I’ve always loved Toby Carvery. In my teens a girlfriend and I visited regularly – at £5 for a filling roast, it was a rare place we could afford. For me, the chain is ridden with nostalgia: mooching extra slices from the carver; mixing discordant gravies and sauces in crimes against gastronomy that always somehow worked; Yorkshires the size of footballs.
So when I heard Toby Carvery recently launched on delivery website Just Eat, I couldn’t contain myself – I needed a Toby. Apparently, many others feel the same, with the 'home of the Great British roast dinner' experiencing a hike in sales since kicking off its takeaway offering. Predictably, millennials have been cited as spearheading the charge, lured by the prospect of a £7.79, four-meat midweek carvery lunch.
Trouble is, they only deliver from certain branches, the nearest around eight miles away. Which is how, on a freezing Wednesday afternoon, I found myself in a field in Mitcham with a pale orange polystyrene tray of nostalgia.
Its contents were a confused heap of protein, fat, carbs and sugar. Three meats (the pre-ordered lamb had run out): gammon (saltier than the sea but tender), beef (surprisingly soft but remarkably grey), and turkey (dry as sawdust).
With it, oozing cauliflower cheese; what appeared to be dauphinoise; a Yorkshire somehow too soggy and too crunchy; roast potatoes packed with flavour but zero crunch; carrots tasting wholly of butter. Everything refreshingly cooked a la granny, with texture expertly extracted from the veg.
Certain foods are improved by a resting period; the flavour intensifies. Not the roast dinner. The potatoes lost their crunch, the turkey dried, and the Bisto-flavoured gravy was so congealed it practically required a knife and fork.
Yet there is some form of alchemy here that keeps customers happy. Partly, of course, it’s the price. While not quite as cheap as those teenage dates, I had changed from a tenner; the huge portion cost little more than a meal at Pret.
But, though in isolation each component is remarkably flavourless, all together it becomes remarkably flavoursome. It may not be haute cuisine, but every day is Sunday at Toby Carvery.