Week 2 of The Sunday Roast Review - our search for the perfect Sunday lunch in the city of Cambridge - saw us return to a real city centre gem, The Free Press on Prospect Row. In need of a good pub garden in which to enjoy the unexpected sunny weather, we headed to The Free Press for a lazy Sunday lunchtime.
The traditional little pub, tucked away in the quiet residential streets close to Parker's Piece, bears the Greene King name but the landlord has free rein to explore his love of good ales and food. Incredibly passionate about the latter, landlord Craig has put his trust in a bright young trainee chef who, at just 17 years old, has reportedly "really taken control of the kitchen." The Free Press is something of an institution in Cambridge, particularly for real ale drinkers and locals seeking a proper British pub without the interruptions of mobile phones and background music; indeed, phones are banned at the pub's bar and music only tends to feature when a beer festival or live performance is going on. The pub's weekly changing food specials also draw attention and it is not unusual to find the 5 or so tables full or reserved, both throughout the week and on Sunday lunchtimes.
Getting down to the business of the Sunday lunch, a choice of roast chicken or beef was on offer so we went for one of each. Expecting to rate the five vital elements of a roast lunch (meat, roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and trimmings), we were a little thrown by what arrived but keen to get stuck into the appetising, generously piled plates. The roast chicken, an incredibly tender breast and leg, came with a colourful selection of roasted vegetables, a Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and buttered carrots. Accompanying the roast beef were (much to our surprise) dauphinoise potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding, peas and green beans. No roast potatoes - shock, horror! - but a rather fantastic piece of slightly pink beef which worked well with the garlicky potatoes and creamy gravy. The meat was very good; the chicken plump and soft, with a golden crisp to the skin of the leg and such a juicy, tender piece of chicken breast that we wondered if it had been poached. The beef was exactly as it should be, full of the rich flavours of a roast dinner, cooked a touch rare, and finely sliced in a thick beef gravy.
We don't condone messing with the elements of the traditional Sunday roast so the absence of roast potatoes with the beef was a contentious issue. The roast potatoes we enjoyed with the chicken were really very good; at first bite slightly salty but with a fine crisp skin and a firm but fluffy centre. The dauphinoise turned out to be a great choice to accompany the roast beef, the well-seasoned and garlicky, creamy sauce adding a further decadence to the superior meat, but let down by some of the potato slices being undercooked. A serving of peas and green beans made up the vegetable element; a good portion, simply cooked, without butter, to let the meat do the talking. The roast chicken, on the other hand, came with big chunks of unpeeled al dente carrots (always the best way to eat them) and an array of vegetables including Mediterranean-style roasted red pepper, tomato, aubergine and courgette, with a touch of onion, garlic and (perhaps a little too much) balsamic vinegar. The crunchy courgette and just-cooked pieces of aubergine hinted, as with the dauphinoise, that the dish had been unnecessarily rushed but otherwise, combined with the lightness of the chicken and the summery weather, the roasted vegetables were a good match.
Other trimmings included the all-important Yorkshire pudding and some very tasty gravy. The Yorkshire pudding was a highlight; not too crisp, far from soggy, and a shining example of the all-important element to give the Sunday roast that homemade quality. The roast beef gravy impressed, even with the richness of the creamy dauphinoise to compete with, and the roast chicken gravy had a good consistency but mingled too much with the vinegar in the roasted vegetables, masking the roast meatiness we were seeking. Horseradish for the beef was missing, but really wasn't missed.
The verdict: Not perfect but a hearty and homely Sunday roast nonetheless and with a few tweaks it could be pretty close. The Free Press's Sunday roasts represent great value at £9.50 each and feature some really fantastic meat (from local Northrop's butchers) expertly cooked.
The score: 3.9/5 (1 on the scale being absolutely terrible and 5 equalling roast lunch perfection).
Price: £30 for 2 people including drinks.
Where should we have our next Sunday roast in Cambridge? Let us know your favourite Sunday lunch spots in the city and we'll rate and review them! Tweet your comments and ideas using #SundayRoastReview to the Moving Foodie Blog @TheMovingFoodie.
Read last week's review: The Cambridge Brew House