(And What We Can Learn From Them)
If a sandwich is doing its job, every bite should be a voyage of discovery. A world of delicious ingredients hidden by slices of bread. Here, we will take you on our own voyage, through all the best sandwiches London has to offer, and what lessons we can take into our own kitchens. So wherever you are, buckle up and enjoy the ride to sandwich heaven.
Reuben on Rye, Mishkin’s
Why it works: This sandwich, served up at (kind-of) Jewish deli Mishkin's, is a perfect example of a sandwich. It does a lot (pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese) but not too much. Rye bread gives heady flavour and crunch while the other ingredients marry in a soft and squishy bite.
What we've learnt: This is a good place to start on our sandwich journey because it teaches you to be ambitious. Don't be afraid to keep adding ingredients (you wouldn't have thought that cheese, meat and sauerkraut needed dressing, but it does) as long as you make sure they're friends. We are not here for ham sarnies or a simple PB & J. We're getting serious.
Toasted Cheese, Kappacasein
Why it works: You think you know cheese on toast? You don't know cheese on toast. Unless you've had the cheese sandwich from Kappacasein in Borough Market, with oodles of Montgomery Cheddar melted on the inside and outside of Poilane sourdough bread with little morsels of red onion, leeks and garlic, in which case you do. Hands down, the best example of cheese on toast available on this earth. If you disagree, then bring me better.
What we've learnt: Whoever coined the phrase 'Less is more' has clearly never tasted cheese. More cheese really does make everything better.
Pork Belly Bun, Yum Bun
Why it works: These buns, served up on Saturdays at Yum Bun in East London's Broadway Market, are all about texture. Soft steamed bun (almost the consistency of a Scotch pancake) and sweet but not-too-fatty belly pork are counterbalanced with crunchy cucumber and sweet and sour hoisin sauce.
What we've learnt: Good flavour is crucial, but greatness in a sandwich is all about the bite. Whether it's crunchy bread and soft filling or a soft bun filled with a bit of crunch, you need to mix textures to reach perfection.
Chorizo Roll, Brindisa
Why it works: The Brindisa chorizo sandwich, with its feisty chorizo, sweet piquillo and peppery rocket is a classic. The combination of flavours, as well as how they are arranged within the crunchy ciabatta roll, ensures that each bite is beautifully balanced - and every one is equally spectacular. Make sure you order a double; twice the spice = twice as nice.
What we've learnt: Flavour combinations are especially important with sandwiches, because you don't get to pick and choose what's in each mouthful. The flavours must be evenly distributed, so every chomp is as good as the last. The best bites will have a little of everything, so make sure you leave no bread uncovered.
The Big Dog, Big Apple Hot Dogs
Why it works: A hot dog will succeed or fail on the quality of its sausage. The Big Apple Hot Dogs Big Dog sausage (try and say that with your mouth full) is the best of the best. A blend of pork and beef, it is double-smoked over German beech wood and flavoured with marjoram, garlic and black pepper. When we went to try it, the owner of this food cart in Old Street proudly announced that he has converted ten vegetarians and one vegan with his dawg.
What we've learnt: Some people will say a hot dog is not a sandwich. Just like the hot dog man with his vegetarians, I choose not to accept this limitation. A sandwich can be anything you want it to be: open, club, burger, hot dog. If what you put between your buns is good enough, no one will complain.
Catfish Banhmi, Banhmi11
Why it works: A fish-finger sandwich isn't usually about the fish. It is a carb-filled canvas on which to put ketchup or HP or (if you're feeling posh) tartare sauce. But with the catfish Banh Mi from Banh Mi 11, the fish is treated with respect, flavoured with turmeric and galangal and slow cooked with dill and spring onion. This Vietnamese baguette is a clash of cultures - French bread filled with delicate Asian flavours - and is wonderful for it.
What we've learnt: This sandwich teaches us to mix things up - mozzarella in focaccia is fine, but why not put pulled pork in a pitta? Frankfurters in flatbread or smoked salmon in a scone? What's the worst that could happen?
Lobster Roll, Burger and Lobster
Why it works: One of the two signature sarnies at London's Burger and Lobster is a soft brioche roll filled with lobster mayonnaise (I'll let you guess the other). Big chunks of soft, tender lobster, little green gems of zingy chive and a delightfully creamy but light mayo make for an almost unbeatable bite. At £20 for the sandwich, some salad and chips, these are fine dining prices. But it is a sandwich that the Earl himself would be proud to eat.
What we've learnt: This sandwich proves that if you're going to do simplicity, you have to do it really well. All of the sandwiches on this list show respect for the humble sarnie, but this one shows that with a bit of love (and quite a lot of lobster) the sandwich can be made into a superstar.
Punjabi Goat Mooli, Mooli’s
Why it works: This roti roll from Mooli's puts into action one of my favourite ideas: Potatoes in a sandwich. It seems so wrong, and yet everything from the simplicity of a chip butty to the complexity of this spicy goat flatbread prove that it is so, so right. Beautifully folded and filled with slowly-braised goat meat, spiced tatties and crunchy red onion salad, this dynamite double-carb sandwich is satisfying and delicious. The other Moolis (the photo is the pork one) are also delicious, carb or no carb.
What we've learnt: This anti-Atkins sandwich teaches you to break the rules. It looks like a burrito, but it's not a burrito. It's takes unusual, exotic ingredients like goat and radiccio and serves them in a little bread blanket. And it's double carbs. Beautiful, delicious rebellion. That's a wrap.
Salt Beef Bagel, Beigel Bake Brick Lane
Why it works: The beigel shops on Brick Lane have been there as long as anyone can remember. They are open 24 hours, serving the hungry folk of East London with proper Jewish bagels. Everyone has a favourite, but the consensus seems to be that Beigel Bake's salt beef bagel is the best. The soft meat between the chewy, shiny bagel is heavenly.
What we've learnt: When we went, the lady behind the counter asked us (with a glint in her eye) if we wanted mustard. We did. But we didn't reckon on how much mustard the usual hard-man East End clientele could handle. There were streaming eyes, singed nose hairs, squeals of delight at the sweet meat, squeaks of pain at the spiky sauce. We learnt that you can have too much of a good thing - so learn from our mistakes and be careful with your strong flavours.
Unda Chicken Roll, The Kati Roll Co.
Why it works: The rolls from The Kati Roll Company are a perfect lesson in the art of balance. The textures in each mouthful are complex; you bite into the warm flatbread, followed by a soft and crunchy layer of egg and then tender chicken. The sweet and soft textures are balanced by spice, which grows as it hits the back of your mouth, resulting in a truly majestic munch.
What we've learnt: Spice works well in sandwiches, especially with soft almost sweet flatbreads like Indian paratha. It's important to break up the breadiness with a bit of zing (although not too much - see above) especially if the fillings are as gentle as they are here.
Our ten expert tips ensure a sublime sandwich every time. Now you have no excuse not to get creative - and be generous, let us know how you get on (or bring me a sandwich!)
Mishkin's photo by Paul Winch-Furness.
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