Marc Waddington’s quest for the perfect Sunday roast dinner to remember goes on
THE rain aside, you’ve got to love this time of year, with the perpetual smell of woodsmoke in the air and the crackle of burning wood (even when there doesn’t seem to be any burning wood anywhere near.)
And while food is one of those things that you tend to do well out of indulging in all year round, I’m sure winter brings more food to the mind of most of us than the summer does.
So this Sunday just gone, after a particularly wintry morning, the prospect of hot food and a roaring fire was at the top of my Christmas list – albeit I wasn’t prepared to wait that long for it.
After attending the Remembrance Parade at St George’s Hall, my girlfriend and I (not so acquainted with Sunday mornings) were at a bit of a loose end once the service had ended.
When the ringing in our ears caused by the artillery gun had finally ended, we turned our attentions to where we would find a decent Sunday lunch.
And there we stumbled upon the first problem – fewer and fewer pubs in the city centre are still doing food, and while the restaurant offering is great and varied, the idea of spending a Sunday lunchtime fiddling about with tapas doesn’t really inspire.
We decided on the James Monro on Tithebarn Street. Barely on the knell of twelve, the pub/restaurant was blissfully quiet. But while there were many tables to choose from, only one caught the eye – two comfortable chairs and a round table right in front of the fire, and although it wasn’t dressed, the staff were happy to let us take it.
The Sunday lunch menu, at £13.50 for two courses, was the only show in town. A choice of beef, lamb or chicken for the carnivores, and a substantial and imaginative vegetarian option for the non-meateaters.
The choice of starters was pretty varied, and with the soup being carrot, it meant my girlfriend had two options for the opener, which is a rarity. And one of them didn’t involve goats cheese, which was practically a first.
I opted for salmon and halibut fishcakes with baby herbs and homemade sweet chilli and garlic jam. The cakes were of a good size and light and fluffy inside, but the jam could have done with a bit more zing.
My girlfriend opted for a mezze platter of marinated and char grilled Mediterranean vegetables served with pesto and herb crusted brie.
While it didn't have all that many elements – mezze would normally have humus, olives or falafel – the vegetables were tasty and the brie a pleasant accompaniment. The toasted bread on the side seemed an odd addition as there was no dip for it, but nevertheless what was there was well executed.
But the main event was yet to come. A few weeks ago I took out a friend to the James Monro's sister pub (the Monro on Duke Street) and while the food was very good, it lost a star because the Sunday roast came, improbably, without a Yorkshire pudding, which is probably a hanging offence in some Middle Eastern countries.
This attempt did, however, come with a Yorkshire, so that was a good start. The beef was thickly sliced and tasty, although it could have done with being a bit on the pink side, and the veg was cooked just right. The problem was that I must have poured the equivalent of Lot’s wife in salt over it.
The meal could really have done with a bit more seasoning during the cooking process.
For her main course my girlfriend chose the vegetarian Sunday roast – a stuffed butternut squash with beluga wheat served with roast potatoes, parsnips, carrot and swede mash (or suede mash, as it said on the website, which wouldn’t strictly have passed for vegetarian) and a homemade Yorkshire pudding.
Whereas my meat option had gravy, hers had a cream sauce.
All in all it was excellent, and she was pleased they offered a vegetarian option, although the Yorkshire pudding was overdone and hollow inside.
To ensure the meal was as authentic a Sunday lunch as possible, we opted to share an apple and blackberry crumble. It was a great blend of sweet and sour and the crumble was crunchy. The custard was served in a shot glass on the side, and was slightly tepid, as was a glass of warm ginger ale.
Washed down with a lovely fruity bottle of Australian shiraz , this was a satisfying but not perfect meal, and the edge was definitely provided by the fireplace.
Not the Yorkshire puddings, sadly. But my quest goes on.