Part of our Back To Borough campaign, we look at Roast restaurant and its unique place in the capital’s food heritage
Researching a piece on Borough Market is now a look back to more innocent times. One part of its glorious history will now be hauntingly sad, and there is a burning hope among many Londoners that Borough bounces back soon. It will need our help.
So let’s focus on the joys of the place, and you have to look at Roast restaurant (reopening on 12 June), a unique, shiny jewel in Borough’s crown, at once appropriate and incongruous. Appropriate because it is a celebration of British food and of wonderful produce; and incongruous because at launch it was an upmarket addition to what was basically a fruit and veg market.
But Borough was changing and developing and maturing – along with the rest of London! – and it turned out to be an outlier. Iqbal Wahhab launched his venture on 2005, after making a success of The Cinnamon Club, a joint heralded as providing a step change in the way Indian food was presented in restaurants.
Wahhab was given the chance to create a food destination in the magnificent Floral Hall, overlooking Stoney Street through enormous Victorian windows. The mezzanine space was divided up into bar, open kitchen and one square dining room, simply designed to make the most of the view and the light. It remains one of the best places to linger over a long breakfast in London.
The restaurateur, born in Pakistan, set out to celebrate UK food in a fairly no-nonsense way, always blowing the trumpet for the producers that suppluied Roast – it is still one of Roast’s habits to showcase these folk and their food.
With Rock Oysters, Norfolk asparagus, ox cheeks, charcoal cheddar soufflé, and braised rabbit stew with venison chorizo, the chefs are painting pictures of the UK and have built up a loyal following of foodies, business people, families and others, all in the welcome embrace of a destination restaurant.
Roast is not St John, it is not Quo Vadis, it is not Dinner, it is Roast, a welcoming, tasty, well-presented, unique, heartfelt and beautiful experience, like going home. (But having to pay for it!) Let’s go back to Borough when we feel able.