I’ve only gone and eaten my first Sunday roast. It’s only taken me five and a half years.
I know it might sound ridiculous. As in hello-oh, what’s wrong with you? You’re a meat-eater and you live in London, what took you so long? Consider this, though: until August 2015, I’d never had afternoon tea either. What can I say, I’m a late bloomer.
Where I come from, Sunday roast is not a thing. Most Italians I know would probably be amazed to learn that a whole nation associates the word “roast” with one particular type of meal: the end-of-week special, source of family memories and heaps of leftovers for the weekdays to come. It’s not like we’re strangers to larger-than-usual lunches on weekends; if you ask me what’s my favourite dish on these occasions, however, my first thought will go to lasagne. Others might prefer freshly made gnocchi, or egg pasta with a special sauce. Each tribe has their own signature recipe, and roast will no doubt be it for some, but you won’t spot a pattern for that.
Now here’s a confession: I never cooked a roast, and find the thought quite daunting. It seems to be second nature for many of my British friends and colleagues; they tell me recipes are simple to follow, tease me for being silly, argue I should try. Maybe so; then again, some people claim making macarons is easy, too. To safeguard enjoyment, and avoid having a meltdown at the sight and smell of smoke coming out of my oven, I thought I’d better eat my first-ever Sunday Roast at the pub. Which one, though, and why?
With almost every pub in London offering a Sunday menu, choosing a destination felt like shooting in the dark. I knew I needed trusted reviews and evidence of large helpings to reassure me; I won’t put up with scant, unsatisfactory meals on the weekend (or any other day, really). I also wanted to be sure my lunch wouldn’t involve anything I openly dislike: no point in ordering a roast with all the trimmings, if I am to push said trimmings to the side of the plate and stare at them in disgust.
The Crooked Well steers blissfully clear from broccoli or green beans, but that’s far from being the only reason why I enjoyed eating there. The place itself, with its relaxed neighbourhood local vibe, made me feel right at home. The staff bestowed me and my partner with plenty of nice gestures, from seating the us at a large table that could have fit four, to serving a complimentary plate of (excellent) fruit and nut bread as we read through the menu. Last, but by no means least, I had a cracking good roast. Gee, I bet this one really took you by surprise.
My first choice on The Crooked Well’s Sunday menu would have been roast chicken, but it comes in a portion that feeds two, and my partner wasn’t up for it. We both ordered the beef, and both enjoyed it; surprisingly for him, as he’s quite fussy with rare meat, and predictably for me, who never have well done steak if I can avoid it. I found the beef slices were cooked exactly to my liking; slightly fattier than I’d have expected, but I didn’t enjoy them less for that, and neither should you. Even gravy, which I usually shun, fits perfectly in all this: it gives flavour to a cut of meat that can sometimes taste bland (hint: roast never was a staple at my family meals back home), and there’s so much of it, you’ll feel grateful for the sizeable Yorkshire pudding on the side.
Our roasts came with carrots and greens to share; a complex, intense, glorious taste concealed beneath the simplest of presentations. I couldn’t tell if they’d been boiled and seasoned generously with oil and sea salt, or roasted in some other, even more indulgent kind of fat, but immediately recognised the flavour I’ve often tried to create at home, with no joy. I left the potatoes for last, just like the gluttonous yet provident child who wants end the meal on a high note. I only had three chunks on my plate, but they were definitely not what you’d call “bite-sized”. All had the perfect balance of crisp on the outside and soft inside, with a crunchy, slightly salty outer crust I’ll have a hard time forgetting. If you ever tried roasting large potato chunks, and have an oven that tends to turn them into glorified rocks, you’ll understand.
I’d have loved to order dessert, too. My eye was set on both the apple and cranberry crumble with vanilla ice cream, and the dark chocolate pudding with chantilly and ice cream (again, it comes in a portion for two, but I bet my partner would have had a hard time saying no this time). I held off: I was sated, and not willing to settle for a tame scoop of sorbet as the lighter alternative. It was a good job I resisted, as a small plate with homemade chocolate fudge landed on our table when we asked for the bill. Sweet tooth pleased, food coma avoided. Well played, Crooked Well. Well played indeed.