Opened in 2006 by restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab, founder of the Cinnamon club, Roast has prime location in the midst of London’s unofficial foodie capital, Borough Market. And despite a slew of awards and a focus on fresh, seasonal food that supports British farming (many ingredients are bought from the market) they've decided to shake things up by bringing in new head chef Marcus Verberne, fresh from Brown's Hotel in Mayfair.
Roast can be found in the ‘Floral Hall’ – a building used previously only for storage amongst the market holders. Recognising its potential for a unique restaurant location, founder Iqbal fought a fierce bidding war to secure Roast’s current home. And it's certainly an appropriate abode - Roast towers over Borough Market like a King surveying its myriad cheesy, meaty, duck-sandwich-ey disciples that sprawl underneath. Gaze upward and you can't fail to notice the beautiful south portico of the restaurant, which has been lovingly restored to its former glory having previously been dismantled in the '90s from its original home in Covent Garden. It's a vision in glass and black steel, giving the diners a fantastic view out to the market below - something that's particularly enjoyable in the sunshine.
The interior is rather beautiful once you’ve got past the odd entrance; navigate some twisty stairs (thankfully there is a lift for the infirm) past some hardly attractive decoration spattered with fairy lights and merchandise and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what awaits. The interior is simultaneously classic French and modern, with elegant white tablecloths contrasting bizarrely (but not unpleasantly) with the incongruous headsets sported by the waiters. Ask for a window seat – for obvious reasons.
One oft-made complaint of Roast was that it seemed soulless and full of tourists, and sub-par waiting staff made the whole experience so bad that many would refuse to return. However there have been quite a few changes in the line-up for 2012 and with a new chef at the helm quality is once more at the fore. The staff are friendly, charming and attentive, leaving you with enough space to enjoy your dinner but involved enough that you never feel abandoned. Ask the head waiter for recommendations when it comes to drinks as every member of staff is really clued up on their wine, ales and cocktails.
With Marcus leading the charge, the kitchen has a renewed vigour and the menu has real character and synergy. Foraged and wild ingredients are celebrated as much as the British staples, and there is a sense that cooking is a joy, rather than a chore. Forget the limp greens and soggy potatoes of Sunday dinners, because Roast is anything but boring.
For starters the menu is ever so slightly fish-heavy – a realisation perhaps that most want red meat for their main. The Lymington crab is flaky, fresh and creamy, and the Loch Etive trout carpaccio with shallots and capers a revelation in flavours. Delicate, pan-fried Manx Queenies (£12) are served in the most beautiful, tiny shells and just slide down the throat – though the distribution of garlic isn't always even.
If you don’t fancy fish there are plenty of vegetarian options on offer, with a celebration of fabulous cheeses to complement them. Meat-wise, earthy haggis, nutty chicken liver and salt beef all provide hearty starts to your meal.
For the main event, it really would be remiss not to plump for meat. The wild rabbit and cider pie (£22.75) has the surprise element of an addition of snails, which are a happy, meaty, rich and sweet marriage – the only gripe would be the decorative snail perched on top, which, without the appropriate implement, is incredibly difficult to prise from its shell. Slow-roasted lamb shoulder and rib of beef also come recommended, but the real star is the fillet of Kingairloch red deer with bashed neeps and MacSweens haggis. Ask for it medium rare and fall in love with the perfectly red, gamey meat that's the perfect match for its Scottish brethren.
For dessert you can’t beat the sticky date pudding (£8.75). The light, fluffy sponge and deep, sweet toffee sauce is heavenly, with Neal's Yard creme fraiche offering an astute touch of lightness.
Cocktails impress, not least the lavender infused gin cocktail, which is pretty as a picture (and very fashion forward, contrasting white crystalline sugar around the rim with a sweet and sour lilac inner) and downright delicious. There's a fabulous selection of wines on offer too, from the pricey to the eye-wateringly expensive – but even the cheapest bin is delicious. Plenty of the wine options hail from our shores, so expect good options plucked from places like Chapel Down, Stopham Estate and Ridgeview. If, however, you prefer those from further afield, a good selection of new world and old world is available.
The Last Word
The Roast reviewed on many different websites is quite simply a different restaurant to its current incarnation. Head chef Marcus Verbene is already putting his stamp on it, and it's a stamp that is proving very impressive indeed.