TL.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.