I’ll just come out and say it: if I see something looking awesome on Instagram (are we friends BTW?) I instantly want to see/do/eat it. So after seeing all the cosy, festive ‘grams from Forest on the Roof at Selfridges, it was pretty much a given that I would end up there at some point. The fact that the menu is basically an A-Z of comfort food was almost a secondary consideration.
Although I must admit I was torn. I tend to prefer to let the hype die down around establishments like this before I venture across the threshold, but as it’s a pop-up and thus far I haven’t been able to find a closing date, I thought I’d better book while I had the chance.
The clue is in the name: Forest On The Roof is inspired by wintry woodland, so the walls are panelled with gilded birch trunks and fairy lights, and the outside terrace is home to adorable little ‘chalets’. It’s a cute (and utterly ‘grammable) set-up, and with a menu promising dishes laden with game, mushrooms, cream, cheese and carbs galore, my hopes were high.
Did it live up to the hype? Well …
We arrived around 20 minutes early for lunch, hoping that we’d be able to have a pre-lunch drink if our table wasn’t ready. Sure enough, we were directed to relax and order drinks at the bar, and someone would be with us shortly. Mulled wine seemed just the thing for a couple of chilly, hungry girls to warm up with while we waited, but we soon realised that the lone barman was overwhelmed with orders for the whole restaurant. “It will be a few minutes,” he explained apologetically. Fine by us – we could see he was rushed off his feet.
But when a few minutes later we were led to our table, and then had to inform three separate members of staff that we had already ordered drinks at the bar, we were feeling a little less festive … Our mulled wine finally arrived 2o minutes after we’d ordered it (and when it had been sat on the bar for at least 10), and a few sips helped to restore a more jovial mood.
Another 20 minutes passed before our starter was served – a shared dish of baked Cornish brie with toasted ‘ancient’ loaf and truffle honey. By this time we were ravenous, so it was devoured in short order. It’s hard to go wrong with bread and gooey cheese, but I definitely think we could have done with a couple more slices of toast – it’s quite tricky to eat melty brie and honey on their own, and the cheese-to-bread ratio was a bit off kilter. We weren’t about to let a scrap of it go to waste though …
Since the game meatballs Jenna had decided on had just run out before we were able to place our order, we both ended up having the venison fillet. In case you hadn’t yet noted a theme developing, I’ll put you out of your misery – we had another long wait between our starter being cleared and our mains being served. With the mulled wine long gone, we asked for a small carafe of the house red, which was light, fruity and very drinkable.
Our waitress had recommended that we have our venison cooked medium rare (for me, anything more is sacrilege when it comes to fillet), but although neither I nor Jenna are squeamish about rare meat, I’m pretty sure a good vet could have had hers back on its feet … Which wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for the fact that both dishes were just barely lukewarm by the time they reached us. It’s a rather unfortunate fault of Forest On The Roof’s design that the open kitchen is located next to the automatic door to the terrace. Which means that if a dish is sitting on the pass waiting to be served for even a few minutes, it’s had several blasts of icy-cold wind before it reaches your table.
Still, it can’t be denied that it was a gorgeous piece of venison. It’s served with kale and an elderberry sauce, which is stated on the menu, and what I think was sweet potato and swede mash, which isn’t. This was a bit of an issue on two levels: first because I have a minor phobia of mashed potato (don’t ask), and second because we’d ordered a side of sweet potato tartiflette, and no-one had thought to warn us of the impending sweet potato double whammy. But in the end it was fine: we ate the tartiflette anyway (because, tartiflette) and I braved a couple of forkfuls of mash (because, soldier). We also had a side of truffled chips which I honestly think was the best thing we ordered that day – the fact that we were both making X-rated noises while eating them is definitely a good sign …
Interestingly, the last time I had truffle chips was at Holborn Dining Room which, as it turns out, is the brainchild of the same consultant responsible for Forest On The Roof. Des McDonald is formerly of the Ivy and the Ritz so I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect something special, but in both venues I feel a potentially great menu has been let down by extremely slow service. Note I don’t say poor service: the staff were actually lovely, when you could get their attention. But in both places I think there were more than enough staff on duty to deal with the number of diners, so I’m not quite sure where it all went wrong. I spent several years in hospitality myself and these days I do a lot of marketing for food and drink businesses, so I genuinely hate to criticise because God knows I’ve been on the receiving end enough times … But I also feel as though, in this case, there are small changes to be made which could improve the experience tremendously.
I must admit that the wooly blankets draped over the seats are a nice touch, though – even with the canopy closed, it can get pretty draughty up there on the roof. So they were a welcome warmer as our mains were cleared away.
There was still a chance for Forest to redeem itself with dessert, but as we waited for someone to bring us a dessert menu, and waited again for our order to be taken, our enthusiasm was rapidly dwindling. Our choices, when they eventually arrived, certainly looked impressive – Jenna’s clementine trifle looked like a fairy forest in a jar, while my apple pie was resplendent with a crisp, golden-edged sliver of apple proudly declaring its fruity intent. But while Jenna contentedly announced that she could happily have eaten her trifle over again, I was a little disappointed to find my own dessert comprised rather too little apple, and rather too much pie crust.
We had plenty of time between courses to admire plates being delivered to other tables (with a hint of ‘wish-I’d-ordered-that’ FOMO). The group of girls at the next table had come for afternoon tea, and the cake stands full of finger sandwiches, bright pink patisserie and toadstool-shaped meringues had initially resolved the pair of us to return for tea another day.
But if we go back to Forest On The Roof – and that’s a big if – it won’t be on a Saturday afternoon, and it won’t be before Christmas. I’m all for restaurants with style, as long as they have the substance to back it up …
Thanks Jenna for patiently taking photos of me twirling around in front of the fairy lights and generally being a nuisance!
I’m wearing: vintage Aquascutum coat; Gap cable knit jumper dress; faux-suede OTK boots; TU earrings and rings