Gravy Train

Here comes the Gravy Train: Fuzzy’s Grub’s roast meat sandwiches have taken London by storm in recent years, going down particularly well with well-heeled city slickers. But with new competition on the horizon, there’s room for improvement, Nellie Nichols discovers on a recent visit.

I’m banking on the fact that I couldn’t possibly be unlucky enough for my ex mother in law to ever read this after what I’m going to say but it’s a cruel fact that her gravy is the worst I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. I’m sorry Joyce.

Ridiculous excuses would invariably be thought up so I could be sent into the kitchen on a Sunday and hijack the gravy before it became the standard gravy granules plus water elixir that accompanied no matter what roast came out of the oven.

In my book, gravy should be so gorgeously homemade you have to constantly pop into the kitchen and have another taste with a spoon. Or, better still, nick a Yorkshire out of the oven when they’re nearly ready and dip it in when no one’s looking. The trick is not burning your mouth.

This comes under the heading of ‘cook’s perks’ – the same as having to try that first outsidey slice of roast beef, you know the one with all the crispy black pepper stuck to it. All well and good but the opportunities for Sunday lunch are diminishing fast. In the Fifties the British Sunday lunch became second only to the Christmas dinner as a symbol of the perfect nuclear family and its cosy domestic rituals. More recently the meal has become increasingly politicised, with its decline seen as a metaphor for the break up of family life. There are, without doubt, too many excuses not to partake: it takes too long to cook, eat and clear up; there are too many other things to do on a Sunday.

New research including a survey of 20,000 adults has revealed that while in 1961 around 12.7 million sat down to Sunday lunch, that figure is now down to just over 6 million. Depressingly, 60% of families no longer eat together on Sundays and one in four doesn’t even have a dining table to eat it off anyway. Things have got so bad The Independent recently launched a Sunday Lunch Campaign, supported by leading chefs Aldo Zilli, Jean- Christophe Novelli and Heston Blumenthal to help curb the slow death of Sunday lunch. Even Gordon Ramsey has written a book on it. But something quite different is happening out on the high street. In the last five years there has been a phenomenal growth of the Fast Food Roast.

Since the opening of their first unit in Fleet Street in November 2002, Fazila Collins and Georgina Laing of Fuzzy’s Grub have now added another six units to the group across the City, taking them closer to their 2007 total target of ten.

With another five openings planned next year, the end of 2008 will take them further on their journey out of London into other major cities. Along the way, they’ve picked up a glittering array of Press praise: Harden’s London Restaurants Guide 2007 rated them ‘No 1 restaurant for British Cuisine’ and LBC Radio listeners and City AM readers have voted them No 1 sandwich shop for the last two years, beating both Pret and EAT into second and third places.

Ardent followers are served freshly roasted meats in salads or sandwiches or have the option for a full roast lunch. The hungry City guys simply can’t get enough. £4 million turnover and a tonne of beef a week is, let’s face it, something of a growing demand.

Still, you dear reader, well know the sceptic in me. The moment I hear the word Roast it conjures up images of the school dinner, the below average provincial Carvery, with its fleet of high chairs and orange lit warming cabinets full of dry overcooked meat; the oh so average pub lunch with stodgy dense cold Yorkshire pudding…. how on earth can the glorious Roast be delivered in a double quick transaction time and truly be delicious ? Surely with this kind of success Fuzzy’s have got it down to a tee? I arrive in the reasonable lull before the storm. Not much of a lull really as there are plenty of breakfast meetings going on. The breakfast menu is vast and it’s all there for the asking, cooked to order. Not particularly healthy but the ubiquitous porridge and fruit salads are faithfully there in the wings – and there are delicious options of eggs and naughty hot sandwiches. My coffee is faultless and on a par with the best. But I am really here for the Roasts, and early as it might be I’m going to try the full on menu; from the roast potatoes to the mashed, the stuffing to the crackling and Yorkshires, the peas, carrots and roasted veg, not to mention the Roast meat itself; the beef, chicken, turkey, ham, pork and lamb.

And let’s not forget the gravy. This is clearly outrageously popular comfort food and exceptional value at £4.95 for a sandwich, absolutely rammed full of trimmings so big that a knife and fork is essential if you don’t want to have to support a serious dry cleaning habit, and a full Roast Lunch is only £5.50, with a small salad with a Roast at £3.85 and a large at £5.50. But is it the most delicious Roast I can find? There’s no doubt hand cutting fresh squidgy loaves of brown or white bread to any customer’s thickness requirement is undoubtedly a wonderful touch, (and a hard fast learning curve to any new recruit who has to practise under Georgina’s inscrutable eye until perfect) as are the endless offerings of sauces and relishes. The homemade horseradish isn’t necessary but is delicious. The Sweet Chilli Jam and Apple & Tomato Chutney for the Roast Ham are both fabulous and should be sold in jars in every shop.

The Roasts are cooked in a central kitchen under the watchful eye of a highly reputable Army chef, who’s cooked for many thousands of our wonderful front line troops. Transported carefully and with great precision and military timing, they arrive in perfect condition in each unit.

I have to say the pinkness and flavour of the Beef was unquestionable. They have gone to great lengths to research a unique oven with a very clever cooking method dedicated just to cooking beef, and my lips as to the name of it are sealed. (Come on, some things have to remain off the record).

The other meats are faultless too and juicy, cleverly cut into big chunks which are used and replaced quickly, rather than allowed to sit and dry out. Clever. But here’s the rub. Popular and successful Fuzzy’s might be but much better is more than possible. It’s not the meats, it’s everything else. The peas should be smaller Petit Pois, sweeter

and less bullet like, the carrots cut and cooked more uniformly, a little butter, some herbs, fresh sage and sweated onion in the powdery stuffing; roast veg cooked at a higher temperature for less time so they are brighter and crunchier.

Nothing enormous, just a lot, lot more attention to detail is needed. Constant tasting and questioning, if it’s as good as it possibly can be, would get the quality higher and the Brand stronger for growth. Cooking for the troops as if they were all Generals, not just a vast number of people that need to be fed.

And the gravy? Let’s say I think it’s more Joyce’s recipe than mine. I’d like to see two gravies here: one for white meat and one for red. Made with proper stock, herbs, a little wine, and delicious meat juices. Roast potatoes which are crispy on the outside and fluffy within, Yorkshire’s which have risen to giddy heights and are light as feathers. Perhaps some homemade apple sauce for the Roast Pork. Some crispy bacon with the Roast Chicken.

Fuzzy’s is successful, but irritatingly, success in this life doesn’t come automatically with a lifetime guarantee, especially in the world of food where you have to work very hard at keeping it the best and a cut above the others. It goes without saying that for each and every successful concept there are a mass of plagiarists just waiting round the corner to copy a good idea in a bigger better and faster way. Fuzzy’s has no provenance to speak of in its range, no aged beef from a named source, no Freedom Foods quality mark, no free range this or that and with no assurances they are more than lucky therefore to never have felt a loss of sales or repercussion from bad press from Foot & Mouth, Bird Flu or Blue Tongue.

Their customer service could polish up well too. With over 70% of their customer base being repeat business I would expect a lot of friendly words and recognition, smiles and interaction. Everyone likes to be greeted with a warm hello and a kind word -makes you feel good and cheers up the day. Do anything in your power to speed up those queues. No one really minds standing in the street on a sunny Autumn day, but with a cold wind and some driving rain on a dark December day it is quite a different matter. So Fuzzy’s, I think you should up the ante as soon as you possibly can. Raise the stakes to keep you growing like topsy because there are copycats already out there and thriving and in the next issue I’ll be visiting Grazing, ‘London’s Hottest Sandwich Sensation’ and seeing just how it compares.

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