The man hoping to revolutionise British food

Our political élite love his curry house, but has Iqbal Wahhab bitten off more than he can chew with his new restaurant, Roast?

But the market's trustees went for Iqbal Wahhab, a large, gregarious Asian man whose Westminster restaurant, the Cinnamon Club, is a favourite of the political élite. Serving some of Britain's finest Indian cuisine, the Cinnamon Club was where the fire brigades union leader Andy Gilchrist and colleagues went on an £800 bender on the union credit-card. A group of left-wing MPs were called the "curry house plotters" by a Sunday paper after a session in a private room where they discussed ways to oust Tony Blair.

Roast, Wahhab's restaurant in Borough, is different. It will serve classic and modern English food, using the best home-grown ingredients. "It probably takes someone who is not 100 per cent British to say, 'Come on guys, be proud of your food,'" Wahhab says. He believes that English food can make it on to the world map - but only if it aims high. Roast will try to prove that.

Wahhab was born in Bangladesh but has lived in this country since he was eight months old. He thinks Englishness, or Britishness, can now be expressed without jingoistic overtones - and that our appreciation of food has moved on, too. "People understand the notion of provenance in food; that the difference between a £2 supermarket chicken and a £5 chicken is not the £3. The difference is the taste."

Although gastropubs have had a go at English cuisine, they usually have tiny kitchens. Roast has 20 chefs, a huge kitchen and full table-service. There are posh English restaurants in London, such as Rules and St John, but the ethos of Roast promises to be much more contemporary.

"There is something very sexy about British food right now," Wahhab says. "And it has never been sexy before. I think it's part of a movement that also brought us Britart and, around here, things like the Tate Modern gallery and the Fashion Museum."

Roast is going to be rigorous about the quality of what goes into its dishes. "This is not just about English cooking. We will focus on our ability to source ingredients, as much as our ability to cook," Wahhab says.

They're in the right place to do that. The market below, visible through Roast's huge windows, is a gourmand's delight. From wild British beef (native breeds, grass-reared, hung for four weeks) to monkfish cheeks, Lincolnshire poacher cheese and oxtail terrine, Borough Market has it all. For some dishes, the chefs need only wander around outside of a morning.

Wahhab and the chefs, led by Lawrence Keogh (previously head chef at The Avenue in Piccadilly) have forged relationships with farms, visiting them to see how animals are reared and fed. Roast's menus include the name of the farm the produce has come from.

But Wahhab is keen to keep the restaurant affordable. "We don't just want to fill it with people from the City. We want to be inclusive." Lunch, with wine, should come to about £35 per head, and dinner £50. The idea is to be informal, so a market stallholder may come in for breakfast, while a family might take weekend lunch.

On the day we meet at Roast - which is running a full service for invited guests before its opening next week - the lunch menu has starters such as cullen skink with quail eggs (a soup) or diver-caught scallops with buttered leeks and pickled rock samphire. The "market salad" is venison with baby beetroot and horseradish. Mains include grilled rare ox hearts with worcestershire onions and bone marrow, and calf's liver with champ and devils on horseback.

The menu seems to be a mixture of a feast Henry VIII might recognise and innovative contemporary cooking, with many dishes invented or adapted. Spit roasts will feature every day. Favourites such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and jellied eels will, of course, appear often on the menu. The lunch and dinner menus change each day, depending on what ingredients come in. Breakfast, which offers dishes such as kedgeree with smoked haddock and grilled lamb kidneys on toast with mustard butter, stays the same, and there's an all-day bar menu.

Wahhab's enthusiasm extends to English wine - to a point. English wines are only a small part of the wine list - he is keen on sparkling wines, such as Nyetimber - but he insists that only good wines will make it. "I'm not listing English wines out of charity."

Wahhab was never a professional cook. He started as a journalist, getting his break when the Salman Rushdie Satanic Verses affair erupted in 1989, when he wrote on "ethnic" issues for this newspaper, among others. He went into PR (the Hinduja brothers were his first clients), before starting up a magazine for the Asian restaurant trade called Tandoori.

In 1998, he published an editorial in Tandoori that said Asian waiters were "miserable gits" who gave poor service. He received 18 death threats and was forced into hiding. He decided to show them how it is done - and the Cinnamon Club was the outcome.

Roast is in the Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 (020-7940 1300)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor