Sunday, October 22, 2023


I know I can facetiously ask the question “does this excite you?” about the British Sunday roast because, when I have asked the question of someone, it usually does. It is a lynchpin of some families’ weekends, or the treat you saved yourself for through the previous week. If the thought of the meat cooking in its own juices don’t make you salivate, the vegetables will have, especially if I have planted that thought there. I can see it being some people’s last meal, if they are engaging in that thought experiment.

Knowing I use song lyrics for titles here, I was amazed by the sheer amount of song playlists available as a background to hosting a Sunday roast, emphasising it bringing together families each week – I only didn’t make that connection immediately because not every family gathers to have a roast.

If the purported beginnings of the Sunday roast are from a joint of meat, potatoes and vegetables slowly cooking in the same tray while you are meant to be at worship, returning to a meal ready to eat and swimming in its own gravy, I can see that observance remaining while church attendances decline. Adapted through successive centuries – your own choice of mains and veg will be different from the next person - and spread across the English-speaking world, the Sunday roast is now as quintessentially British as the chicken tikka masala. For me, the ideal Sunday roast is chicken, or even a nut roast, with potatoes, cauliflower and/or broccoli, peas, onions, a small Yorkshire pudding – not one approaching the size of the plate – and mustard, but not gravy. If I find myself at a carvery, that is what I will pick.

However, is “a carvery” a Sunday roast? They often have the same ingredients, and The carvery is like a fast-food buffet restaurant made from the constituent parts of a Sunday roast, almost like a grown-up version of a school canteen, with its origins being comparatively recent: the first two examples opened up in Tottenham Court Road and the Strand, both in London, in branches of Lyons Corner Houses, better known as a range of tea rooms run by the manufacturers of biscuits, bread and Battenburg cake. This coincides with the beginnings of Berni Inn, the first major steakhouse chain in the UK, with later competitors being Beefeater (from 1974), and Toby Carvery (initially Toby Pub & Carvery, from 1985). This line may have been what made me think that old English steak- and chophouses may have some crossover with the Sunday roast, when they really only cook the same meats.

It might be difficult to separate the Sunday roast from the British pub-restaurant as we know it today, unless you’re me, and the last time you went to one, you had prawn and chilli linguine – I didn’t fancy anything too heavy that day.

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