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Monday 22 July 2013

London Restaurant Review - Roast

Words & Photography by Felicity Spector

Name: Roast

Where: The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, Borough Market London SE1 - www.roast-restaurant.com

Cost: expensive. Our starter was £16.25, John’s steak was £35 although most mains hover around the £25 mark, while sides are generously portioned. Desserts are a reasonable £7.75.

AboutOn the hottest day of the year, the idea of dining at a restaurant called Roast seemed like a bad joke. But as I arrived, less than fresh from a bus that had seemed intent on resembling the inside of a convection oven, I climbed the stairs above the market into a blissful oasis of air-conditioned cool. 

Roast was opened 8 years ago by Iqbal Wahhab, of Cinnamon Club fame: the building itself was once in Covent Garden, but was carefully relocated to its current perch high above the bustling Borough Market. The head chef, Marcus Verbene, has a flawless pedigree: he was previously executive chef at Brown's Hotel in Mayfair, after stints at Le Caprice, The Ivy and J Sheekey. The room is airy, and flooded with light from the huge arched windows: on one side, you can see St Paul’s, on the other, trains rattle past while you gaze down on the crowds outside the pubs and restaurants on the market’s fringes.

What we ate: Briefly tempted by the idea of a chilled pea soup or a retro prawn cocktail, we ended up choosing the scallops, mainly because they came with whipped broad beans and smoked black pudding, which sounded too good to miss. They were rather extravagantly priced at £16.25, so I asked our waiter if they would be suitable as a main. He adopted a rather stern face: “There are three scallops”. They arrived, in the half-shell, on top of a small but delicious spoonful of the broad bean purée, and a tiny disc of crisply fried black pudding. The scallops were plump and perfectly cooked, if slightly awkward to eat direct from the rather wobbly shells.

Onto the mains, and John, who had come straight off a flight from China and was struggling to keep awake, opted for the rib-eye steak with chips and béarnaise sauce. The steak, which I was told was from a Cumbrian herd, was absolutely delicious: at £35, you would expect good quality meat, and it was. The chips, too, were excellent - crisp, fluffy, the business.

I asked for the poached salmon with marinated fennel and foraged herbs, and the waiter came over all stern-face again. “It is served at room temperature”, he intoned. “I say this, because some customers have complained that the salmon is cold. But it is a very good choice”. Suitably informed, I threw caution to the winds and ordered the salmon anyway. It was just right, moist and succulent - and the sprouting broccoli I ordered as a side was a perfect accompaniment, along with most of John’s béarnaise sauce which he didn’t notice I had pinched.

Onto dessert, for I had sent John a one-line text before we met up, insisting that he was not allowed to fall asleep before dessert, jet lag or no jet lag. I’m not the kind of girl to let a heat wave stand between me and my favourite pudding, so sticky date pud it was, with my usual rider - extra toffee sauce. John went for the more summery Eton mess, which came in a pretty shade of pastel pink with a floral hit from this season’s most modish ingredient, elderflower. My sticky date pudding could perhaps have been served hotter, but it struck the right balance of moistness and lightness with plenty of toffee-like flavour from the dates; the sauce was rich and sweet, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Likes: A great location, fabulous space with a buzzy atmopshere, excellent quality British produce, along with a real commitment to good ethical suppliers and producers, and an admirable track record in charity work, there is a lot to like.

Dislikes: the prices are on the steep side, especially that scallop starter.

Verdict: Excellent British cooking, mixing classic dishes with some interesting twists. On such a hot day, I had been worried that the food might be too heavy, too traditional - but it was very well judged, and there were plenty of seasonal choices. If you want to try out Roast without splashing out on the pricey dinner menu, the breakfast looks like an excellent alternative.

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