Sunday Roast

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.

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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.

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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

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