In Sunday Sunday – Blur’s ironic celebration of the British Sabbath – Damon Albarn sings wistfully of roast dinners and walks in the park. However the singer once explained that the cover art depicted what would soon be the reality – a family trip to McDonalds.
And lo it has come to pass. On a cold Sunday in February, we unknowingly have our final Wetherspoons roast shortly before the chain decides to call time on the classic staple. Yes, if you want to “gather the family around the table / to eat enough to sleep” in a Wetherspoons in 2016, they’ll need to make do with a burger meal.
The location of our last meal is Stoke Newington’s Rochester Castle. We’ve heard good things, so after watching the odd Grimaldi Service in nearby Dalston, we take the opportunity to drop in.
Dating back to 1801, not only does the pub form part of Stokey’s history – it’s also a slice of Wetherspoons history. For, ladies and gentlemen, this is the oldest surviving ‘Spoons in the country (and a favourite of Wetherspoons chief Tim Martin). So surely a five-spooner?
Inside, we’re struck by its scruffy gin palace ambience – and just how boisterous it is. After a circuit of the pub it looks like we’ll be stuck in its unappealing rear conservatory. But we grab victory from defeat as a pack of students rise to leave us with the arguably the best booth seats in the house – from where we can admire the beautifully tiled walls and floors.
Sadly, we don’t spot Stoke Newington’s hippest resident, Thurston Moore. But the pub is fascinating to watch nonetheless. There is an even higher than usual count of solitary men nursing their pints. A customer carrying too many drinks spills some on the head of one, who wordlessly wipes the back of his head and resumes staring. Another looks up from his stack of National Geographics, delighted to spot us admiring the tiles, and gives us a little history. (“It’s nice to see someone who appreciates them”, he notes.)
A woman, who we passed earlier arguing with a wheelybin, begs from table to table until she is shooed out by staff.
Our food soon arrives. While we’ve been disappointed with Wetherspoons’ roasts before, nothing quite prepares us for the 1970s school dinner horror before us. The turkey is perfectly, geometrically, horrifically, round. It looks – and tastes – like something mass produced in packets by Mattessons. It is accompanied with lukewarm, glutinous gravy, slimy microwaved vegetables, and a dollop of what looks like Smash. Only the lonely looking party-sausages-in-blankets is acknowledged by our tastebuds.
As we come to terms with the worst roast meal we have seen in years, we watch with bemusement as a local takeaway pizza is delivered to a nearby table. They know.
It comes as no surprise a few days later when The Mirror reports Wetherspoons “secretly axes Sunday Roast Dinners”. An inevitable social media furore ensures, which the paper misguidedly fans by encouraging its columnists to spout nonsensical clickbait and its readers to petition. Across the readers’ comments, Britain makes itself heard:
“Taking away a tradition is abhorant”, thunders Rob of Leicester.
“This is the most popular meal JDW does. Last time I went for one they had sold out! What’s going to be removed from the menu next – Curry Club? Fish Friday?”, shudders Dave of Chipping Sodbury.
“The Sunday roast is Britain and it is disgusting that our national dish is being removed and yet they will keep having their curry night. I dare say that they might even start putting on a polish night in the see able future. No wonder we are on the rocks. Vote LEAVE in June to stop the rot”, adds MarkNorville, helpfully.
“This is just what Angela Merkle wants!”, froths Tom of Manchester.
We contemplate a counter petition before Boris wades into the debate. It seems Mirror columnists and armchair commentators alike are unable to draw the distinction between the Great British Roast and the Wetherspoons Roast. Let’s face it: only the former is worth fighting for.
If our Rochester Castle experience is anything to go by, we can’t be the only Wetherspoons drinkers “dreaming of protein on a plate” as Mr. Albarn puts it.
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