My name is Lord Gravy, and I am on a mission to find the best — and worst — roast dinners in London. Why me? Anyone could do it. At heart I am just some northern tosser with a blog and a hairy chest that likes to think he knows about roast dinners.
So with roast dinner number 50 approaching, I wanted to go somewhere special. I wanted to choose somewhere that could challenge the number one position. There were a few places I considered for review number 50 — Tredwells and Blacklock I am convinced will be excellent… but I'm approaching the end of a three-month detox (yeah I write this shit sober… I know, I know… imagine being my girlfriend ffs) and I cannot see how either of those places can be visited without a nice glass of red wine. I am single, by the way. Though you’ve probably worked that one out already.
So… I really shouldn’t start two paragraphs with the same conjunction. You can probably also tell that I am not a professional writer either. Well… I write code for a living, which is kind of writing but with weird symbols mixed in.
So, next I decided to try booking Bull & Last — but I couldn't get their ordering system to work, then it went offline, then came back but didn't have any tables at all, even in October.
"Needless to say, my expectations were very high"
So… so so so so so so I will use as many repeated conjunctions I want. And whilst we are at it, Michael Gove, fuck your hyphen-hatred.
So. I then booked The Pig & Butcher in Islington. Within walking distance of Arsenal Football Club, apparently. Hasn't Arsene Wenger done a brilliant job there? Despite increased competition in recent years, he's won three FA Cups in the last four years, got through to the quarter finals of the UEFA League and is 6th in the Premier League. Which means they are the 6th best team in the country. He really should be manager for life.
The Pig & Butcher is a popular place. I had to book this three weeks beforehand, and could only get a 5pm sitting. And they only had two person tables available. As it stands now, if you want a table for two for lunch — you'll be waiting five weeks. But will you be rushing to book after reading my review?
Needless to say, my expectations were very high.
Regular readers will know about my beloved league of roasts. Albeit most of my regular readers are my friends. Yes I do have friends — my small nob and hairy nipples don't tend to cause the same issues generating friendships as they do relationships. I'm also not very good at sticking to the subject when writing.
"Beef is responsible for the worst four roast dinners"
My precious league table has just become a bit more special. I've spent some hours coding up some functionality, like a clever developer — so you can show (and subsequently hide) additional data, such as price, nearest tube station, type of meat, etc. I haven't yet put all the data in, so only price and meat type are fully listed — can you imagine having to read back through 49 piles of dross like this to try to take out necessary information to put in the database? Another reason I'm single.
I think that there is some interesting information hiding in there for analysis — including that beef is so rarely in the upper half of the list. And is responsible for the worst four roast dinners. Regarding the former point, I wondered if this was because I don't actually like beef as much as pork and lamb, or whether I tend not to order it in venues that I have a high expectation of? Time to put this to test.
Is now a good moment to ask you to follow me?
"Is it just me or has the price of roast dinners gone up significantly since Brexit?"
The Pig & Butcher menu consisted of… that's a good question, actually. Leg of lamb, beef sirloin and slightly controversially, pulled pork — priced between £17.25 and £19.95. They also had two sharers, which were chicken, or pork chop. Not entirely sure how you share a pork chop, though.
Given my earlier discovery of the lack of beef in the upper half of my league, and wondering whether this was down to my not ordering it in venues that I have high expectations of, I decided to order the sirloin beef, at the fairly pricey price of £19.95. Is it just me or has the price of roast dinners gone up significantly since Brexit? Obviously nothing at all to do with Brexit.
"I'm not especially keen on hispi"
Walking inside The Pig & Butcher didn't do anything to dampen my expectations — the roast dinners that were pretty universally being eaten were all Instagram-worthy, as was the venue itself. The venue seemed quite small — I noted a staircase but didn't venture towards it — with an open feel, despite the ground floor being split into two. It did feel a little lacking in space — the whole floor was reserved for seating, with a few people milling around waiting for a table — evidently you could turn up and wait for one.
It was quite noisy inside — that kind of excitable chatter noise where everyone's voices are bouncing off the walls, and competing with the low-volume 'musak' and echoes. Not really an issue, but I noted it during what sounded like a painful bagpipe track. Those with hearing problems may find it too 'buzzy'. Others will enjoy it.
Once we were seated, our order was fairly immediately taken and only took around 10-15 minutes to arrive, albeit without the leeks and with very limited gravy. I asked for extra gravy and I thought I heard the waitress mention something about the greens being on their way, so I tucked in.
Starting with the carrots, there were a small handful, diagonally-sliced. They were nice but ordinarily so, perhaps lightly buttered — it was difficult to tell.
Then there was a fair-sized chunk of hispi cabbage. Not my favourite vegetable by a long way – it was quite on the crunchy side — not too much but more than I would prefer. I found it a little bland, but maybe that’s just me – I'm not especially keen on hispi.
"I'm starting to believe they're making Yorkshire puddings so large simply for Instagram"
The leeks did arrive in a small pot to share after a few minutes. Not entirely sure why I am sharing a blurry photograph of a half-eaten pot — yeah I'm not a photographer either, and my phone is crap. The leeks were heavily flavoured with mustard — I think wholegrain — yet this completely outdid the creaminess (which was minimal) and the flavour of the leeks. They were also topped with breadcrumbs, which for me seemed a little odd. This should have been one of the highlights of the meal, yet didn't work at all – mainly due to the over-powering amount of mustard. We didn't even finish it.
Two of the roast potatoes were pretty crispy, the other a little chewy. Overall they were pretty decent — regular readers will know just how difficult it seems to find properly roasted, crispy roast potatoes. But had these actually been roasted? For they almost seemed to taste as though they had been fried. Surely not? Though the most important thing was that they were a decent effort.
The Yorkshire pudding was impressively sized — I cannot get mine to rise anywhere near like it… in fact you could say I'm generally closer to a damp, floppy squib. Though I am starting to believe that restaurants are making Yorkshire puddings so large simply for the purpose of Instagram. Fun fact – I have my own social media manager for Instagram. Check me out. Cheers sis.
"The more I ate, the more the flavour seemed to come out"
My issue with large Yorkshire puddings is that there is a lot of dry batter to be eaten — though with a plentiful supply of gravy, this is somewhat overcome. Alas, there was never going to be enough gravy served here, to soften such a large well-structured yorkie, with crispy walls and a soft but contiguous bottom. It did work especially well in combination with the beef and limited overs gravy.
Coming towards the end, you will be relieved to know (not that anyone is forcing you to read this rubbish…). There were two sizeable slices of beef sirloin — from what I was told the sirloin was cooked in a water bath and grilled to finish. A beautiful Spanish woman once bought me a cookbook where almost every recipe involved some complex machinery like water baths or vacuum sealers… it is the thought that counts, isn't it? I bought her a book on the Spanish Armada in return. Yeah she's moving back to Spain… fucking Brexit.
At first, I thought the beef was bland. I was eating the rarest part in the centre, thinking how ordinary it was. Yet the more I ate, the more the flavour seemed to come out. Quite a smoky flavour — nothing exceptionally so, and there were other flavours though my limited palate (not to mention linguistic capabilities and sex appeal) couldn't quite grasp them — almost similar to bourbon. My initial disappointment turned into intrigue, then enjoyment. This did get better with every bite. It still has me quite perplexed, but the more I think about it, the more I realise quite how excellent the beef was.
I also had a mouthful of the pulled pork that my accomplice had ordered. This was significantly better than the beef — it wasn't far from sensational. Smoky yet not overbearing. Should it be in a Waitrose Essential brioche bun instead? By the way, may I take this opportunity to clarify that Tories have not voted to eat school children. That is fake news.
"All I have had is a good roast dinner"
Finally the gravy. It seemed like a fair amount of effort must have gone into it, it had a fairly subtle richness yet was understated enough not to overpower the meal. Not entirely memorable but satisfying. Gravy can ruin a roast, especially when too powerful — this complemented the meal well.
Not entirely memorable but satisfying is a good metaphor for the whole dinner. Everything was good but only the beef verged on excellent. It seemed like lots of thought and effort had gone into the whole meal — yet I will more remember this for not meeting high expectations.
Expectation management is key in life, hence why I state in my Tinder profile that I have a small nob (I actually do… state that on Tinder). Alas, I went to The Pig & Butcher expecting one of the best roast dinners of my life. Yet all I have had is a good roast dinner. I felt slightly disappointed — though I shouldn't have done.
With the expectation that this could be published in London's most interesting and wonderful media outlet, if they haven't already tired of my pathetic attempt at journalism, I had been trying to avoid controversy — no Jimmy Savile jokes, no conflating jus with Jews, very few drugs references. I barely even mentioned Brexit. I really have been on my best behaviour.
"The more reviews I do, the more my heart breaks"
Given that everyone on TripAdvisor seems to give The Pig & Butcher five stars and there is generally a four week wait to book, there is probably something wrong with me — either that or everyone else has decided to support the Bay of Pigs invasion. It could just be that I am too northern to appreciate fully what they are doing with their roast dinner at The Pig & Butcher.
Therefore my one true moment of controversy — and I don't do this lightly — is the scoring. I’m only rating this a 7.63 out of 10.
I might even be being a tad generous there — my dining companion, who isn't a common degenerate like myself (one of his relatives has a swimming pool — one of mine has a British Bulldog tattoo), rated it a 7.5. He was a bit more nonplussed than I, despite having the very good pulled pork.
I really wish I could rate it higher because far more love, thought and effort has gone into making that roast dinner than many others that I've had. The more reviews I do, the more my heart breaks when I am not scoring somewhere as high as I want to. They also have two sister venues that do roast dinners, both the Princess Of Shoreditch which I have already reviewed (and scored higher), and the Smokehouse in Islington which I am super-keen to try. I would be very interested to hear if you have been to The Pig & Butcher and think I'm being harsh, or not.
There was also the usual bullshitty 'suggested service charge' already added onto the total — I wonder how long before Nando's start adding on a service charge for taking your order? That said, service was excellent — friendly, regularly asking if everything was OK (suspiciously too many times), there was water for the table, and all the staff seemed knowledgeable and keen to help. A similar-sized tip would have been left of our own accord anyway. I just begrudge being told that I should — I voted remain.
Follow Lord Gravy's roast-munching escapades here.
Pub imagery: Pig & Butcher