What tends to be lacking in even the most accomplished restaurant Sunday roast is a sense of homeliness – a sort of British Isles version of hygge, where all is well with the world because you’re consuming some heavenly mix of childhood memory and crispy, glistening fat from animals who lived a very happy life. If you come from an all-the-trimmings family, as I have, it is possible to go out for an otherwise lovely lunch that is entirely ruined by an insubstantial gravy.
No danger of that at Coal Rooms – I had heard Peckham-ites, a set of Londoners graced with more new restaurants than they know what to do with, raving about the bone-marrow gravy, and I knew I had to put to the test something that promised a like-your-mama-made-it level of umami.
The location, a former train station ticket office, suggests something overly hip and lacking in substance. In fact the space – divided into a coffee shop at front, a split-level counter and kitchen in the middle and a table-and-chairs dining room at back – has a wonderful warmth imparted by dark walls in the middle section and the smoky scent of huge ovens fired by Dickensian quantities of coal. The head chef is Sam Bryant, formerly of Smokehouse in Islington, so he knows his char.
I have mixed feelings about open kitchens but this one is a real showstopper, dominated by those giant ovens tended to by tattooed, cleaver-wielding staff. Our fellow diners supported themselves at the counter with restorative Bloody Caesars (£8), while we, with our comparatively clear heads, indulged in a classic French ’75 (£9.50) – champagne spiked with gin, bitter lemon and a maraschino cherry. This light but sharp aperitif turned out to be an excellent forerunner to the smoked feast that followed.
The roast – a 40-day-aged Shorthorn sirloin with smoked tongue and cheek (£18) paid full respect to the animal it came from. And it really does come with all the trimmings – the beef, smoked goat and smoked pork roasts are all served with a full orchestra of sides: beef-dripping potatoes, roasted carrots and gremolata, Hispi cabbage, parsnip and a date and bone marrow puree that was indeed imbued with deep, savoury flavour. The Yorkshire pudding that crowns each plate acts as a sort of edible silver-service dome – except you get to do the big reveal yourself.
The only letdown was pudding, which fell prey to the hipsterisms the restaurant has managed to avoid elsewhere. A tiramisu (£6) made with “waste barista milk ice cream” arrived in a highly unfashionable takeaway coffee cup, and though not short on flavour, lacked the squidge and melt of a classic tiramisu. Better to go for a pleasing dessert wine to round things off. But that small disappointment wasn’t enough to banish the feeling of hearty conviviality imparted by what is much more than just your regular roast.