For Want of a Better Roast
Searching for a Sunday lunch in London becomes something of a labour of love. The problem isn’t that there aren’t very goods ones. There are ones that are cooked with incredible produce and ones that are great value for money. The problem is that you’re arguably trying to recreate something that’s not possible to mimic.
You’re trying to recreate the smell of a house on Sunday that’s filled with roasting meat. The bustle of your family jostling around a table, fighting to get to trays of the trimmings at the table. You’re trying to capture the feeling of going back for one more helping even when you know you shouldn’t. For many of us, Sunday lunch is the epitome of family and the love that it brings. That’s a pretty hard ask for a restaurant or pub to conjure up.
The Florence in Herne Hill, at the foot of Brockwell Park, is doing its best to give it a good go. Located the perfect Sunday stroll from my front door, down across the park’s green hill. Due to the early spring sun, the pub is already full of people, spilling out onto their outside benches at 2pm.
The high ceiling, single floor establishment has a large oval bar at its centre. It’s then packed with a huge number of tables to ensure it can feed the weary-headed South London crowd. This is not the first time we’ve visited and we know well to book in advance. The open and light setting of the conservatory is perfect and popular for a catch-up when the sun is shining.
Heavily focused around the roasts, we’ve ventured off that track a few times with people ordering well-made burgers containing beef short rib. We’ve had the starters of sweet potato hash with a hen egg or the cured meat plate. But I’ve come to settle on the fact that, on a Sunday at least, it’s best to go for a roast.
There’s the usual selection of meats; Sirloin of beef, Norfolk chicken, pork and lamb with various trimmings. Luckily today, a friend has already eyed the specials. Beef has always been my favourite roast, and The Florence do a special option for two with sides for £50. After enquiring with our waiter, it’s the usual beef roast with extra sides of bacon chipolatas, red cabbage and, most gloriously, some beef short rib. The four of us barely miss a beat as we quickly order the last two.
Passing the time chatting as the expectation builds is made easier by the selection of craft beers, varied wine options and well made Bloody Mary’s that are now a London staple. Service is a little slow but I’m more inclined to give a pass when the environment is so relaxed. It slightly reminds me of waiting for roasts at my Dad’s. If it was dinner, however, I might have been more annoyed.
And then the beef arrives, most of the room pauses to look at the two giant boards laid between us. Metal skillets sit atop, the colour spectrum from golden Yorkshire puddings to ruby red cabbage and vibrant green broccoli. The usual roasts are plentiful but this is an incredibly generous offering. You immediately feel like you’re at someone’s dinner table, eying up each pot.
The beef is suitably grand with its two parts; the sirloin perfectly pink in the middle with buttery fat, full of flavour and well crisped. The short rib lies in a complete piece at first but yields to tender splinters the second your fork hits. It’s a great use of contrasting textures of the same animal and that’s before you even touch the trimmings.
The red cabbage is sticky and sweet, a theme that continues with the crispy parsnips with fluffy interiors. The sausages wrapped in bacon are roasted to a satisfying crunch. They’re ultimately unnecessary but add to the feeling that someone wants you to feel loved and well fed. Fortunately, our waiter ignored our initial order for a side of cauliflower cheese, else we may have needed to be wheeled out of the building.
We could only find one real negative to the cooking and it’s something that affects a lot of roasts in pubs: the roast potatoes. Obviously, a pub is fighting to turn out a meal, that takes several hours at home, for order throughout the day and sacrifices are made. Unfortunately, it leaves them slightly dry on the inside and not particularly crisp on the outside. It’s a small complaint but a core part of what makes a roast great.
You could argue that £25 per head (£35 with tip and wine) is relatively expensive for essentially one course, and it is. However, the amount of food here leaves no need for starters or puds and comes as close as I can think of to recreating the generosity of the home roast experience, out. It’s still not a perfect roast, but maybe that’s an unreasonable ask of a meal out. You do leave with the feeling that The Florence cares about giving it it’s loving, best shot.
A crisp Roastie short of great
Maybe a tad more expensive than your mother’s Sunday roast, but it is as lovingly generous and won’t leave you hungry. There’s enough variety to suit even the fussiest, it’s just a shame the potatoes are a little lacking.