The Sunday Roast: The Art & The History

January 30, 2019
The Art & History Of The Sunday Roast

No Sunday is complete without the smell of a roast warming the lazy afternoon air. Ever since I was a little bruise-kneed girl, I ate a roast dinner every Sunday without fail, mostly consisting of meat, carrots, broccoli, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.

Now as a bruised-kneed woman, I still eat roast dinners every Sunday but have created my own personal tradition. I often cook at home to the sounds of jazz, singing through my wine-stained lips as I stir the gravy. I choose seasonal veg and use a combination of meats and vegan options for the main attraction. One day whilst induced in a post-roast food coma, I thought to myself, where did this tradition begin?

After thumbing through the history books, it seems that Sunday dinner became popular in 1485, during the reign of King Henry VII (the father of the fat one with the many wives). Back then, meat was quite pricey, but by the 1700s, the Sunday Roast was accessible to all budgets. Families would buy a huge carcass and leave it to roast over a Spitfire while they attended church. By the time church was over, the roast would be ready. They’d often use the leftover bits of meat for meals and sandwiches throughout the week. I still do this, often making chicken wraps or bubble and squeak for the next morning. Up in Yorkshire, they invented a pudding served with gravy as a pre-roast starter. They hoped it would fill Sunday dinner feasters up so they wouldn’t have to buy so much meat.

The roast remained a permanent feature of the English Sunday for years to come. Even in the 60s, it was still an ongoing ritual accompanied by the crackle of the radio.

Although perfecting the art of cooking the English roast is such a pleasure, I do often find myself stumbling into the arms of a cosy independent pub that slaps up gorgeous roasts. Especially because the best part of eating in the pub is that there is zero washing up to contend with.

I often go out for a roast during an extra lazy Sunday (or less lazy if you think going outdoors is a struggle). A little place in London, Highbury called The Pig & Butcher is the best place I have ever had a roast. They have such an attention to detail including the way they spoon on your condiments. Their waiters are also well versed in the poetry of wine. They can recommend the perfect partner to your dish if you feel overwhelmed with the selection (or just grab a simple craft beer). But as you can imagine, this place has a high price tag starting at £17.25 per roast sans drink.

Another treasure close to my heart is in the shadows of Hackney- Oslo. Here, they play live blues to the beat of you crunching on your potatoes. I remember many a night lit by the orange glow of candlelight, knowing that if I died choking on a nut roast, at least I would die happy.

For last minute roasts with friends, I always pick The Queen’s Head in Angel or The Hawley Arms in Camden (which does an excellent vegan option). They always have a great atmosphere and a spare table somewhere. In both pubs, I always end up spending a lot more time there than I should and end up with a nasty hangover on a Monday.

If I were to write a Sunday Roast menu, it would be full of honey roasted carrots, fluffy potatoes, caramelised Brussel sprouts and wild duck as the meaty centrepiece. This would all be splashed with a gurthy amount of red wine infused gravy. But quite possibly the best fact about a roast is that it can be good for you- providing you don’t slather it in fat, douse it in sauce and drink gallons of red wine as I do.

For me, a Sunday roast marks the end of the week. A time to rest, eat great food and recharge for the week ahead. If I don’t manage to have one on the Sabbath, I feel a loss that I imagine is close to losing a pet hampster. And if you even suggest having a roast on a Monday, we cannot be friends.

If you would like to have a go at perfecting the art of your own Sunday Roast, here are some of my recipe recommendations:


The Main Attraction


  • Bubble & Squeak (Mash leftover veg together and fry with onion & eggs)
  • Sandwiches & Wraps (Use the leftover meat to make lunch)
  • Soup (use the leftover carcass to make soup by boiling in water and adding flour. Season to taste.)
  • Curry (use the leftover meat for a curry)

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