How Australia’s top chefs are elevating the humble Sunday roast.
For most of us growing up in the ’burbs, Sunday just wasn’t complete without a good old-fashioned roast with the family.
Ah, the classic Sunday roast – beef, spuds, peas, Yorkshire pudding and gravy – is one of the greatest grandma hugs of the culinary world. But as families moved further apart and we all became too busy for everything, did the weekly family culinary huddle at home turn to ashes? When historians come to pinpoint exactly when Australia lost its appetite for British life, will they turn to the imminent fall of the Sunday roast?
If we look closely, chefs across the country are embracing the virtues of this very British institution, but not quite as we remember it.
According to chef and restaurateur Matt Moran (Aria, Chiswick), the influence of many cultures on our food landscape has seen the popular creation evolve and, arguably, improve.
“The English brought us the Sunday roast but the traditional roast is really not that conducive to our weather or lifestyle,” says Moran.
Moran has fond memories of growing up in a family that placed emphasis on the Sunday roast and three veg, but says we just don’t want a thick gravy or heavy meal that sits high in our belly for hours afterwards. “You need something to cut through all that fat,” he says.
At Chiswick, Moran offers a slowroasted lamb shoulder served with chermoula and baby eggplant. “It’s all you need,” he says, “I don’t even serve roast spuds,” he laughs.
Meanwhile, Josh Niland of Paddington’s Saint Peter in Sydney is reinvigorating the nostalgia of a Sunday roast with more thoughtful methods and a wonderful sense of generosity.
“A roast now in Australia could be a roast vegetable, fish or goat as the headline act,” Niland says. “Gone are the days of the dry roast lamb or pork that lacks crackle.”
Niland suggests the communal table aspect of a Sunday roast is behind its re-emergence as we look for ways to reconnect with each other.
“In a culture now driven by digital social interaction, it seems we are trying harder to turn off the iphone for a few hours and remember what it’s like to enjoy a wholesome meal and engage with being human.”
Fish has not necessary been considered a roast per se, but at Saint Peter it is the centrepiece of the Sunday feast. Think roasted John Dory and parsley root with John Dory bone gravy, corn-husk-roasted king trout or wild barramundi with roast onions and barramundi fat Yorkshire pudding.
The Sunday roast was once beef or lamb, an joint of meat adorned by jewels of potato and Yorkshire pudding whose role in the meal was to bulk it up. A whole chicken was a rare treat. Cookery writer Margaret Fulton says her 21st birthday present from her parents was a trussed whole chicken, butchered on the family farm. Later the whole bird joined the ranks as a Sunday roast stalwart. But lately it has even more competition.
As Sunday becomes one day in the week when many families have the time to come together, the Sunday roast circa 2017 is appearing in restaurants.
In Brisbane, Blackbird’s executive chef Jake Nicolson believes the evolution of the roast revolves around a newfound respect of our own produce and cultural backgrounds.
“We welcome our culinary diversity with open arms. I feel we are no longer being limited to the guidelines perhaps set in generations before us,” he says.
Blackbird’s Sunday feasting menu offers each roast garnished with its own condiments. Suckling pig is served with caramelised onions and chickpea puree. Wood-grilled Murray cod lands with pickled desert lime and curry leaves.
In Melbourne, Estelle Bistro’s threecourse, $50 Sunday roast is the hottest ticket in town. Though changing weekly, the menu lately includes lamb shoulder with celeriac and watercress emulsion. At Lezzet in Elwood, woodfired chicken or lamb lands on the table with Turkish salads, dips and pita. The classic Sunday roast now knows no cultural boundaries.
Back in Sydney, Glass Brasserie’s three-course feast is a global affair. Wood-roasted split prawns in dashi and garlic butter are followed by roast rump with Ethiopian spices (chilli, korarima, fenugreek). The Centennial is packed on the day of rest as Woollahra locals lap up roast pork belly with braised red cabbage or a vegetarian roast where chef Justin North chargrills large cross-sections of a brassica (cauliflower, broccoli). Irishborn chef Colin Fassnidge does a wholeroasted pork knuckle and colcannan for two at Banksia Bistro.
Brisbane’s Darling & Co offers anything from roast spatchcock and cauliflower with Middle Eastern spices to roast lamb shoulder with Greek vegetables. The Montague Hotel dishes up spit-roast chicken with lemon or roast lamb with tzatziki. And if you want to go top shelf, Stokehouse Q has a pancetta-wrapped chicken with burnt grapefruit, jus gras and native spices.
It might not be quite the same as grandma used to make, but that’s partly the point. Coming together for an Aussie Sunday roast is becoming a national pastime again. And you don’t even need to do the washing up.