In our mixed-bag culture, the elements of a good Sunday roast can be as important for some as a good laksa, a suitably spiced-up vindaloo or a just-right pizza-crust for others. The caramelised crunch of the roasted root vegetables, the condiments – dollops of mustard, horseradish, apple sauce – and the steaming sticky puddings with custard have an almost ceremonial solemnity, especially if you grew up eating them. With tradition and historical roots based in the UK, the Sunday roast has taken on its own identity here and there’re enough places around town offering roasts on Sundays for you to pick the one that suits your taste, budget and even your ethics.

When cooking roasts, it’s the cut of meat that counts and one of the plusses of going out for a roast is that a chef has chosen a specific cut and let it cook away slowly for many hours to create a slow-cooked, succulently seasoned joint of meat. Chefs nearly always go for secondary cuts of meat, bypassing the flash, fancy (and often expensive) primary cuts. Secondary cuts such as the shoulder and the belly – the hard-working parts or fattier parts of the animal’s body that, because of their muscular makeup, take more time to cook – require more work in the kitchen; the pay off, however, is that they have more complex flavour.

For Scott Pickett, executive chef at The Point, Albert Park, putting on a winter Sunday roast this year was a no-brainer; after all, he’d been holding a very successful monthly Sunday roast since winter 2009. “We started it for the locals mainly,” he says, “and each month it grew and grew, from 40 people at first to 80, then 120 then 180 people at our last one, so we had to do it again this year.”

Pickett is a big fan of the secondary cut for roasting, particularly the shoulder of the lamb and the pig. “People are moving away from A-grade cuts of meat and looking for alternatives,” he says. “Secondary cuts are the best for roasting as they have more flavour and do well with a slow-roast.”

The last Sunday of each month sees The Point serve three courses: usually a soup, then the roast meat (the website tells you what meat will be served on what date) with platters of vegetable on the table, followed by a fruit crumble or bread-and-butter pudding to finish. Pickett puts its popularity down to customers wanting to get back to basics. “People want to feel looked after and winter-warmer comfort food like this does that.”

Consultant and executive chef Paul Wilson offers a weekly Sunday roast at The Middle Park Hotel (actually it’s more of a weekend roast, offered on both Saturday and Sunday) and like Pickett chooses mostly the secondary cuts. “Secondary cuts are the best for roasting as they suit long, slow cooking due to their muscular structure and naturally high fat content. Because they are harder working muscles they have more flavour and unique texture.”

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For roast beef, Wilson prefers the bolar blade (part of the shoulder) or the tri tip, which is the bottom of the sirloin; for pork, he chooses the rump or the belly; and for lamb he likes the shoulder. And while his focus is on the final product for the customer, part of his process is requiring background on the provenance of each meat.

“The provenance side of things is something we insist on as it demonstrates the level of care and enthusiasm we have for our food and in providing a unique dining experience for our guests. So it’s as important as enjoying a roast meal.”

It’s through this insistence that rare breeds have become a highlight of Wilson’s menu. A rare breed is an animal that isn’t raised for commercial farming and consumption, and isn’t as much in demand as those animals that are commercially bred. This lack of demand has seen some rare breeds at risk of becoming extinct, and while it may seem counter intuitive at first the best way to ensure their survival is to choose to eat them, thereby creating demand and securing the breed’s future. Some rare breeds that are slowly becoming more prevalent, particularly in the farmers market community, include Belted Galloway and Welsh Black cattle, Wessex Saddleback and Large Black pigs, and Blackface Suffolk lamb.

Wilson sees the increase in roasts on offer on weekends as an idea where trends and staples meet. “I think the current trend with progressive gastropubs has made chefs and operators rethink pub staples. The Sunday roast, in particular, is a great way to attract lager groups and families to the business.”

Price can also determine the kind of roast you want and the Commercial Club Hotel in Fitzroy is doing a Sunday roast that, for $15, covers most bases. “Fifteen dollars includes whatever roast meat, spuds, pumpkin, greens, carrots, gravy – it's a boy-sized plate,” says co-owner Patrick Walsh.

Provenance isn’t the name of the game here and what determines each week’s roast is a chat with their butcher. Walsh says, “The butcher might say he's got great pork belly or we might feel like something but I guess it's a general rotation through lamb, beef, pork and chicken but we also throw in corned beef a couple of times.”

An experienced pub operator, Walsh has seen trends come and go. “Pub roasts got pretty horrible for a while there and probably lost coolness in our calorie-counting world,” he says, but they seem to be working overall. The popularity of roasts is up and down with us – we prepare 20 to 30 (portions) and they can all be gone by 3pm or we might only sell half for the day, although people do seem to be excited by the idea when they see it on the board.”

We’ve listed some of the Sunday roasts available around town:

Grace Darling
114 Smith Street, Collingwood
(03) 9416 0055
$25 per person

The Commoner
122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9415 6876
$30 per person
Roasts change each week and are served with various accompaniments.

The Commercial Club Hotel
344 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9419 1522
$15 per person

The Point
Aquatic Drive, Albert Park Lake
(03) 9682 5566
The last Sunday of every month in winter
Three courses $55 per person; $30 per child

The Middle Park Hotel
102 Canterbury Road, Middle Park
(03) 9690 1958
$55 per person (minimum two people) includes main course and pudding; $70 per person with boutique beer & local wine

SlowDown! @ Harley Court
56 Acland Street, St Kilda
(03) 8534 3030
Sunday roasts for groups of 20 to 30 in their private dining room