While in London a few years ago Joanne and I set out in the early morning from our hotel near Hyde Park for a long, long walk. Our destination: BOROUGH MARKET, the 1000-year-old wholesale and retail market in the Southwark neighborhood in Central London. It’s on the same side of the River Thames as The Tate Modern and The London Eye, and directly across from St. Paul’s Cathedral. The two-hour walk is mostly along the River Thames and the payoff for our trek, in addition to the market itself, was a seafood lunch at SWEETING’S across the river from the market (more about SWEETING’S in a later posting).
Plan on getting to the market early – no later than 9:00 AM – in order to see the stalls at their abundant best and just feed off the energy of the place.
While we were there, we noticed a restaurant on the second floor of an adjoining building. It was impressive, so Joanne and I wandered upstairs to check it out. It called itself ROAST. We marveled at the giant windows and the light-filled interior. The menu reflected British traditional classics with some interesting twists. So we made arrangements for a window table for the following evening at 6:30.
Our starters included deep-fried whitebait and scallops in the shell with a surprise of a tiny disc of crispy fried blood sausage – good dish. But best of all were the Scotch eggs encased in HAGGIS. Yeah…yeah…I know: yuk. Double yuk. But this haggis was ACTUALLY GOOD.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO and BEET & GOAT CHEESE salads followed…..fresh, flavorful and artfully presented.
The main dishes reflected faithful interpretations of a “proper English meal”…lots of roasts, sauces, Yorkshire pudding, all with deep, rich flavor, all good, with an “ever so slight nod” to the “snout to tail” movement ignited by Fergus Henderson. There was pork belly, a scattering of game, and a particularly good venison. Nothing was cutting edge, but we didn’t expect it to be. Oh, and the halibut with whipped parsnips and the roast chicken with “streaky bacon” looked great.
For dessert, what could be more British than English Trifle with cherries and chocolate? Coffee came with petit fours, which were actually four little rice crispy bars. Cute.
I read that the building was actually moved to Borough Market from Covent Garden. And it’s stunning. Matthew Norman, food critic for The Guardian, wrote that the “setting alone would have guaranteed profitability, even if they had named it The Genital Wart.” (He also wrote of the fresh oysters….”I never know quite how to praise fresh oysters…..other than nobody became ill.”)
So, with my praise of the food and the setting, would I ever go back?
THE ANSWER IS NO.
Here’s why: On our first visit, when we arrived we were immediately informed that we had two hours to complete our dinner because they had another reservation for our table at 8:30. That was annoying. We would never do that at any of our restaurants. Secondly, we had reserved a window table, but were seated in the center of the dining room. When I mentioned that to the hostess, she simply said that “the manager assigns the tables.”
So I called the dining room manager over. “Those tables are reserved for regulars,” he said. And off he went.
My Dad once said to me, “Have you ever spit in a wildcat’s ass? Well, he said, it pisses them off.”
So now we are in “wild cat territory”, and the dining room is basically empty, save for two or three tables. I summoned the general manager, and with an icy blast of GLACIAL CONCEIT, he looked down at me – really looked down at me – and replied that they do not reserve window tables, but he would “see what he could do.” About 40 minutes into our dinner, our server approached us and said that he could move us to a window table. Yet he offered no help whatsoever in transferring our wine and appetizers to the new table.
Now, couple that with our mains served on stone cold plates and the server instructing us that we “MUST” order our entire meal at the same time. LOTS and LOTS of RULES.
A year later, with eight members of the PARASOLE CULINARY TEAM, I decided to give Roast another try.
Once again, upon our arrival, I was taken aback by the condescending personality of our greeter, who immediately informed we would have to vacate our table within two hours. Not “Good evening, sir”….no “How nice of you to join us”…not even a smile. I should add, the dining room wasn’t close to filling up by the time we left.
One other thing: the place is expensive (which I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t have the attitude).
So bottom line: London offers a myriad of better choices, especially if you’re in the mood for traditional British cuisine – places where they seem genuinely glad you’ve chosen them. Think HAWKSMOOR ….think ST. JOHN….think RULES…..
So this time instead of W.T.F. It’s…. F.U. ROAST.