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Dear Roast Dinner Chefs And Restaurant/Pub Managers Of London – your guide on how to get (nearly) 10 out of 10.
You may have noticed that, as of 2023, only 4 out of around 250 roast dinners have been rated over 9 out of 10. None of them are closer to a 10 than they are a 9. Blacklock is the best roast dinner so far, at a score of 9.29 out of 10.
How on earth can you get 10 out of 10, I hear you ask?
Well…you cannot. I don’t want to ever think that something cannot ever be improved, which I guess is why the Conservative Party members wrongly thought maybe even Lady Thatcher could be improved upon. But 9.80, maybe 9.90 is up for grabs. Certainly I’m willing to offer scores of 9.50.
Basic fact – I am not a restaurant reviewer. I am a roast dinner reviewer. Almost all of the points you can gain are from the roast dinner.
That said, exceptional service, gorgeous wine, interesting beer selection (chefs/managers from Young’s – Neck Oil does not count), cute dogs, hot Spanish women and anti-Brexit graffiti can all help at the margins. I think it is possible to charm me into a slightly higher score.
I rarely eat starter or dessert – I’m trying not to be obese – so there isn’t much point in putting too much effort into your desserts for the sake of getting a slightly higher score on some obscure blog with maybe 100 readers a week.
However, offer a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake or a rhubarb crumble, and maybe, maybe I can be tempted. And if it is exceptional, and goes along with the rest of the experience, then maybe you’ll squeeze an extra 0.10 onto the score. I think The Dorchester did with their sublime mince pie soft serve.
I guess my point is, if you want to get close to 10 out of 10, it is all about the roast dinner.
Well you are definitely going to serve me carrots. Almost everywhere has done.
Roasted carrots are probably going to impress me the most – but do make sure I don’t need a steak knife to cut them.
Flavour helps – be it orange, star anise, honey if you have to – you probably aren’t going to get that highest ever score with just ordinary roasted carrots. Probably.
And if you have to mush them up, make it creamy – The Selkirk, for example, managed really creamy carrot and swede mash.
Do not serve me peas under any circumstances. Not even one. Hopefully I will remember to check when ordering, but if Blacklock had put a stray pea on my plate, they wouldn’t be number 1.
Sweetcorn is also no-go. Aubergine is fine though. Seriously.
Vegetables With Imagination
I can think of one semi-regular accomplice that will reduce the score if a roast doesn’t come with parsnips.
I’m not fussed which vegetables you choose, as long as they aren’t peas.
What I do really care about, is flavour. Imagination. Creativity. The vegetables are a chef’s opportunity to show what they are about – for roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings have pretty strict criteria.
One exemplar was The George who provided parsnip mash with mustard seeds which was exceptionally flavoursome.
A mini-plethora of places served imaginative hispi cabbage in 2022 – such as 12:51’s smoky hispi cabbage with something similar to aioli on top.
Cauliflower cheese (assuming you don’t want to charge me £6 extra) can be a way to my heart – there’s too many places to mention, though Madame Pigg’s Black Bomber cauliflower cheese was pretty stunning.
Not everything needs stunning flavour. Tenderstem broccoli could impress without doing anything special, as a contrast to more creative vegetables, for example.
Or you could just smoke the hell out of something green. Or cream it up – creamed leeks are always highly prized.
You probably aren’t getting an 8 out of 10, let alone a 9.8, if you cannot give me crispy roast potatoes.
Countless times I’ve had a really good roast dinner, that has stayed in the high 7’s because of dour roast potatoes.
What not to do – don’t cook them the night before. Don’t cook them the week before. Don’t make them too large.
I don’t think you can make really good roast potatoes without par-boiling them first. Granted it is easier for me to par-boil 6 potatoes in my crappy kitchen than to par-boil a restaurant’s worth, and I do write this guide without understanding restaurant kitchen logistics. But some places manage it. Blacklock manage it.
Anyway, par-boil, shake them around to rough them up, then roast in hot oil – duck fat if you fancy (and I do). You could roast them on a lower temperature for a while before whacking it up, but again, restaurant kitchen logistics maybe don’t allow it.
Salt (not too much), pepper, herbs – all good.
And, go on. Give us a 4th roast potato.
Yorkshire puddings do not need to be huge, to be good. Repeat after me, Yorkshire puddings do not need to be huge, to be good.
Yep, we all know huge yorkies are there just for wows on Instagram. I don’t care whether they are large or small (though small tends to be merciful).
What I do want on a Yorkshire pudding, is for the base to be soft, and the walls to be a little crispy – but not too much. Sure, throw in a herb or spice if you fancy going crazy – but I’ll let you off for a lack of inventiveness here – a yorkie is the least important part of a roast dinner. Yep, I’m from Yorkshire.
But whatever you do – don’t burn it. Don’t make it the night before. Absolutely do not leave it under a heat lamp for hours until it resembles a giant Quaver.
Maybe…make them freshly?
If you look at my league table, you’ll see that I don’t really care what meat you give me. The top 10 (as of spring 2023) has 2x beef, 2x lamb, 2x pork belly, 1x chicken, 1x pork belly and 2 mixed meat roasts.
That said, I do have favourite cuts – pork belly or porchetta, beef rib-eye, or lamb shank/leg. This is what is easiest to impress me with. Then again, Blacklock is number one with beef rump and pork loin.
If you are going to do pork belly, then make sure the pork is tender, the crackling crispy but edible, and the fat is gooey and sexual. The Ladbroke Arms perfected it – and I don’t like to think I’ve ever had perfection.
Me giving advice on cooking beef is kind of like Boris Johnson giving advice on parliamentary standards, but he would, so I will.
Rare is preferred, but I’m unlikely to mark it down unless it is actually burnt (hello me) – you should at least ensure the beef is tender.
Sometimes really top notch beef can speak for itself, but other times some flavour can send it to another level – maybe the budget doesn’t stretch for the very best cuts of meat in some venues. Wood Street Bar & Restaurant served theirs with a mustard and pepper coating – and it was quite superb. Being slow-cooked for 12 hours helps too.
I guess the same rules go for lamb – rare is preferred though maybe don’t push it quite as far as you can with beef! Of course it needs to be tender.
Bonus points also possible for flavour – I still remember one of my earliest roasts at The Dove in Hammersmith – juicy fat, succulent lamb and a hint of fennel.
Finally, chicken. Make it plump. Make it juicy and plump and please do not let it dry out.
I love a bit of chicken skin, especially if it is crisped up – and don’t forget the seasoning. Oh…and do give me stuffing, but without any fruit shit in it.
Added flavour, I guess of less concern with chicken – but maybe that is just because the amount of thymes I’ve been offered lemon and time chicken, and I can taste neither. The Gladstone Arms’ chicken supreme was sensational – but chilli and spices in a roast maybe doesn’t work for everyone – it damn well did for me.
There’s a place called Blacklock, and they do rather good gravy. Not sure if I’ve mentioned them before?
I need proper gravy. I NEED PROPER GRAVY.
You ain’t going to get the top score with jus, or some poncey rich gravy that they taught you at chef school. Sure, that might be the way to a Michelin Star – but ask yourself, do you really want the Michelin Star, or do you want to have London’s best roast dinner, confirmed by THE LORD GRAVY?
Most importantly, it needs some level of viscosity. I’m not asking for it to resemble custard (apparently gravy that thick isn’t cool down south), but I am asking for it to be notably thicker than water.
It needs to add to the roast – not detract from it, and not overpower it. Don’t make it too salty. Do add meat stock or whatever proper gravy requires (I never make gravy…you know what I do instead on a Sunday).
The Black Lion provided OMG gravy most recently – thick and meaty, it was just so sexy.
So, y’all know what to do now, right?
I look forward to finally seeing an improvement in roast dinners across the whole of London. You can thank me later.
Time to go back to telling politicians how to do their job. See you on Twitter.
How To Get (Nearly) 10 Out Of 10
Where now, sailor?
Random roast review: Oak And Pastor, Archway