A few years back I was on a quest to find the best French bistro in London: the opening of Blandford Comptoir has settled that particular issue. So now, I am on the quest to find the quintessential Sunday Roast.
Having tried Blacklock's seriously excellent offering last week, it was the turn of the Jugged Hare this.
There are three ingredients needed for the perfect Sunday roast: (1) the meat; (2) the spuds; and (3) the gravy. Yes there are Yorkshire puds and veg as well, but they are merely accompaniments, bit players, hangers on - acolytes to the holy trinity.
Pork, with thick, super crunchy cracking is hard to beat, and the middlewhite at Blacklocks was perfection. No pork on the menu at the JH, so we tried the mutton and the chicken. I find lamb (or beef indeed) difficult for a roast, as there will always be people who want it at differing degrees of doneness, meaning that there's often a drift towards over-doneness. The mutton was, nevertheless, perfectly acceptable, and the chicken (a generally bland meat, that needs the holy ghost of the gravy really to pull it up), expertly cooked, with a super crunchy skin. The accompanying stuffing, however, was dry and unnecessary, and cinnamon in the bread sauce is not the same as nutmeg, and never will be.
Spuds need to be light and fluffy on the inside and thick and crunchy on the outside. Both here at JH and at Blacklock they are roasted in duck fat (actually, at Blacklock, they seemed to have been fried on the gas in duck fat, rather than roasted in the oven). The JH's shade it here, being just as fluffy, but that little bit crunchier. That said, neither is really as crunchy as I like. There is nothing wrong with blasting them in a hot oven for a serious amount of time: boiling them first cooks them, all that duck fat and heat is doing is getting them super crunchy. Guys, leave them in the oven another half an hour. Please.
And so to gravy. JH's effort is fine, but no more. Blacklock's is totes amazeballs. I mean it is like literally the best gravy ever. It has bone marrow. Great big chunks of the stuff, slowly melting into the deeply reduced meat juices. I would go back just for a mug of the stuff. It is that good.
So we left JH with mixed feelings: it is a nice pub, with some good beers, a really good German riesling list and a perfectly acceptable roast. The service, however, is a bit hit and miss: waiters appeared and then disappeared, we tried to order but that was with the wrong type of waiter and, worst of all, as we left the restaurant, we passed the pass to see a lovely pork belly sitting there: "oh yes, that's the pork" we were told. The pork special that nobody had bothered to tell us about. The succulent looking hunk of belly and masses of crackling. Not that I'm bitter or anything, but seriously; it was pork for goodness sake.
I think that this is as far as I'm going to go on a Sunday roast hunt, however, as the conclusion I have come to is that actually there is a fourth ingredient, more important than the other three, that makes a Sunday roast a Sunday Roast: Sunday lunch is of course about the food, but it is also about who cooks it and with whom you eat it. Unless it's cooked at home, with the family round a big table, no Sunday roast is ever as good as the one that your mum makes.