Toast the roast

By Lesley Foottit

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Roast potatoes Meat

Toast the roast
The traditional Sunday roast is firmly entrenched into family life, which means the on-trade needs to deliver. People expect a lot from it — succulent meat, crisp roast potatoes, golden Yorkshire puddings, perfect vegetables — and to top it all off, a complementary gravy.

Half the nation sits down for Sunday dinner every week, with 53% of people choosing to spend it with family. Roasts make up 20% of meals eaten out of home, with roast carvery sales up in particular over the past two years, so it is big business.

This is due in part to people being less adventurous and looking for “guaranteed, good choices” during the recession, according to Mintel. When catering for a pub full of people, getting it right every time can be a challenge, but is essential for repeat custom.

Turkey cuts the mustard

Many people write off turkey as being a dry, uninteresting meat, but when it’s roasted, it can be just as enjoyable as more popular meats, as long as it’s cooked correctly and served with the right gravy and accompaniments.

With the festive season approaching, turkey will be more prevalent on menus everywhere. “The key is to do it well,” says Duncan Marsh, general manager for turkey supplier Bernard Matthews. “Offer a great Sunday roast and word will spread like wildfire.” Marsh says the challenge is providing good value for money and turkey is a good choice because it is cheaper. It also has health benefits, including lower saturated fats than other meats, while remaining high in protein.

Bernard Matthews has tried to make everything a bit easier by providing smaller cuts of meat. Pub chefs can order cooked or raw turkey breast saddle and raw single turkey breast lobe, which is perfect for smaller venues.

Linda Covey, co-owner of the Trout Inn, at Beulah in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, sells roast dinners for £7 or £5 and, until recently, only served turkey on special occasions. Since finding out that instead of having to cook a whole bird for the pub’s un-predictable number of customers, Covey could order smaller cuts through the Golden Norfolk range, the Trout has offered boneless single


turkey-breast lobe.

“It is a really nice size, working out at about 10 lunches, which we serve with roast and new potatoes, seasonal vegetables, cranberry sauce and pigs in blankets,” says Covey. “There are no leftovers — and even if there were, turkey is versatile and can easily fill a few sandwiches or baguettes, or perhaps be made into a version of coronation chicken.”

Great gravy

Nigel Crane, Dorchester-trained chef and managing director of Essential Cuisine, agrees that consumers are currently going for roasts and other comfort foods due to the recession. He warns pub chefs that their roasts must be better than meals consumers cook at home in order to keep them coming back.

“Ideally, pub chefs would make their own gravies completely from scratch,” says Crane. “In reality, many are not in a position to spend time roasting bones for the stock-pot, because they are limited structurally, have a low skill-base or are pressed for time.”

Essential Cuisine supplies pork, chicken, lamb and vegetable stocks, which can make a chef’s life much easier. The stocks are powders that can be added to a dish at any point during cooking, giving chefs control and saving them time. The company also produces No1 gravy in beef, chicken and savoury varieties, which have good holding qualities to last throughout a service.

Profitable lamb and beef

Often favourites on any pub menu, lamb and beef are likely to leave a larger gap in the bottom line.

However, one way for hosts to treat their customers and still make a healthy profit is by offering alternative added-value cuts. People are used to seeing the same fillets and rib-eyes on menus, but with the right description, venues can branch out into successfully selling other cuts.

Foodservice project manager Hugh Judd suggests using rump or the larger, more flavoursome King Arthur’s cut of beef in a roast,
which both offer great value as well as succulence.

“During November and over the Christmas period, rump roasts are in plentiful supply and will be cheaper to buy-in than at other times of year,” he says. “The King Arthur’s cut is taken from the chuck eye roll, with the cap of the fore-rib added. It can either be pot-roasted or slow-roasted to produce an intensely flavoured beef dish.”

Added-value lamb cuts include Victoria roast (forequarter of lamb), leg noisette joint and a stuffed short saddle, all of which produce tender flavoursome meat.

EBLEX recommends putting on carvery roasts — as they are popular with customers — as well as providing sourcing information as more consumers are looking for it now.

Visit​ for information on more than 320 cuts of meat.

Picking pork


Pork is another meat rarely found at the top of the list of favourite roasts, but can be delicious when cooked and served correctly. Pub chefs can win by serving pork, as it is a cheaper meat. Shoulder and collar stand chefs in the best stead as they are among the best value-for-money cuts that still deliver on the plate.

BPEX recommends slow-roasting a whole shoulder joint overnight and serving with apple sauce, vegetables, roast potatoes and a healthy dose of crispy crackling. Pork collar is better suited to sharing roasts. Foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger suggests putting roasts on throughout the week, serving sliced pork baguettes and sandwiches to eat in or take away and recommends oven hog roasts.

Visit​ for more ideas.

Alternative roasts

Licensees must not forget about vegetarians. Carol Haime, owner of the Sandrock in Farnham, Surrey, features seven Sunday roasts on her menu — four meat, one fish and two vegetarian.

The Sandrock Sunday Seven are served with seven different vegetables, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and individual gravies.

The roasts are beef served pink with horseradish sauce, half-shoulder of lamb marinated in mint and garlic with mint sauce, loin of pork with crackling, apple & mint sauce, whole roast pheasant with apricots, smoked bacon & cranberry sauce, Scottish salmon fillet with butter & herbs, vegetarian Wellington with tomato and basil pâté, spinach & mushrooms in puff pastry with vegetarian gravy and vegetarian haggis with oatmeal, pulses & spices. Prices range from £9.95 to £13.95, with beef and pork roasts available in a child’s size portion for £5.95.

“We have been serving them for quite some time now so they have become quite popular,” says Haime. “Very often a party may only have one vegetarian among them, but they are choosing to come to us because they know there will be some good vegetarian choices as well as five or six meat or fish roasts, so one vegetarian can often bring in a much larger party. Lots of people are trying to cut down on red meat and veggie roasts are equally popular with non-vegetarians.” Haime says the meat roasts give a GP of 62% and the vegetarian varieties a profit margin of 70% to 75%.

Other pubs doing something different include the Devonshire Arms in Pilsbury, Derbyshire, which puts on a roast every day of the week.


Monday starts with chicken, then lamb on Tuesday, pork, turkey, fish of the day and ham finishing with a topside of beef on Sunday. A spokesman says Sunday’s beef is most popular.

The Inn at Farnborough in Oxfordshire, does a steak and chocolate special night on Sundays with chargrilled entrecôte steak, Caesar salad and fries with dark chocolate mousse for dessert. It costs £11.95 per person and is served from 4pm.

“We regularly get around 30 diners in, when we’d otherwise have been very quiet,” says co-owner Jo Robinson. “GP does take a hit, but it is compensated by the increase in trade.”

Sharing roasts

As the trend for sharing platters involving other types of food has really taken off, roasts are following suit. It makes perfect sense as Sunday dinners are all about socialising with family and friends — and sharing food makes the experience all the more fun. And dining occasions where customers will look for sharing options will increase as Christmas approaches.

In spring the Bell freehold pub in Alderminster, Warwickshire, introduced Sunday sharing roasts onto its menu. For £16.95 per head up to £17.95 for sirloin, customers receive a starter, a joint, platters of vegetables, potatoes and Yorkshire puddings as well as gravy and a platter of puddings. Desserts have included chocolate brownies, lemon posset and sticky toffee pudding. The joint must be ordered by 6pm on the Friday before the meal and the party must be between six and 10-strong.

“The parties are free to nominate someone to carve, but usually they ask us to do this,” says duty manager Tim Sidwell. “If there is anything left over at the end, they can take it home. It is popular as it is quite novel and many people say how nice it is to have family-style service.

We think it will become more popular as the weather grows colder, but we can’t do too many due to space. We
make a good profit on the sharing roast because it is such good value for money and people spend a lot on wine and drinks as well.”

The sharing roasts have been advertised across Warwick and Coventry, supported by in-house ads.

The Crooked Well in Camberwell, south-east London, has also got in on sharing, with roasts designed for two. A standard roast for one person costs £14.50, and the pub offers the option of roast chicken for two (£28.50) or roast lamb with spiced aubergine, tzatziki and jus for two (£32.50). Customers can also request a joint for a family-style roast.

The Crooked Well also offers sides of roasted goodies, such as extra roast potatoes (£3) or a side of Yorkshire puddings (£1).

Host a roast

Anglian Country Inns’ four sites are especially popular for roasts with newly-opened site Hermitage Road in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, catering for larger parties and celebrations with roasts. Conversely, the Fox at Willian, also in Hertfordshire, caters for smaller groups and couples.

The sites always offer beef, pork and lamb and other meats are rotated, including game and poultry, depending on the season. All roasts come with seasonal vegetables, roast potatoes and pan gravy. On making the perfect gravy, a spokesman says: “A good stock made from beef and chicken bones and a nice bottle of red wine always helps!” All ages flock to the Anglian pubs, including families and young professionals.

The company’s first three sites offer roasts on Sundays only, but Hermitage Road will offer its Host a Roast concept any day by prior arrangement. It requires a minimum party of six and must be pre-ordered at least three days before. The joint of meat, vegetables, potatoes and jugs of gravy are brought to the table for the party host to carve and serve. Desserts such as crumbles, steamed sponges and jugs of custard are also brought in large dishes for customers to help themselves.

“With all the sites we have a very good following for roasts,” says a spokesman. “We’re still in our first month, and I can foresee Hermitage Road and its Host a Roast concept becoming very popular.”

Add the trimmings

Potatoes play a big part in roasts and pub chefs should cater for all customers and preferences.

“It is also the busiest lunch ser vice of the week for many pub operators, so it can provide a real challenge, but there are ways to save time and still deliver great-tasting food without cutting corners,” says McCain Foods marketing manager Donna Rowbottom.

McCain supplies frozen roast potatoes which take 10 minutes to fry or 30 minutes to roast and will stay crispy when held in hot cupboards.

Lamb Weston offers an extensive range of potato products, including Homestyle Mash. It is supplied mashed and seasoned, is easy to portion and takes just three to 12 minutes to cook and serve. The mash is available in 4x2.5kg quantities. Oven-style traditional roast and crispy-coated roast potatoes can be fried in five minutes or oven-cooked in 35 minutes.

Lamb Weston also produces traditional roasting parsnips and honey-glazed parsnips, which can be cooked in 30 minutes.

“Sunday lunch is a great opportunity for pubs to target — with increasingly busy schedules, it is the one period in the week when families and friends have the time to get together around a dining table,” says Aviko general manager for UK and Ireland, Mohammed Essa.

Aviko supplies roast potatoes that cook in 20 minutes, supermash and creamy gratins with Emmental cheese that come in 100g portions. Varieties including mushroom, tomato & mozzarella and Emmental cheese & broccoli.

Roast sandwiches

Orchid’s Contemporary Carvery pubs offer carvery meat sandwiches for an average £4.99. The carvery stack is a warm ciabatta filled with a choice of meats with chips and a jug of gravy and the carvery club features turkey and gammon with Taw Valley Cheddar and a side of chips.

Head of Food Sarah Thomas says: “Everyone loves a great roast but sometimes, when you’re in a hurry or don’t want a full meal, a roast meat sandwich fits the bill perfectly, giving a quick and lighter option at an attractive price.

“Generally our sandwiches are made fresh from the carvery. However, if or-dered when carvery is not available — for example in the late afternoon — previously cooked meat would be used.” Customers are free to request sandwiches to take away as well.

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