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Carving out a niche for the sensible Sunday roast

Published 2 April 2006
News Review
663rd article

Michael with Zoun Boin and Simon Brencher at Roast restaurant (Paola Lombard)

Here's an example of "service" offered by what is bizarrely called the hospitality industry. On Saturday I telephoned Roast, a restaurant south of the Thames. I said, "Could I have a large table for two for lunch tomorrow at 1pm?"

A man, I forgot to take his name, replied, "Could you come at 1.30?" I said, "I asked for 1 o'clock."

He intoned, "We can't give you a big table then, we're full." "Are you the restaurant manager?" I inquired. He said, "No." I was put through to the general manager, Tea Staegemann. I repeated the request I'd just made. "No problem, Mr Winner," she said.

The next day I drove the Princess through appalling streets full of horrible cars on a ghastly journey to end up at Borough Market where Roast is located.

We entered at two minutes past 1, the time I'd been assured it would be full.

There were 16 empty tables. Throughout the meal many tables remained unoccupied. I could have got snow blindness from the tablecloths.

When we left at 2.30pm there were still 10 empty tables. I ask myself: what pathetic moron, desperate to exercise authority, lies about the availability of tables? From your letters I know the idiot at Roast is not alone. You tell me, again and again, of similar stories.

The room at Roast is absolutely beautiful. It's got tall windows overlooking the Victorian wrought iron of Borough Market, a place many restaurateurs buy from.

Another window reveals St Paul's Cathedral.

It's on two levels, wooden floors, a view of the kitchen. There's lots of space between good-sized tables. It's owned by Iqbal Wahhab who has the Cinnamon Club in Westminster, which I hated beyond belief.

The menu's very sensible, full of English dishes, simply described. Paola observed, "For once someone's got roast chicken on a Sunday lunch menu."

The restaurant manager, Zoun Boin, announced, "Simon will look after you."

"Who's he?" I asked.

"The floor manager," explained Zoun. "Why can't you look after me?" I asked, "he can do floors, you do people. I just about qualify."

After we'd checked the menu Zoun reappeared. "I won't order as you haven't got a pad," I explained. "I've got my head," said Zoun. "I've had more wrong dishes from people's heads than I care to remember," I responded. Zoun got a pad and wisely read the entire order back to check it was right.

I had a starter of Cornish crab cake with chickweed and cooked salad cream. It was excellent.

Paola had Shropshire blue cheese with cox orange pippin apples salad, very nice, then roast Banham chicken with Ayrshire bacon and bread sauce with a root vegetable mash and potato mash. She wasn't mad about the chicken. She said, "Travelling all this way only makes sense if it's really fantastic. It isn't bad, but it's not nearly as good as chicken from Allen of Mount Street."

I had roast 28-day aged Scottish fore-rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, curly cabbage and house-cooked chips. The Yorkshire was useless. The chips were okay but not a patch on those at Heston Blumenthal's Hinds Head in Bray. The beef was moderate.

Paola tried some of my cabbage. She asked, "Is that cabbage?" I said, "Well, it isn't the window, is it!" She replied, "It's like leather." She greatly liked her mashed potato and root vegetable mash.

The ice for my mineral water had melted as we finished the main course. Zoun asked, "Would you like some more ice?" Of course I would! I hadn't even had dessert! Why should she assume I'd stop drinking water?

I had rhubarb and hazelnut crumble with custard. It was brilliant, possibly historic. Paola spooned away my custard and declared it superb. She asked, "Why don't they call my clementine water ice a sorbet?"

I said, "Because it's an English restaurant and there's too much French influence around anyway." We both thought the water ice incredibly good.

Paola even loved the coffee and being of Italian extraction (whatever that means) she's very fussy about coffee. Overall it was a fairly pleasant experience.

  • PS: Shortly after my visit Zoun left Roast to look after her baby. She looked after me. Another infant should be no trouble.

  • PPS: I was trying to find where Roast is but the Michelin Guide, the AA Restaurant Guide and the Good Food Guide don't even mention it. It's not the greatest, but that's unfair. It's in Southwark.

  • PPPS: Having told you last week how thin I'd got you may reasonably say, "You look fat in today's photo." Er ... yes.

    It was taken a few weeks ago. Since then I'm so thin you can hardly see me. That might be an advantage.

    Winner's letters

    I utterly fail to recognise the Palace hotel, Luzern, as criticised by Michael Winner on March 19. I think it stands for superb service in the finest surroundings. Michael should stick to Sandy Lane where he's reassured by someone always at hand to clean his sunglasses. That really is absurd service!
    Dr Tom Palferman, Somerset

    Michael's article on the Palace hotel, Luzern, was masterful and kind. I spent two nights there last year and had to leave rather than tolerate a third night. I've never had such a bad experience anywhere at any time.
    Dr Hugh Thurston, Jersey.

    Michael is lucky he couldn't get to the Ritz. I ordered a simple egg dish there, which a local cafe could have prepared. It was a disgrace. I asked the waiter to get me another breakfast. That was disgusting also!
    Lawrence Miller, Epping

    Michael complains because the Ritz manager (Winner's Dinners, last week) didn't warn him about traffic chaos that made him late. Presumably hotels must also keep up with weather forecasts to warn him about rain and read the City pages to warn him if a share slump means he might be strapped for cash. They should also read Fortean Times and caution he might be abducted by aliens and replaced with a lookalike ET. Or has that already happened?
    Mike Simpson Northumberland

    My wife read last week's column and said, "If Michael Winner can lose over two stone, why can't you?" Please tell me the secret. And can I part-exchange the wife for Paola?
    Laurie Anders, Chiswick.

    For you to lose two and a half stone is a historic achievement. I can see from the photo you've possibly lost half a stone from your face. The other two stone must have gone missing from your rockery.
    Barry Kane, Nottingham

    I've been looking at Tesco wines. If I bought a Mateus rose how could I recycle the bottle as it won't fit into the hole of the bottle bank? Likewise Blue Nun. There are only slots for brown, green and clear. What does Michael, the genie of the recycled bottle, recommend?
    Peter Stancombe, Dorset

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk