When the French nicknamed the British ‘les rosbeefs’, it was most probably meant as an insult, a dig at a meal considered inferior to their flakey, buttery pastries and melt-in-your-mouth duck legs. What they didn’t realise, is that the Sunday roast is not simply a meal, it is an institution of our little island, a pillar of society that joins families and friends weekly. So when Australian chef Will Ricker announced he was putting a modern spin on this most revered of undertakings with his new restaurant, The Stoke House, it was with a raised eyebrow that I went down to try a new classic.
Venue and Atmosphere
The Stoke House is full of surprises; for me the first was that it’s not in Stoke Newington, and the second is that, despite the cosy name, the restaurant is brand spanking new. Located in the Nova complex, right outside Victoria Station, the restaurant is part of a glass-panelled behemoth of big names such as ETM’s Greenwood and Hai Cenato. The effect of all that glass is, of course, a bright, sunny, breathable space with views of the street outside.
On paper, it shouldn’t work - a restaurant that’s so new it could still have the price tag on, a wall of Brewdog beer cans creating a British flag, and a neon cow sign flashing - but clever design features save it from being sterile. Polished wooden seating, again not every exciting, is fitted to curve along with the shape of the building, creating intimate little corners in which couples sit knee-touchingly close. In the back, the open kitchen has greengrocer style boxes bursting with fruit and veg, giving a sense of suburban twee.
Food and Drink
If you could feast on aromas alone, The Stoke House’s fumes would be enough to feed you for days. Open those big glass doors, and immediately the spot blankets you in that ‘Sunday roast’ smell, so comforting that any British ‘stiff upper lip’ quivers in moments. Starters are light and simply thrown together; the burrata (£8), a mozzarella-style Italian cheese, comes with a big glug of olive oil and seeded cracker. Salmon (£9) is smoked on site, leaving it with a woodier, deeper taste than usual and is served as three generous slabs with a simple ryvita bread and dill creme fraiche.
Until I was 18, the only vegetables I ate were peas and sweetcorn, so a slave to the traditional roast, I am not. Neither is The Stoke House, though for purists, the adaptations are nothing ground breaking. Big fluffy Yorkshire puddings are served with every meat, along with a cauliflower cheese, roast potatoes and an uncooked cut of cabbage, which was a little plain. Meat makes up for simple veg, all sourced from Devon and Cornwall and then roasted on the wood-fired oven which adds a smokey subtleness that not even gran and her ‘all-the-trimmings’ offering can manage.
The beef (£19) had been aged for 28 days and was served pink and bloody in the middle to make the most of the flavours. Save room for a Happy Ending (their name, not mine) as desserts are what all Sundays need - huge piles of gluttony. The Baked Alaska Mr Whippy (£6.50) was an amazing tower of scoopably soft meringue on top of a creamy vanilla ice cream, with chunks of brownie hidden underneath for a chocolatey hit. Clotted-cream thick Lemon Posset (£6) came by recommendation, and was dolloped onto crumbly fennel biscuits which balanced the zingy citrus flavours.
It takes a brave person to mix up a Sunday Roast, and while The Stoke House's offering doesn't stray too far from tradition, it has enough tweaks to make it interesting. Don't let memories of hungover Megabus trips put you off the Victoria location, the restaurant serves the sort of comfort food that fills you up well into Monday, and has you dreaming of Sunday afternoons almost as soon as they're over.