Sunday Roast

Sunday Lunch at Baked in Brick, Digbeth

An admission: I don’t like Sunday roast dinners. As far as pointless meals go, it’s up there with the Full English breakfast, and don’t start me on that particular beast. The Sunday roast is a belt around the bicep, two slaps to the forearm, and needle into the vein shot of stoic patroism. It is a relentless onslaught of carbohydrates which only sleep can defeat. It is the dish that Brexit was built upon, the one that we still look at as ours in that typically resolute manner we are known for on these shores. You thinking I’m over-egging this, right? It’s okay, others do too.

Many refuse to listen to my sermon, but I have my reasons. I don’t like them because they are never done right. Honestly — ask yourself — when was the last time you were served a perfect Sunday lunch? It’s a myth: a fallacy. The tangibles are too big; it could be the roasties that go wrong, or the meat is overcooked, or the Yorkshire pudding is too dense, or the vegetables have been boiled to death, or the the vegetables haven’t been cooked enough. Much like my hairline, it is not quite all there. I’ve been dragged all over the country to experience this. Yes, they are the best roast potatoes I have ever tried, but the beef is like leather. And shouldn’t that cauliflower cheese taste of cheese? It goes wrong because all the best things happen in the oven, and each of those best things need different temperatures and times to cook. Some things need to be checked on constantly and others you can’t open the oven door. The Sunday Roast may take 3-4 hours on paper, but in reality it takes a lifetime.

When we go out for Sunday lunch I always try to find somewhere that can appease the both of us. If Claire wants a roast then great, but I would like to eat from the practised bit of the menu if I may, to see what the chef’s vision is instead of what he has been told he must cook on JC’s rest day. I had that intention when we booked in at Baked in Brick on Easter Sunday. I’d sit outside in the sun, underneath the burgeoning olive trees with a cold glass of wine in hand, eating pizza. But the menu was too good not to try out, and far too cheap at £20 for three courses. I could pretend that I was concerned about their prophet margins on this holy day, but I was sitting outside in the sun, underneath a burgeoning olive tree with a cold glass of wine in my hand, ordering suckling pig for lunch.

We take both starters, both of the available meats, and both desserts. We’d had one of the starters before; tomatoes and burrata in a bowl, into which a tomato essence the colour of blushed cheeks was poured. The dish was finished with a few dots of basil oil that immediately forms a relationship with the other liquid. The joys of spring in a bowl. The other starter is aubergine, roasted in the pizza oven until the flesh is spoonable and almost sweet, a pea hummus levelled out a little with ras el hanout, and scattered with the sweet and sour pops of pommegrante. It is balanced and refined; probably not the kind of dish you expect to see in somewhere that primarly markets itself for pizza. It should also be on the menu full time; this is the ideal lunch for one.

Drum roll please. Why does no one ever do a drum roll when I ask? Don’t these people know who I am? Drum roll. The roast is really good. The best I’ve eaten in Birmingham. Maybe not as good as the White Post, which I said was the best Sunday lunch I’ve ever eaten and subsequently went on to win that national title (and people say I know nothing), but not that far off. We cheekily ask for both the suckling pig and rib of beef which they are happy to do. The beef is rare, with that dark crust giving the Malliard reaction too often missing, whilst the suckling pig has that slight gelantinous quality to the meat from layers of fat protected by scorched skin. There is a tart apple puree, a jug of gravy that tastes of animal, and the ultimate in Yorkshire pudding. That pudding is an eruption of oil and batter, light and burnished; as good as a Yorkshire pudding gets. We request seconds. The vegetables on the side include roasted carrots, green beans, roasted mayan gold potatoes (a curious choice, but one that pays off), and monks beard. If I’m being hyper critical the monks beard would have been far nicer with the lamb, and the pedant in me likes to see green beans trimmed. But these are just small pickings. It was really rather good.

Desserts consist of a classic tiramasu and tarte tatin. The former is a generous portion of creamy things that happen to taste lovely, the latter a tiny amount of caramel away from being a very true rendition of a classic. I have a love affair with tarte tatins that goes back way further than this blog, and here it showed skill in getting a good cook on the apples and an ice cream full of honey flavour, if a little soft-set. The bill for all of this with two glasses of wine and a soft drink is £54. Way too cheap. With a second site already in place in Sheffield, rumour has it that Baked in Brick may also be looking for a more central location as a second site. More people with access to food of this quality can only be great for the city.

Regardless of the location A2B will get you there and back

The White Post, Rimpton

The detour to The White Post on the way from Devon was supposed to add an additional 45 minutes each side to our journey. Unfortunately for us, Google Maps is particularly shit at accounting for Biblical floods on narrow Somerset county lanes, in the same way that Noah was particularly shit at accounting for all the animals under the same circumstance (where’s the mention of Koalas on the ark, Noah? Or the Kangaroos whilst we’re at it). What started as a bit of rain ended up with us descended into a river between hedges, with water up the bonnet of the car and Claire screaming white noise about repair costs and flooded engines and very possibly shoes. I wasn’t listening. And then after we’ve eaten the rain turned to fog and the ground got all skiddy and a crash near Bristol rerouted us over the Downs where I honestly thought we may slip off the side and die. I portion part of this blame on God and part on Claire, who had far greater trouble finding the fog lights than she does my wallet. It took us five hours to get home, which totalled seven hours of driving. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The White Post do the best Sunday roast I’ve ever eaten.

Now before I break down why it is the best, please know that I really don’t enjoy Sunday Roasts. I find them nothing more than stoic patriotism; all overcooked carbohydrates and blistered brown meat. It’s Nytol on a plate and I swear they must have been invented by disgruntled wives who would rather watch the husband snore on the sofa than surrender him back to the arms of the pub. And it’s not like I have never had good ones before. My Dad does things with pancake batter and beef fat that produce volcanic spews of Yorkshire pudding. A fine lady called Fran showed me the correct way to roast a chicken and my future mother-in-law makes the best roast potatoes I have ever eaten. Correction. Second best. Apologies, Lindsey.

Now back to The White Post, a pub so at ease in its skin, the only thing it is unsure of is the county it belongs to. It sits right on the border of Somerset and Dorset, on the top of the hill with views of green and pleasant lands. When it is not pissing it down this part of the world really is beautiful. The pub itself is fully functioning; there is a bar with stools and a patio with benches if you only want a pint. The menu has one eye on feeding and then other firmly on impressing; there is salt chamber beef and sugar pit pork. Cous cous is Israeli, presumably because they also know a thing or two about questionable borders.

The first edible thing to arrive at table sets the expectations sky high. A skein of carrot slithers, fried to a golden bhaji crust, and sat in a puddle of soured cream. To this was poured a carrot soup as orange as Donald Trump and almost as thick. The soup succeeded in tasting only of the vegetable, the bhaji spice gently lifting it. Opposite me was liver parfait, textbook in execution and light in texture, studded with cubes of pear, gingerbread, and grains. There is a fat slice of brioche to smear it on and an unripe tomato chutney to stop it all getting a bit sweet. Both starters remind me of the first time I ate at The Hand & Flowers, when I realised that is possible to cook wholesome food with finesse. They do that with aplomb here.

And now the roast. They do not mess around when it comes to the roast. You order it and they bring everything on a board. Between the two of us we get slices of chicken breast and a leg each, the most perfect pork loin with shards of crackling, and lamb leg, pink and properly rested. There are potatoes cooked in beef fat with enough brittle edges to pummel with, parsnips and carrots roasted until the natural sugars caramelise and I start to weep, and giant Yorkshire puddings that are as good as any I’ve eaten outside my Dad’s. Apple and Horseradish sauces. A massive jug of gravy that tastes of animal. On the side is braised red cabbage and another bowl with cauliflower and broccoli cheese that could probably do with leaving the broccoli out on. It is everything that a Sunday roast should be but never is. It is a triumph to sourcing and to seasoning, to the virtues of an oven over a sous vide machine. We pile everything on to our plates and wonder how we will finish it. We do. It is remarkable.

Dessert divides us. I like the notes of anise and cinnamon in the spiced brulee, but Claire finds it a bit full-on. Its left to me to smash through the torched sugar and tip in the raisin ice cream. A cookie feels a little superfluous and unwarranted, though it does offer another welcome texture. I finish it. Of course I do, its delicious, but I wonder if the same rooted love is there for pastry as it across the savoury courses.


The bill, with a couple of boozy drinks for the passenger and a soft drink for the driver, is an absurdly low sixty quid. I felt almost embarrassed to pay it until they told us that they do a 10 course taster menu with overnight stay in the rooms above for two people for only an additional ton on top of that. Maybe its just this part of the world that wants to wants to be generous at lunch time, but it’s a welcome change from home where the best roast costs the same amount for half the size and a meal of similar quality would be double. It’s wonderful here, the passion is clear to see from the team, the love for food transcending on to the plate. The future is very bright for The White Post and I can’t wait to return when the drive there and home becomes a little less eventful.

9/10

Chez Mal, Birmingham

A few weeks back I had my birthday lunch cooked for me by a certain Andy Stubbs of Low’n’Slow, during his August pop-up at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath. For those uninitiated, Mr Stubbs is something of a local hero, expertly smoking cuts of meat over various chips, each appropriate to the animal and its accompaniments, and delivered with a palate of pin-point precision.  Our Sunday lunch consisted of two choices; brisket of wagyu or suckling pig, each of them perfect with roast potatoes that first crunched and then cushioned, and gravy that had the intensity of a several day reduction of animal juices.  It was, all twenty or so of us agreed, the pinnacle of Sunday roasts. Andy is hopefully opening a restaurant next year, when, fingers crossed, these roasts will return.

002

So that’s how Sundays should be done.  For the flip of that look no further than Chez Mal, the brasserie adjoined to the Malmaison hotel in the Mailbox.  The concept is appealing; twenty pounds for a buffet style starter, a main, and then a dessert.  Where it fails is in the execution, from the cooking right through to the non-existent service.  Our lunch took over two hours to deliver – the last hour of that being some of the most painful I have ever had in a restaurant.

It started decent enough.  The buffet style offering is well delivered and mostly well executed.  Cheese is kept in good condition with chutney and quince jelly.  Cured meats are of a high standard, the pick being slivers of serrano ham, the colour of a bruise and with fat that dissolves on the tongue.  Pork terrine was good, roast ham better and ham hock terrine even better than that.  Salads of roasted peppers and tomato were better delivered than sloppy couscous, but not as good as lentils packed with flavour and still retaining a little bite.  A chef was on board to offer advice, which we needed for dressings that looked uniform in appearance, and was more helpful than anyone else we encountered.

But then the gradual decline.  Sunday roasts were acceptable, the choices being either chicken from Normandy or thick cuts of beef from the ribs, both cooked correctly and gently.  A Yorkshire pudding tasted like it had been on the pass for some time, whilst gravy was deeply flavoured, if a little thin.  We liked the bowl of roast potatoes, less so the other bowl of veg which veered from good baby carrots to undercooked parsnips.

The other mains would not fare so well.  A linguine dish was erratic, the pasta a fraction overcooked, the tomatoes and peas nice enough but missing the advertised chilli heat.  A burger would be the worst choice.  Thick ground meat of no real quality, tightly packed and then cooked to a dry death that required the steak knife I was given.  It was a disservice to the life of a cow.  No animal needs to go like this; topped with a fatty piece of bacon, and smudged with a burger sauce that tasted of a crude bastardisation of ketchup, mayonnaise and vinegar.  It deserved to be quickly washed away, which it would have been, had we not been waiting for someone to collect our drinks order.

028

029

We should have ordered the cheese board for dessert, if only because the starters proved that they capable at shopping.  Instead we get a chocolate pot to pour onto bog standard ice cream and marshmallows, or, worse, the amaretto set cream which had started to split, with an acrid compote of peaches underneath.  At least a sticky toffee saved face, being sweet without overly cloying.

They save their greatest moment for the finish.  We were with family who were celebrating a recent engagement and had prior requested some cake with ‘Congratulations’ written on the plate.  Said cake arrives but with ‘Happy Birthday’ written instead, which, despite us making clear is not the occasion we are here for,  is left on the table without so much as an apology.  The bill is paid and we head elsewhere for cocktails, bemused that such a good start could become such a farce.  The salad bar for starters makes it almost worth going, the roasts themselves are okay.  The rest is unbelievably bad, topped off by the kind of service that left the most gentle of ladies frothing at the mouth.  It could have been so good, but ‘happy birthday’ Chez Mal, you’ve made a right hash of it.

4/10

Chez Mal Bar - Malmaison Birmingham Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

.