The last decade or so of British chefs looking back to the great English traditions meant that the menus of high-profile chefs were now featuring haute versions of, well, steak & kidney pie. Even better, that greatest of all English traditions, the Sunday roast, has made its mark on the culinary trendometer. (Amusingly, the Guardian declared its revival in 2009, the Telegraph called it a “thing of the past” in 2012 – and then the Guardian last year hailed it as “a tradition worth preserving.”)
Whatever your view, Chef James Durrant is certainly the man you want at the job. He’s got Michelin-starred cred to spare, having done time in two of Gordon Ramsay’s top restaurants, as well as holding the Exec Chef title at Jason Atherton’s Maze. Now he’s at the helm of one of London’s most high-profile openings, the fittingly named The Game Bird at the plush, celeb-fave (David Beckham loves it) Stafford Hotel in posh St James. And they’re doing a quite a wonderful Sunday roast, we’re happy to report.
What else can one expect at The Game Bird? Four- and eight-course tasting menus might include Rhug Estate fallow deer tartare, Orkney sea scallops with roasted cauliflower, smoked roe and seaweed butter, and pigeon with parsnips, cavolo nero and “bullshot” – all very English, to be sure. And interiors to match. It’s actually named for WWII resistance fighter and spy Nancy Wake; and with its etched ceiling, charmingly patterned chairs, Chesterfield style banquettes, and Deco lighting fixtures, it certainly is a throwback to more, shall we say, mannered times.
Trad-loving Anglophiles that we are, we asked Durrant to give us a peek behind the magic of his perfect Sunday roast. And he was gracious enough to let us in on some of his most treasured recipes. (See below.)
“There’s no general rule to creating a fantastic roast dinner,” he insists, “apart from choosing good meat and taking the time to create a great gravy. When it comes to vegetables, add your favorites that are in season, this way they will be more flavorsome. Spring greens with a pinch of nutmeg work great with roast chicken, or a lovely peppery swede and carrot mash work great with beef.”
Roast Rib of Beef, Yorkshire Pudding
Cauliflower Cheese, Honey Roast Carrots and Roast Potatoes
Beef and gravy
1 x 2.50 kg fore rib of beef (with 2 bones)
1 bulb of garlic, broken into cloves
A few sprigs of Thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
A knob of butter
2 x onion sliced
150g plain flour
500ml red wine
1.5ltr hot beef stock
Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F. Take the beef out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and allow it to come to room temperature. Place a large sturdy roasting tray in the oven to heat up. In a pestle and mortar smash 3 garlic cloves and most of the thyme with a pinch of sea salt and generous amount of olive oil, then massage all over the beef.
Quickly smash the remaining unpeeled garlic cloves and add to the hot roasting tray with the beef. Pop straight in the oven and roast for around 50 minutes, basting occasionally with the juices from the tray.
After 50 minutes, reduce the temperature to 190°C/375°F/gas 5 for around 10 minutes, or until the beef is beautifully golden brown on the outside and pink in the middle – leave in for longer if you prefer your beef well done. Carefully transfer it to a platter, dot the knob of butter on top. Cover with a double layer of tin foil and a tea towel and leave to rest. reserve the beef resting juices for the gravy
Meanwhile, to make the gravy, place the roasting tray on the hob over a low heat, add the sliced onion to the juices in the tray and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the onions are soft and caramelised. Stir in the flour, then whisk in the red wine, making sure there are no lumps. Bring to the boil, whisking constantly, then bubble until reduced by half. Stir in the stock, and then cook over a medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick.
100g plain flour
3 large free-range eggs
Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.
Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the eggs and a little of the milk. Whisk until smooth then gradually add the remaining milk. This can be done with a wooden spoon, but is easier with an electric hand-held whisk. Pour the mixture into a jug.
Measure a dessert spoon of oil into each hole of a 12 hole muffin tray. Transfer to the preheated oven for five minutes, or until the oil is piping hot.
Carefully remove from the oven and pour the batter equally between the holes or the tin. Return the batter quickly to the oven and cook for 20–25 minutes, or until golden-brown and well-risen.
8 potatoes (such as Maris Piper), peeled and cut into large chunks
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the potatoes and cook until soft on the outside. Drain and let them steam dry on a wire rack placed over a roasting tin.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Add a little oil to a roasting tin and place in the oven to heat. When the oil is hot, add the dry potatoes and stir gently to coat in oil. Roast for 40 minutes, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown.
2 cloves of garlic
50 g unsalted butter
50 g plain flour
600 ml milk
500 g fresh broccoli
75 g mature cheddar cheese
50 g parmesan
1 kg fresh cauliflower
2 slices of stale bread
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
25 g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Peel and finely slice the garlic and put it into a medium pan on medium heat with the butter.
When the butter has melted, stir in the flour for a minute to make a paste, then gradually add the milk, whisking as you go, until smooth.
Add the broccoli and simmer for around 20 minutes, or until cooked through and starts to break down, then mash or blitz with a stick blender (adding an extra splash of milk to loosen, if using fresh broccoli). Grate in half the Cheddar and season to perfection.
Arrange the cauliflower in an appropriately sized baking dish, pour over the broccoli white sauce and grate over the remaining Cheddar and parmesan.
Blitz the bread into breadcrumbs in a food processor, then pulse in the thyme leaves and almonds. Toss with a lug of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, then scatter evenly over the cauliflower cheese.
Bake for 1 hour, or until golden and cooked through
Honey Roast Carrots
1kg Chantenay or other small carrots peeled
100 g butter
3 tbsp veg oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp clear honey
Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Tip the carrots into a roasting tin and toss with the oil and some salt and pepper sprigs of thyme. Roast for 30 mins.
Add a knob of butter then Drizzle the vinegar and honey over the carrots, toss well and return to the oven for a further 20 mins.