I have passed at least three pubs in the past week that claim to be ‘The Home of the Roast’, including one in Lynn, so I am a bit confused as to where this great English tradition originates.
Some say that it goes back to a 1731 ballad called ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’ which was written by Henry Fielding for his play, the Grub-Street Opera. The tune is still played when the Royal Navy and the Royal Artillery go in to dine at Mess Dinners, and the title inspired a work of the same name by the painter Hogarth who some claim sketched the original to prove that he was an artist and not a spy when he was arrested in Calais in 1748. Perhaps that is why the French nickname for us English is “les Rosbifs”, something that I personally take as a compliment rather than an insult.
Given the glorious history of the roast beef dinner, it is not surprising that the recent announcement by the Wetherspoon pub chain to stop serving it has caused some comment. According to the Daily Mail, this decision sparked ‘fury’, the Daily Mirror thought it was ‘outrage’ whilst the Torquay Herald decided that customers were ‘shocked’. Whichever emotion you choose, it is clear that the decision has not gone down well.
Is it a result of falling sales? Not really. The company update the menu a couple of times a year and have decided to concentrate on the core range on Sundays, as well as introducing an all day Sunday brunch. Other specials such as curry night will continue.
Ultimately, it is most likely a commercial decision to cut the roast, as the cost of a meal and a drink at £7 leaves little profit margin. Other pubs are available and many will continue to serve the Sunday Roast with the trend being to use better cuts of meat which might raise the price through the £10 barrier. Here, you are beginning to enter steak territory.
I like to think that I am something of a culinary adventurer, but it has been pointed out that whenever we go to the monthly quiz at the Victory, I make a show of perusing the menu very carefully before choosing the steak every time.
I am in exalted company. Legend has it that James I liked a steak, and in 1617 he stopped at Hoghton Towers, near Preston as he and his retinue were returning to London from Scotland.
He was so impressed by the quality of the food served, that he drew his sword and asked the servants to bring the meat to him. They followed his orders and knelt before him with the great joint whilst the king laid his sword on it and said ‘Arise Sir Loin’. Rubbish, says the bar wife who contends that the name of the cut of meat is derived from the French ‘sur loin’ or above the loin. I did take her into the Sirloin pub opposite Hoghton Towers, but she still remains to be convinced. Either way, the king must have been well looked after, as his Lancashire host Richard de Hoghton spent a year in the prison at Fleet as a result of the debts incurred by James’s visit.
Incidentally, a double sirloin is called a ‘Baron of Beef’ and this gives its name to the pub in Cambridge where Clive Sinclair is alleged to have had a fight with Chris Curry, as a result of Curry’s decision to leave Sinclair and go off to help found Acorn computers.