Tuesday, 20 December 2011

An Old Favourite...

My soft spot for Roast was born the same time I discovered Borough Market (for those who don't know, it sits directly above it). Back then I couldn't imagine anything more brilliant than being one of those diners, knife and fork in hand, looking down at piles of over priced artichokes and people queuing for venison hot dogs. For me it was too posh to comprehend and priced unattainably high but I told myself, "One day Lucy, you'll mount those winding stairs and eat with the Gods!"

My stance has, of course, changed somewhat. Through my haggardly cynical lids, I see a restaurant with ugly pillars and bad 90s chairs, which takes itself too seriously for a non-stared Brasserie, and never quite fills it's own loftily spaced boots. I've had meals which were too fussy, some not fussy enough, and food that fails to out way the final cost. Yet I love it.

Sitting at the bar Monday night, stomach satisfyingly fall, glass of wine in hand and a pretty singer with a husky voice belting the blues in the background, I thought of me circa 2005 (the uni years, when my gay husband and I used to sit in the Soho Starbucks, convinced we were the height of sophistication). That 18 year old girl, who used to squeal every time she saw Big Ben, stared at people on the tube and longed to eat in a London restaurant where people tucked in your chair, would have been very impressed...

My scotch egg to start was good, still warm with a layer of well-seasoned pork framing a pleasingly orange yolk. Even better was the baked Dorset crab, bound together with cheese (we laughed in the face of calories and smeared the fishy paste on thickly buttered bread).

Not content that our arteries were sufficiently clogged, we ordered rare, meaty mains of mutton and rib eye. My nicely charred chop was juicy and fat laden, with sweet, ruby meat which I greedily nibbled to the bone (and then sucked). The steak drew nods of approval (I was too focused on my sheep to ask for a try) but soggy chips were ignored. Sides of heritage carrots and brussel tops with chorizo were agreeably crunchy, but so drenched in the yellow stuff, I was beginning to regret my laissez-faire attitude to health. In view of this we decided to opt out of dessert.

As owner, Iqbal Wahhab says on the website, when he opened Roast five years ago, British food was far from a bankable business plan. So there is a lot to be said for its continued success, particularly when you think of the stunning examples in the capital today (Dinner at Heston's anyone?). I'm not even going to pretend that Roast hits the heights of Dinner, or that it is serving cuisine any better than the endless gastro-boozers putting out almost identical menus. If you want traditional English fare in cosy surroundings then Roast is not the place for you. Nor is it, despite the fawning service and coat check policy, refined enough to charge the prices it does.

Annoying, if I was to follow my above advice, I wouldn't eat at Roast. It is overpriced, it's stuffy and, at times, the cavernous space distils any atmosphere which might offset this. But I have eaten there, many times, and those meals are up there with some of my favourite restaurant experiences. The location helps, as does the jazz bar feel of its bar but mostly there this unexplainable charm that comes from the staff who just want to please, and an interior so impressively huge, it demands you to like it. Here is a place that might get it wrong from time to time, but is endearingly earnest enough to be forgiven. Not unlike the green, 18 year old girl who so wanted to get through its doors...  

The Floral Hall
Stoney Street

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