Roast Restaurant be thy name, in Borough Market they flock, give us rib-eye steak and Rioja, on earth as it is in heaven, for despite any financial meltdown, they will come. James Lawrence seeks comfort food in London.
Opened in 2005, Roast has weathered London’s notoriously cut-throat and competitive dining scene remarkably well. Immune to the financial crash, the foretold demise of fine dining – which hasn’t happened – and the collapse of several leading chains, Roast restaurant soldiers on. It thrives because rather than slavishly following volatile trends, it offers a crowd-pleasing formulae that is unlikely to grow tired. What initially lured in London’s foodies and tourists over 12 years ago remains the same – ‘heart and soul’ cooking served in a smart, urbane restaurant. Its continued success seems assured.
Yet Roast restaurant tries far harder than it needs to. They would flock here regardless of any culinary art, as the owner understands that aesthetics are half the battle – or the deciding factor, if you’re an Instagram ‘star’. Tables facing the open-plan kitchen give way to an elevated central dining room, which is bathed in gorgeous natural light, thanks to windows on three of its four sides. Skylights add that final touch of perfection: the views of Borough Market are unbeatable. I can’t think of a more appealing restaurant in which to linger over a nice Chianti.
However, Roast’s signature crowd is difficult to pin down, probably because there isn’t one. During my lunchtime visit, an assortment of couples, suits and tourists were savouring the classy cooking. Meanwhile, visitors who aren’t even mildly esurient should still investigate the buzzing bar area.
This is not “food on the edge of a nervous breakdown,” as Nigel Slater once so eloquently put it. Ordering from the a la carte menu, a delicious plate of monkfish scampi arrives first, the butter-soft flesh of my favourite fish contrasting nicely against the crisp and crunch of the hedonistic batter. A pressed ham and smoked chicken terrine keeps my companion happy – and silent – for a few minutes. He’s a fussy sod, so it was high praise indeed when he pronounced the terrine “textbook.”
So there is a great deal going for Roast – not least the food. There’s no prizes for guessing the gastronomic ethos: crowd-pleasing classics, a strong emphasis on meat – city boy heaven. Straightforward execution is underpinned by textbook flavouring and seasoning. Comfort food, if you’ll forgive the cliché, which never loses sight of the imperative of the central ingredient. Oenophiles will also find much to like. Roast subscribes to the modern ethos that diners prefer succinct wine lists – there’s enough choice, without it being overwhelming. Pinot Blanc from Germany acquitted itself nicely.
We skipped dessert in favour of two glasses of Sauternes, before our charming manager asked how we’d gotten on. One of Roast’s greatest assets, he led a team of mainly Italian staff who tolerated with good humour my request to move tables. So many restaurants in London fall short in the service department, as critics frequently remark. It’s probably why the restaurant is still here, while the competitors file for bankruptcy. London’s fast-paced dining scene takes few prisoners, yet it’s hard to imagine Roast’s commanding views and excellent cooking ever going stale. Let there be light.
The Floral Hall, Stoney St,
London SE1 1TL
Tel: 020 3006 6111