Sunday service: How London restaurants are rethinking weekends

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Sunday service: How London restaurants are rethinking weekends

Related tags: Sunday, Restaurant

They do things differently at Ceviche Old Street on a Sunday. While the rest of the week the Peruvian restaurant is the place to go for its eponymous raw fish dish as well as grilled meat, such as beef heart skewers and marinated Iberico pork, on Sunday the restaurant comes over all British (kind of), with a roast menu.

It’s not your typical Sunday roast, of course, but rather one with a Peruvian twist, with quinoa Yorkshire pudding, Uchucuta Andean herb gravy, yucas and green sprouting broccoli with amarillo chilli huancaína sauce. For those feeling even more adventurous – and who are part of a bigger group – Sunday is also the day the restaurant serves its whole suckling pig (for 10-12 people), which comes in a Peruvian-Japanese nikkei style marinade.

As Ceviche so ably shows, the Sunday roast and feasting-style menus of its ilk are no longer the preserve of the pub. Restaurants of all varieties are getting in on the act and creating sharing menus specifically for Sundays to give the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding brigade a run for their money – and even the most established are getting in on the act.

Fish restaurant J Sheekey, for example, recently launched a Sunday lunch feasting menu to offer a fun alternative to the traditional roast lunch, according to head chef Andrew McLay. The restaurant serves four different fish feasting menus, ranging from £58.50 to £75 per person, featuring the likes of salt-baked sea bass with beurre blanc, roasted mixed shellfish with sea vegetables and garlic butter and char-grilled squid and avocado.

The idea behind the menus was to mimic the way people eat a traditional Sunday roast but swap the meat for fish, says McLay, who believes people want less, rather than more choice, for their Sunday lunch.

“Sunday lunch is, more often than not, about family and friends,” he says. “Eating out in the same way that you would eat at home seems surprisingly popular; you’d have thought people would enjoy choosing different things off the menu, but when they’re having lunch together, they often seem to like eating the same things.

“Sunday is the one day of the week where people don’t have to think about things too much. Offering these four feasting menus takes the hassle out of lunch. On days when people are often with business colleagues or clients, they’re interested in having more choice.”

The Sunday experiment

Jacob Kenedy, chef-patron at Bocca di Lupo in Soho, likes the limited choice that a set feasting menu offers. He shares McLay’s view that it is an approach that is well suited to Sundays. In February, the restaurant introduced a series of month-long regional ‘takeovers’ on Sundays. During chosen months across the year – the next event is in June – the private dining room is transformed into a feasting den on all four Sundays where a regional tasting menu is served banquet style.

“In other countries, there are many restaurants that serve a very limited choice of food – people just sit down and get fed,” says Kenedy. “The closest a lot of British restaurants get to this is the highfalutin set menu, but common to every family meal is the shared experience of the food. This is what people like on a Sunday. It’s a day people are used to getting around a table and sharing food”.

The February event saw Kenedy and his team launch the Valtellina ski menu, which was created with staff who have personal links to Lombardy. Having learned to ski in Valtellina himself, Kenedy put together a menu that took inspiration from the hearty and rich foods he ate on the Italian slopes.

The June event will focus on Sicily, with dishes set to include bucatini and cauliflower beaten with pine nuts, raisins, anchovy, saffron and breadcrumbs; risotto with almonds; and paccheri with aubergine, swordfish and mint.

The final menu, available in October, will celebrate the region of Calabria. Designed by general manager Bruno Piane, dishes will include spaghetti al capretto with roasting juices from kid goat ribs; and crucette, a crucifix of dried figs, baked with walnuts, cloves and cinnamon served with fig leaf gelato.

There are other reasons for Bocca di Lupo putting on Sunday events. Kenedy says the feasts stimulate his team of chefs and give them the chance to flex their culinary muscles and delve further into Italy’s regional cuisine.

“Bocca di Lupo’s focus is very regional but the feasts give the chefs the opportunity to get deeper under the skin of a certain regional cuisine and cook something with an even more regional focus than they usually do. It is not so much a commercial idea as a creative one, and Sunday is the obvious day to do it.”

A convivial creation

There is a commercial rationale behind why restaurants, particularly in central London, are offering something different and more distinct on a Sunday. With the weekend traditionally a quieter time for restaurants in city centres and pubs often the first port of call for a Sunday roast, businesses are getting more creative with their Sunday offers in an effort to attract people.

Feasting is sociable at Rivea - encouraging sharing

“If you don’t do a traditional roast with veg, roasties and the obligatory Yorkshire, it’s always going to be a little bit harder to get people in. I’m sure that’s why places that do weekend brunch, like 34 Mayfair and Le Caprice in our group, always include a roast on the menu, too,” says McLay. “But the demand for alternatives is on the rise, so vegetarian and pescatarian dishes are increasing in popularity. And, when we launch our summer terrace in May, they’ll be the choice of alfresco and interior dining, which is bound to attract more people.”

McLay says that launching the feasting menus was not about pushing trade, but about giving people more choice than just the traditional roast. Alexandre Nicolas, head chef at Rivea restaurant in the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, however, says his restaurant’s recently introduced Sunday feasting menu was its first foray in boosting Sunday trade.

Nicolas says the decision to go down the Sunday sharing route followed the popularity of some sharing dishes Rivea launched last year. “Due to the positive feedback, we decided to introduce larger feasting-style menus on Sundays, when our customers have more time to spend enjoying lunch,”

Rivea’s feasting menu features dishes including octopus and confit potato salad; and stone bass carpaccio and pine nuts for starters, and sharing plates such as côte de boeuf and fries; and roast chicken with lemon and thyme and sautéed Camargue rice as main courses.

Nicolas echoes the view of Kenedy and McLay that Sunday lunch is typically seen as a more convivial meal to others in the week and says he wanted to create an offer and style of service that would encourage people to stay longer at the restaurant. “Feasting is sociable – it encourages sharing and a relaxed atmosphere,” he adds. “It felt like a natural step. Guests visiting Rivea on Sundays look for a place where they can enjoy themselves for a longer period of time. Guests have different expectations for Sunday lunches. They want to relax, in comparison with weekdays where time is limited and when they do not wish to spend an entire afternoon in the restaurant.

Informal moves

Helénè Darroze is another French chef that has taken to offering a Sunday feasting menu at her restaurant in The Connaught. Last spring, the Michelin-starred chef launched a six-course roast chicken menu for two, called Le Poulet du Dimanche, specifically for Sundays. The chicken-focused menu featured dishes such as confit egg yolk served with leek and smoked bacon, brioche croutons and parmesan emulsion; chicken consommé; chicken liver royale served with roasted chicken oyster, langoustine, celeriac and Périgord black truffle and a roasted chicken stuffed with black truffle in winter, morels in spring and ceps in autumn.

Game of bones: Helene Darroze's take on Sunday lunch includes roasted bone marrow

This year, her focus is bovine, with the recent launch of Le Pot-au-feu du Dimanche, where she serves a feasting menu with the traditional beef stew from the south-west of France at its heart. Darroze has deconstructed the main elements of pot-au-feu and added a few twists of her own to create a five-course tasting menu that includes roasted bone marrow with parsley crust, caviar, capers, pickled shallots, Meyer lemon and gem lettuce; beef fillet, foie gras, confit pork belly and veal sausage; and a salad of confit terrine of brisket and oxtail, young vegetables and salad, horseradish and grain mustard.

Initially, Helénè Darroze at The Connaught was not open on Sundays to give the kitchen team a day to stabilise at the end of the week, but Darroze says that it came to the point when she had to respond to the demand for opening on Sundays. “I come from a big family and sharing Sunday lunch is really important,” she says. “We decided to open on Sundays and try and recreate the ambience of the Sunday lunches of my childhood.”

At £75 per person, the menu is cheaper than those served midweek (£95 for five dishes, £130 for seven dishes and £170 for its Inspiration menu), with Sundays used as a way of attracting first timers to the restaurant – with the hope that they might make a return visit midweek – as well as regulars and hotel guests. “It gives people the opportunity to come to the restaurant for the first time,” says Darroze. “It’s a more informal and fun way of eating and this helps attract people who have never been to The Connaught before.”

Other chefs in high-end dining rooms are also using a slightly more relaxed and informal Sunday service as a way to appeal to diners who might not otherwise choose to dine in such a restaurant. At his newly opened restaurant Bibendum, Claude Bosi has introduced a lunchtime carvery at the weekend, with meat served from a 1920s carving trolley.

This doesn’t make things easy, with Bosi admitting that using a trolley comes with a number of challenges. “It uses water to keep the meat hot so you’ve got to have the right size joint so that it doesn’t dry out,” he says. “You’ve also got to make sure the meat is cooked perfectly because you can’t come back to it once it’s in the dining room. It’s a big challenge but it’s part of the fun. I haven’t used one since my days at [Alain] Ducasse, and that was a long time ago.”

The reason for the trolley on the weekend, says Bosi, is that it changes the pace and the dynamic of the restaurant and opens it up to different occasions. It also gives diners another reason to visit the restaurant. “I don’t like the idea that fine dining has to take two hours,” he says. “People don’t have the time any more. I want them to come for lunch and have a slice of meat from the trolley, a glass of wine and a coffee for £25 and go.”

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