Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurants

Article excerpt

I've been looking forward to the new restaurant Roast for ages. It's the brainchild of Iqbal Wahhab, of Cinnamon Club fame, who, as far as I can gather from what I've read, wants to 'vault British cooking back on the international stage' if it was ever there. Was it? Perhaps it was. Perhaps it's just that British cooking has only done B-movies and bad Agatha Christie plays in the sticks for so long now that no one can remember. I think Mr Wahhab hopes to do for British food what Quentin Tarantino did for John Travolta, make it a player, and good for him. Yes, Mr Wahhab is Asian but, as he says, 'It probably takes someone who is not 100 per cent British to say, come on, guys, be proud of your food.' This is a very good point as, over the years, I have come to feel little but shame for our food. As it is, I cannot pass the Angus Steak House in Leicester Square without wishing to shout at the tourists, 'Get out, get out, while you've still got the time.' And, 'Don't be fooled by "Marie Rose" sauce. It is only salad cream mixed with ketchup!' Roast seems to do much that is right from the off. Apart, that is, from asking for my credit card number when I book (a table for five) and then telling me I'll be charged £25 a head should I cancel for any reason. God, I hate that. Any reason? I query. OK, say I'm diagnosed with something hideously terminal in the morning and then, come the afternoon, my legs fall off, as do my elbows, but I'll still have to pay £125 for a meal I haven't had, on top of everything else? It could be the thing that pushes me over the edge. And I'm in a wheelchair with no elbows! 'It's restaurant policy, ' says the lady on the other end. I can see that there are certain things businesses shouldn't have to put up with theoretically, like people not turning up, but I also think it behoves them to grin and bear it if they consider themselves part of the hospitality industry. The Angus Steak House never insists on credit card details but, then again, I suppose booking is not entirely necessary.

Now that is off my chest, on to what is right, and there is much that is right. The location couldn't be more right for a start.

Roast is enclosed in a glass enclave on the top floor of Floral Hall, a mid-19th century porticoed building overlooking Borough Market. This is Britain's oldest food market which, at the weekend, becomes a sort of Fortnum and Mason's outdoors. Here, when you buy an egg, you'll probably be told where the hen comes from, what kind of mood she was in at the time of laying and when her birthday is, should you wish to send her a card and a little something (Space NK gift vouchers always go down well; JJB less so). I wonder sometimes if, as a nation, we're in danger of moving from not caring a jot about where our food comes from to caring a little too ridiculously. The Roast menu, for example, tells you that the rock samphire has been picked 'by abseiling off the cliffs of Dover' and that the beef comes from 'Farmer Sharp and Ginger Pig', which is all lovely and Beatrix Potterish and I never feel happier than when I know someone has abseiled for my dinner, but where will it end? The Suffolk pork was brought to us by Slaughterman Sid who bundled the little piggies into the back of a van -- having told them they were going to Thorpe Park for the day -- whisked them to the abattoir, then slit their throats as they squealed and thrashed and thought longingly about the promised tea-cup ride, always their favourite. …

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