London’s Roast: Still Going Strong and Leading the Way at 10 Years Old
Roast has established itself as the premier upscale restaurant in the Borough Market area and an icon of British produce during its ten-year life. It was gratifying to find the food as good and the front-of-house so slickly run on a recent lunch visit. It was also a pleasant surprise to find it on the forefront of ‘local’ on so many fronts. Local food and beer is de rigor in Modern British restaurants of course, but Roast extends that objective to the more arcane and, frankly risky, pursuit of English table wine. Thus Bolney Estate Pinot Noir, an unknown even to some oenophiles, can be tasted by-the-glass (and it passed this taster’s exam as well, as a promising winery to watch. This vintage is a heavy Vin de Bourgogne that displays correct varietal character but could perhaps acquire a little more finesse in future vintages). It shows courage on the part of manager Sergei Gubars to place it so centrally. Likewise, the Somerset apple brandy (made in-house). I am very glad to see cider producers reaping the synergies of distillation that the Normandians did with Calvados, but it will take the heft of buyers like Roast to propel them along.
Roast serves breakfast and lunch. Here we review only the latter. The first thing to know is how popular it is. Get there early or book. Second, it’s a more ‘suited’ office crowd that I expected. I just expected Roast to be more bucolic, bearded and youthful, maybe on account of its location. Third, you can spend a lot, or spend modestly, depending how you treat the menu. The helpings are huge so you can save a lot but still have a filling lunch by ordering appetizers and sharing the main course -- if you are that level of intimacy with a knife and fork. Fourth, the depth and breadth of local sourcing is an example for other restaurants in London.
We started with butternut squash soup that, while not iconoclastic as a recipe, was freshly flavorful and well-suited to the chilly early spring days. An appetizer of peppered duck was a little too stringy. However, the scotch egg was a better-than-textbook rendition with tasty golden yolks and hearty sausage. My main of lamb sausage with mashed potato (whimsically described on the check as “Set Sausage”) was richly flavorful, admirably seasoned and filling. The savory dishes at Roast seem to fit the comfort food category readily, rather than breaking new ground.
A dessert of sponge cake with strawberry ripple ice cream was a finger of sponge cake and a ball of excellent ice cream draped in raspberry sauce. Altogether, very satisfying and warranting a long walk around Borough Market to work off the calories.
The wine, spirit and beer list is one of the most enlightened in London. It shows no deference to well-promoted labels and exceptional insight into the English wine industry and craft beer scene.
All of this is the lovechild of Iqbal Wahhab, OBE, who came to England aged just eight months from Pakistan. He graduated from the LSE and went on to a successful entrepreneurial career, founding and selling Tandoori Magazine and the Cinnamon Club before snapping up a decrepit storage unit at Borough Market in an auction and turning it into Roast. The results speak for themselves, particularly the ability of Roast to reinvent itself and stay relevant.