The great Sunday roast is as British as the apple pie that Americans reach for when trying to extol their pride in the good old stars and stripes. Many people will say that to get a true roast, you have to be out in the countryside, where the beef comes from a farm only a few miles down the road, and the veg are brought in fresh from the back garden. However, the pub is a Sunday roast hotspot, and with the number of them in London, there’s bound to be a feast to rival the tucked away spots out in the greener parts of the country. Problem is, whereas one pub can offer a fantastic meal that sorts out your entire Sunday, an equally inviting pub can fall totally short. Also, what of the trendier watering holes, whose interpretation of a roast is unrecognisable?
Bring the name ‘Hawksmoor’ into the equation, and you know you’re on the right track. If they know anything, they know meat. Foxlow in Clerkenwell is a sister restaurant to the famous steak chain, and inherits their outstanding reputation for meats of the highest quality. Entering the restaurant for the first time, the immediate impression was very good – an inviting ambience was created by the selection of families already there, which is what you expect from going for a classic roast in a pub or restaurant. The daily specials board was up, and had a variation of roasts and meats on offer.
Preparing ourselves for the impending meat marathon, we decided to go for something a little greener for our starter. Asparagus with ricotta and hazelnut caught our eye. When it arrived at the table, we were delighted to see how gloriously thick the stalks were – the feeling of actually being in the countryside and having the vegetables brought in from outside was already there (the Burrow Hill cider I’d ordered has also helped with the image!) With such thick stalks, the asparagus had still been cooked perfectly, and did not droop when we transferred them to our plates. The delicate, ever so salty pieces of crumbled ricotta added an extra depth to the distinctive taste of the asparagus as well. However, the hazelnut was a real surprise triumph to add – the nuts had been crushed into a paste and, along with the ricotta, gave a powerful taste to the entire dish.
The moment of truth was now here – the roasts were arriving. Not wanting to miss out on any of the meat on offer at Foxlow, we ordered both the smoke-roast beef rib, and the middlewhite porchetta with all the trimmings. The beef was everything we expected – sliced quite thinly, but not so much that the tenderness would be missed by the diner chewing it. The colour of the meat along the cut was a wonderfully subtle pink, as it had clearly been soaked up the juices while cooking – juices that just can’t be drained off too much when serving.
Unsurprisingly, the porchetta was equally as rewarding. Surrounded by a golden ring of crackling, the meat itself was actually even juicer than the beef – the knife sank through it with barely any effort at all, while the taste didn’t need any dressing up at all. I was even considering not adding any gravy to it, but when I tried the combination of the two, I was very glad I did – no overly aggressive seasoning, just a rich, meaty broth to complement the pork.
In terms of ‘all the trimmings’, Foxlow certainly go all out. When trying the spinach, which was a deep, rich green, all of a sudden we tasted subtle blends of Indian spices. The leaves had been infused with them, which gave an ever so slightly warming on your tongue when chewing. The cauliflower had been given the same treatment; the spices having been cooked into the ends, giving them a crumbly texture with a slight crunch. The next thing that caught our attention was the onion; or rather, the onion that had been filled with stuffing. Not knowing where to start trying to attack this meaty fortress, we discovered that it fell apart very easily, leaving you free to get to the lightly herbed stuffing inside.
An intimidatingly sized Yorkshire pudding proved itself to be as light as a feather, and when combined with the pot of gravy that had arrived at the table with the roasts, turned into a real peace of old fashioned British comfort food. Ladened with gravy, it was perfect to push around the plate, scooping up the subtle spices from the spinach.
Another classic piece of British comfort had also been masterfully done – the roast potato. There was no olive oil here though, or even butter. These had been cooked in goose fat, and as a result had the edges turning a deep brown, and needing a sturdy cut to break through to the golden innards.
After such a satisfying roast, dessert often doesn’t get a look in. However, the promise of Carla’s chocolate cake, and passionfruit Eton mess was too good to pass up. We were delighted to see that the chocolate cake actually had qualities of a soufflé – piercing the top of the cake, a warm, apparently lightly whipped interior was revealed, which was creamy, yet not sickly. A high quality cocoa had obviously been used, which was great to combine with the raspberries that came alongside it.
I’m not usually one for a variation on the classic Eton mess, but adding passionfruit to it instead was fantastic. It took me a moment to wonder why I was being transported to my childhood summers when eating it, but then I narrowed down onto what it was – the dessert tasted just like a Solero, but with additions of meringue.
It’s such a treat when you discover a restaurant that truly appreciates the value of traditional British dining. With such a high quality selection of meats available throughout the menu, and their skill at throwing tweaks into the mix that don’t come across as fadish in any way (that spinach with spices was a revelation), Foxlow maintains the levels of British quality and care that can, unfortunately, be all too difficult to find!
69 – 73 St. John Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 4AN