Wednesday 18 September 2019

Brunch gets a roasting: the Sunday roast makes a return, and it's here to stay

As the Sunday roast makes a return to restaurant menus, Alex Meehan bids goodbye to eggs Benedict and says hello to roast beef with all the trimmings (even a Yorkshire pud!)

Chef Sean Smith preparing a Sunday lunch at the Cliff Townhouse. Photo by Shane O'Neill
Chef Sean Smith preparing a Sunday lunch at the Cliff Townhouse. Photo by Shane O'Neill

Alex Meehan

The idea of an article about the return of the roast dinner could sound a little strange. "Did it go away?" you might reasonably ask. But if you regularly enjoy a roast dinner at home at the weekend, you might be surprised to learn that, actually, yes it did.

For the last 10 years, finding a restaurant or pub that serves a high-quality Sunday lunch in Ireland has been a lot harder, and the reason is the rise in popularity of brunch. While the number of establishments serving brunch has skyrocketed, the number of those doing a proper lunch has dropped. Or at least it had - because it seems things might be changing.

Restaurants such as Peploe's on St Stephen's Green in Dublin city centre, its near neighbour the Cliff Townhouse, and Seasons at the InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge are just three of the establishments who've recently brought back Sunday lunch. Chefs like Sean Smith in the Cliff Townhouse see themselves as being on a mission to rescue a classic meal from being forgotten. "To me, brunch can't compare with that, so it's not surprising to see a swing away from egg-based late breakfasts," he says. "Also, brunch is a young person's game. Older people, say in their late 30s and 40s onwards, they really love roast beef."

However, according to Sean, it's not simply a matter of swapping mid-morning eggs for mid-afternoon beef. "The classic Sunday roast has been destroyed by the carvery lunch," he says. "People are used to seeing it done really badly in a pub somewhere, where a piece of beef has been overcooked and then left sitting under a heat lamp.

"But there's no relationship between that and a really well-cooked roast, served medium rare with all the trimmings. They're only distantly related as dishes and to be honest, I think the carvery has damaged Ireland's food reputation. The meat ends up grey and dry, and doesn't taste of anything. It has to be smothered in a sauce and served with heaped vegetables so people think they're getting value, but they're not."

The Cliff Townhouse is primarily a seafood restaurant, but Smith is a huge fan of traditional roasts and so he serves a roast rib of beef from a trolley beside the table with Yorkshire pudding, roast vegetables and an onion sauce. He also serves a roast leg of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes, confit garlic, capers and rosemary, and occasionally roast chicken for two people. A two-course lunch costs €32 per person.

Cooking a good roast joint is a matter of starting with the right cut of meat - all the chefs I spoke to for this article agreed the only contender is a beef rib roast cooked on the bone. Smith cooks his rib roast overnight at a low temperature, putting it in the oven on Saturday night and taking it out at 1pm on Sunday afternoon.

"We set the core temperature to about 54°C and a good oven will hold it at that temperature. So the whole thing is medium-rare and then if someone wants it cooked well done, we can always do that for them. But this method produces the most intensely succulent meat," he says.

Wade Murphy of Restaurant 1826 in Adare, Co Limerick, serves what he describes as a "proper roast" every Sunday, opening at 3pm just to facilitate this meal.

"We open for people to have an early dinner or late lunch - it's a traditional thing and it's about giving people really good quality comfort food. I grew up as a kid having a roast on a Sunday, either at home or at a local hotel, and when we opened the restaurant six years ago, I wanted to do it properly here with all the trimmings," he says.

"I source a good quality rib roast from Garret's Butchers in Limerick, and we have regulars who come in just for that. We serve it with duck fat roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings made with beef dripping, and butter-braised carrots. And it's got to be served with a fresh homemade horseradish cream."

At Restaurant 1826, Murphy prefers a five-rib roast, cooked slowly on the bone and then taken off the bone and left to rest. Then it's blasted in the oven again to give it a good crust and it's carved. Usually, he just cooks one and when it's gone, it's gone.

He charges €26.95 for two courses for lunch and €31.95 for three courses. While that's more than people might be used to paying for a roast lunch in a pub or at a carvery, he argues that, in those settings, you almost certainly aren't getting a premium product. "It's not comparable really. Usually in those settings, you'll see a striploin or other cheaper cut, but I think a rib roast is the only way to go - roasting on the bone adds huge flavour to the meat," he says.

"I'm looking for a nice crust on the outside that seals in the flavour. It's also one of my favourite things to do at home, that and a roast chicken. There's something primal about the smell and flavour of roasted meat. People have been sitting around fires and roasting meat for thousands upon thousands of years and it's just a fantastic experience. I'm delighted to see more restaurants doing a proper roast now because it needs to be rescued from being done badly."

At Balloo House, a country pub and restaurant near Strangford Lough in Down, Danni Barry is serving a traditional roast as part of a three-course Sunday lunch. There is, Barry says, a big tradition of going out for a Sunday roast in the area and she doesn't see that changing. "Sunday is still a big thing around here and a Sunday lunch means a roast. We serve a rib of beef that's been cooked for 12 hours and then seared off before serving, with root vegetable mash and gravy. Getting the roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings right is also a big deal," she says.

"We steam our roasties and then shake them to make them fluffy. Then we par-roast them in beef dripping with garlic and rosemary, and finish them off in the oven when an order comes in. Yorkshire puddings may not be authentic from an Irish point of view, but people love them and, to be honest, I think they've earned their place on the plate at this stage."


Sean Smith’s perfect Sunday roast


Roast Rib of beef

Serves 6-8


2.5kg beef, bone in 

Rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2-3 springs of thyme, chopped


1. Marinate the beef two days before you intend to cook it. Make the marinade by mixing the oil, salt, pepper, crushed garlic and chopped thyme. Rub all over the roast, including the sides, cover up and refrigerate. 

2. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. Take the roast out of the fridge an hour before cooking to allow for the meat to cook more evenly.

3. Cook the roast for 1 to 1.5 hours on 220°C at first to brown it, lowering the temperature to 160°C for an additional 1-2 hours. The key is to measure the internal temperature of the meat. For medium-rare beef, internal temperature should be 54°-56°C, for medium 58°C and well done 63°C.

4. Remove the roast from the oven once the temperature has reached the desired degrees. Cover with aluminium foil and leave it rest before cutting.


Onion Sauce


1 litre of veal or beef stock

Knob of butter

2 large onions

2 cloves of garlic

250ml red wine

250ml port

1 tbsp corn flour


1.  Peel the onions and garlic and chop into small pieces.

2. Heat the butter in a frying pan, add onion, garlic and cook gently for about 15 minutes — the onion should be caramelised and soft. Add the port and red wine and reduce slightly, add the stock and reduce further into a sauce consistency. Add cornflour if necessary to thicken.


Mashed potatoes


11kg Rooster potatoes

250ml milk

300g butter

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Place in a large pot of cold water (ensuring they are covered up by an inch) and add a teaspoon of salt. Boil over a medium heat until soft.

2. Drain the potatoes, set aside and add butter. Mash the potatoes with a masher or a blender until smooth, adding the milk at this point. Season before serving.


Roasted vegetables


4 large carrots

2 parsnips

½ celeriac

½ turnip

3 garlic cloves

Fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

Knob of butter

1 tbsp rapeseed oil


1. Peel the veg and cut into medium size chunks, approximately the same size.

2. Peel the garlic cloves and cut them in half.

3. Heat the butter and oil in the pan and fry the vegetables for a few minutes, adding thyme at the end. Toss them into a baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Put the tray in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until tender.

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