British Roast Dinner Week has just completed its fourth year, and although I’d refute the claim that it’s Britain’s favourite pub meal (that surely has to be the microwaved ‘beer battered’ fish and chips with cold peas, or a lukewarm ‘classic’ burger), it is a dish that has stood the test of time well.
In my youth, the days when folk had to run through the fields chasing cows to gather their meat, the Sunday dinner was a family affair. Fast forward a good few years and with the days of cheap beer has long gone, pubs are now trying to get the new crowds in with food, and so the Sunday roast is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence.
To wrap the pub roast dinner and its place in the British pub in my context, my parent’s local pub, complete with fireplace, dogs, and comfy seats, in north east Lincolnshire serves a decent free-range/organic roast dinner for £5.50 with all the trimmings.
A roast dinner cooked at home has heart, but this is now a rarity in pubs as chains and breweries spread their standard menu tentacles and their preferred food providers across the land. So I went out into the streets of London in the hope of a roast dinner with heart.
Set in a former textile factory, Village East on Bermondsey Street bursts with vibrancy and a warm reassurance in itself that makes sure you know you’re welcome.
The discreet front door of Village East opens onto an arena of indulgence, with eager customers sat at the bar, and on tables tucked into every corner, getting the evil eye from the unlucky ones trying to look over the shoulders of the welcome staff so they can give a false name a secure a Sunday mid-afternoon table.
From the light fittings to the deep leather chairs, everything about the interior of Village East was a cut above. As we browsed the menu we were concerned that the vegetarian among us would go hungry, but the kitchen was more than happy to replace the Sunday roast meat with halloumi, though there was no sight of a vegetarian gravy.
My roast beef Sunday dinner was joined by a lovely merlot, and then followed on by some truly delicious pancakes. Our roasts lacked that certain something and didn’t hit the mark, but Sunday dinner is about more than just the food, and Village East had atmosphere and friendliness in abundance.
Wikipedia describes a Sunday roast as “…often cheaper than the normal menu, which may or may not be available on Sundays”, and despite these words from the worlds most respected user led online encyclopedia, many roasts are now charged in excess of their usual menu prices.
Village East certainly isn’t on its own in putting the price of their Sunday roast in the £15-20 range, and the crowd certainly seemed approving, but I just have that niggling feeling that the Sunday roast has become more about nostalgia and a quick high-margin profit turnover. And I fear that if we carry on like this it will disappear with the wind like gourmet burgers, burritos, and crepes before them.
Every area of London, and indeed the vast wilderness that is ‘outside of London’, will have their own Sunday roast stars – so hunt them down and support your local pubs while they’re still there to support.
In the meantime, here are the best of the rest:
This gem of a pub is located on the edge of Peckham Rye, and has clung onto the atmosphere of a real British pub where locals and strangers are greeted as old friends. With their Victorian interior, very reasonable wine menu, and their heartfelt roasts – The Herne Tavern is a charming place where you can while away the afternoon with family, friends, and loved ones.
Percy & Founders serve dry-aged Beef Sirloin with Horseradish Sauce; roasted chicken with brioche and thyme and lemon butter; and roast pork with apple compote and mustard, served with all the trimmings. Located in Fitzrovia, on the site of the former Middlesex Hospital, Percy & Founders is a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of central London. Having had an unlimited prosecco brunch there before, I can fully endorse it.
Broadway Market pub, The Cat & Mutton, now serve a Beer Can Chicken Roast. This whole tea-brined, buttermilk soaked fried chicken to share, comes courtesy of Mother Clucker who – usually found serving fried chicken fans in their converted US ambulance truck at the Truman Brewery. They’re roosting in The Cat & Mutton’s kitchen, in an open-ended residency.
West London gastropub, Paradise by way of Kensal Green, is a true chameleon, flitting from drinking and dancing, to fine dining, and back again. Their Sunday roast menu has something for everyone, with dishes including Crispy pork belly with Bramley apple sauce; Lemon and thyme stuffed whole poussin; and a vegetarian spinach, ricotta and potato wellington.
The Jones Family Project in Shoreditch sources their meat from everyone’s favourite butcher, Ginger Pig. With a great passion for food and drink and where it comes from, quality is their byword, and until the end of October their roasts are £9.95 each.