Simply "The Best"?

The run-in with Tea Man - or the Tea (Whingeing Old) Bag as I now like to think of him - provided an interesting diversion over the last week. Following the comments, a few Twitter messages and several e mails, it's clear I'm not alone in questioning his approach to customer service which is a bit of relief, and makes it so much easier to put the matter behind me. And, obviously, to avoid his stall at all costs.

I won't though be avoiding Borough Market, which should come as a relief to the various stands that depend on me for their livelihood. Yes, I'm being facetious - although when I tot up my spending over the years, I'm pretty sure I've put at least three farmers' children through private school. Another reason I won't be avoiding the market is the presence of Roast.

I've been lucky enough to visit Roast many times over the last few years and it's certainly in my Top Ten. It's not necessarily cutting edge, it may not even be the best of its kind in London but, as discussed over a typically pleasing, lazy lunch yesterday with Iqbal Wahhab, the restaurant's founder, and William Leigh, maybe it's time we stopped this endless search for "the best". By what criteria are we judging a meal? This obsession with "the best" assumes that a previous example of a dish / ingredient was the pinnacle of said dish / ingredient, and
relies on a combination of taste buds and memory that I'm really not convinced I possess. Worse though, it removes the sense of emotion from a meal, treating the food, the company and occasion as separate elements. We don't rate our conversations in this manner, so why do we obsess over what's on our plates? And, of course, it assumes we all have identical palates and the enduring, mysterious success of Marmite is proof that we don't.

So, while I probably won't succeed in avoiding the word in my writing - and feel free to remind me of this as and when I do - I'm going to try and change my ways and leave "best" out of it.

Enjoyable though? First rate? Yep, both of those apply to consecutive Saturday lunches at Roast. As mentioned before, last Saturday was to celebrate birthdays and promotions, yesterday was just to have a bit of fun. Both meals though involved great food and brilliant company.

Last week started with a slight disappointment with the February Scotch Egg of the Month: Lorne Sausage. I'm a big fan of this peppery Scottish breakfast favourite but the format didn't do it many favours, particularly when compared to January's exemplary Wild Boar version. The pea shoots and piccalilli were good though.

Still, the meal soon picked up. Scallops - with a little Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and garlic - were fat and flavoursome, the kidneys were incredibly rich and the langoustines were a delight. So much of a delight in fact that Mrs L's plate envy was tangible so I did the decent thing and traded them for the remains of the kidneys. I'm nice like that. Sometimes.

The above were swiftly followed with a meltingly tender pork belly, wrapped in the sort of crackling you can hear being eaten at 20 paces. Or would do if you weren't distracted by two thick slices of roast Welsh Black sirloin and all the trimmings. I think I actually whimpered when it arrived.

To finish, it was a toss-up between two intriguing puds. St Helier Custard Cream or Jaffa Cake? I plumped for the rich, easy eating of the Custard Cream, three "scoops" of pistachio, vanilla and chocolate flavoured calories that slipped down far too easily. The Jaffa Cake looked very promising though, so I made a mental note to have that if it was still on the March menu.

And it was. So I did. And it was good. Before that though, we wandered through some more classic dishes. Sprats were beautifully fishy and crispy, and Brown Windsor soup was as good as I remember it from, ooh, about 1977. And this month's Scotch Egg is a take - and, in my opinion, an improvement - on that Harwood Arms' staple, the venison Scotch Egg. My experience of the Harwood's egg was of something meaty but unidentifiable. No such complaints with this one as the peppery gaminess of the meat shone through.

The main course decision was made easier when the neighbouring table received their order and my intentions not to have the Roast burger went out of the (beautifully ornate) window. Will had the same problem but then made a request that may just start a cult: instead of chips, could he possibly have roast potatoes and gravy?

Clearly I couldn't sit there enjoying the chips when I knew that roast potatoes and gravy could have been mine, so I made the same request. The result was 10 ounces of ground, moist, intensely beefy Welsh Black, the sharp kick of the lightly pickled onion - a lovely touch - and four salty, golden, gravy-drizzled, joyous little roasties. I can't recommend this Anglo-American co-production enough, frankly. You read it here first. And here second...


Helen said…
I agree with your thoughts about 'the best' - with this mindset it is easy to lose sight of many parts of what having a meal is all about and context, mood and company will have a lot to do with enjoyment. One of the 'best' (sorry) meals of my life was eating dried fish spread with butter and drinking a can of lager in Iceland's national park. It was the context, of course. I bet that fish would taste rank if I ate it in my flat in Peckham.

It's also like people can't be happy just having a decent meal any more. Everything has to be picked apart beyond recognition. Talk about taking the fun out of it.
Chris Pople said…
Neil all this looks absolutely stunning! I've been ignoring Roast up until now because I've heard some mediocre reports. But anywhere that can get pork belly right is not to be missed - there are too few of them in London.

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