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Roast, Borough Market, London SE1

Clifford Mould enjoyed well cooked seasonal produce

Roast is perched above one of London's most celebrated foodie destinations,  Borough Market, where all kinds of artisanal produce is available. Once almost derelict, the covered market with its fine Victorian arcades and glazing has over recent years undergone an invigorating transformation. This area of Southwark is known as Bankside, and it is full of interesting attractions such as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Vinopolis Wine Exhibition and the famous Tate Modern Art Gallery.

Roast is the brainchild of Iqbal Wahhab, who founded The Cinnamon Club in Westminster, (see Dine-online review). I loved Roast's light, elegant, conservatory style with its bustling open kitchen - on the Wednesday night before Easter week when we visited, the place was simply heaving. The head chef is Lawrence Keogh, who was at The Goring with its reputation as London's most exclusive bastion of traditional British cooking. As you might expect from its name, Roast's menu is based around a large spit oven, where suckling pigs, poultry and ribs of beef are cooked. But there is a big selection of fish and shellfish, and the market provides wonderfully fresh vegetables, like the new season's tender English leeks, which I enjoyed as a starter done in two ways: the little shoots raw (or maybe blanched for a few seconds then refreshed), on a base of finely diced leeks gently poached in a dash of cream - very refreshing.

My guest (who is a local - he's Peter Wright, the organist of next-door Southwark Cathedral) began his meal with Bubble and Squeak topped with a poached duck egg. This was copy book cooking, the B&S had texture and flavour and the duck egg must've been laid that morning, for the white was perfectly set and yolk oozed out voluptuously. 

For my main course I tried the spit roasted half of Banham Chicken. The Banham farm is so green, it re-processes all its chicken waste to produce energy. I chose this dish because I'm always on the look out for chicken that reminds me of special Sunday lunches when I was a lad. This chicken was good enough by modern day standards, but the leg meat was too pale and it didn't taste as though the bird had been properly hung on the feather. I'd give it a cluck factor of 6.5 out of ten. The "trimmings" were bread sauce that was too thin and needed more bite of clove and some excellent bacon. The roast potatoes, done in goose fat were stunning - don't miss them what ever you do. Peter had the Roast Large Black Pork, a very generous portion of several thick wedges. The gravy was excellent, sage and onion flavoured and this did take us both back to happy childhood memories. We shared another seasonal English delight - delicious purple sprouting broccoli. There's a pretty comprehensive wine list, which happily completes Roast's home grown aura with some fine English wines. (Yes there are quite a few now)!

The pudding menu is very tempting. I tried to ascertain if the bread and butter pudding was served from one big pudding as I rather dislike those modern individual ones. This intelligence proved difficult to discover as our waiter didn't quite understand what I was driving at. Never mind, I ordered the English custard and nutmeg tart with rhubarb. This was beautifully made, with crisp thin pastry, a tremulous, wobbly filling topped with plenty of grated nutmeg, and some sharp rhubarb on the side to cut the richness. Peter's Apple Crumble looked a little pale and wan (we like the topping a bit burnt, sorry, caramelised), but the apple filling was delicious and the crumble had a good nutty texture. 

All in all this was a very good meal. Everyone on tables around us seemed to be enjoying themselves greatly, and if last Wednesday was anything to go by, booking ahead would be essential. The clientele looked decidedly indigenous, and my advice to tourists (including Londoners who venture into London's ethnic enclaves), is eat where the locals eat.  Apparently the Bishop of Southwark is a regular and you can't get more local than that!

Clifford Mould April 2006

Location: The Floral Hall, Borough market, Southwark, London SE1
Average a la carte prices -
Starters: £8.00; Mains £17.50; Puddings all £6.00
Set Menu £21 for three courses Monday - Friday 12noon - 2.30pm, 5.30 -6.30pm and after 9.0pm 
Breakfast is very popular, 7am -11am, Open 7 days, no dinner Sunday evenings.

Tel: 0207 9401300

Borough Market is open daily for the trade 2am-9am. The retail foodie markets are Fridays 12 noon - 6pm, Saturdays 9am - 4pm

On the subject of chicken, Kelly's of Danbury raise the best ones, but not all year round,
tel: +44 (0)1245 223581

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