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Shrimp and Crab Sandwich at Joe Allen, Covent Garden

26 Mar

Joe Allen Crab Sandwich

LOCATION: Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT [map]

PRICE: £13.95

BREAD: Brioche bun.

FILLING: Crab, mayo, shrimp, salad, micro-herbs.

PROS: I was supposed to be eating at an awards ceremony the evening I ate this sandwich (yeah, yeah, get me etc.), but when I arrived it became clear that the event was sponsored by a home delivery company, and consequently I would be eating mass catered curry while watching people I didn’t know step onto a stage to receive an award I didn’t care about and I thought you know what? Fuck this, I’m having dinner elsewhere. We ended up in Joe Allen because I’d never been and it’s somewhere that should really be ticked off the list. The history is that theatrical types like um, actors, or whatever, used to go there post-show because a) it’s close and b) it’s open. There are pictures of famous people all over the walls, a pianist and a TV showing films that would be referred to as ‘classic’ (old).

So anyway crab is my favourite thing to eat in the whole wide world, which is both a blessing (it exists, I eat a lot of it) and a curse, because if it’s on the menu I can’t order anything else. I always have a really bad case of FOMOOC (Fear Of Missing Out On Crab). Now I’ve eaten some very memorable crab sandwiches in my time, e.g at El Pescadore Fish Market and Point Loma Seafoods, both in San Diego, and yes of course they were better because I ate them on the coast in San Diego but really, that’s not the whole story here.

The plus points with this sandwich were that a) it had crab in it (INSTANT WIN), and b) it had prawns in it. Both were fresh and um, actually I’m a little bored just thinking about it again.

CONS: It was just fine, you know. The crab was in a little ball in the middle, plenty of white meat but crying out for more of the brown to give it that sort of funky, sea-offal flavour. It was polite and unremarkable, a bit like the rest of the menu. The prawns were cut in half and balanced around the outside in a dainty fashion. The bun was very sweet, even by brioche standards and the whole thing was small. Celebrity-sized. The Kylie Minogue of sandwiches.

SCORE: 5/10

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Holy Burger at Ham Holy Burger, Oxford Street

15 Aug

Ham Holy Burger
LOCATION: 3rd floor, John Lewis, 278-306 Oxford Street, London W1A 1EX [map]

PRICE: £8.95.

BREAD: Un-seeded burger bun.

FILLING: Piedmont beef burger, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, red onion, holy sauce.

PROS: Meh, I dunno, sometimes I tie myself in knots with my own format, here. I’m just going to whack it all under the cons, which to be fair, isn’t that far off anyway.

CONS: Ham Holy burger is full of really irritatingly bouncy, cheery staff, presumably because they don’t need to do a great deal. When I arrive, a woman at the door screeches at me “whaddya want?! PIZZA? PASTA? BURGER?” to which I reply “burger! Burger! Burger!” in the manner of someone trying to calm a person who is having a panic attack, and she ushers me towards Ham Holy Burger.

All the food is ordered on an Ipad. What? What’s that? Yes yes, I said everything is ordered on an Ipad. It’s saving staff costs and is more efficient, you see. PAHAHAHAHAHA. Just kidding on the last part. A very young, very enthusiastic Italian man is telling me how to use said Ipad. This takes a while. The obvious thought occurs to me: it would have been much quicker if he could just take my order. “Can I have a glass of Chianti please?!” I blurt out, desperately, confused by the fact I have been sat at this table for a while, talking to a waiter, yet he hasn’t offered me a drink. At this point, he turns his head from the Ipad to face me, bares his teeth in a sort of dazzling, threatening smile, and says ‘”OOOOH!” as if I have just suggested we have a threesome with one of the waitresses. He then stabs at the Ipad and someone else brings the Chianti, which is grim.

The Holy Burger is made from Piedmontese beef, which is criminally under seasoned. Perhaps because I am so discombobulated by the whole experience, I forget my Maldon pinch pot nestled in my handbag, but obviously I shouldn’t need it. Bun = fine. Lettuce = fine. Onions = fine. Tomato = fine. Cucumber = weird. Usually, of course, they’re pickled, but in this case thick slices of plain old cuke bring a sort of odd freshness, like I’m supposed to be eating a lamb pitta with tzatziki. The ‘Holy Sauce’ is rather nice actually, but there isn’t enough of it to bring the richness and pickle flavour that the burger so desperately needs.

As our hearts slowly sink and we contemplate asking (an actual person) if we can have the bill, my mate decides to take revenge. I snap a picture of him on the Ipad which he sets as the wallpaper and home screen, before password protecting the Ipad so they can’t change it back. We walk away, chuckling, and head straight around the corner to MeatLiquor.

SCORE: 3/10

 

 

Salt Beef at Gaby’s Deli, Charing Cross

9 Aug

LOCATION: 30 Charing Cross Rd, WC2H 0DE [map]

PRICE: £7.

BREAD: Rye.

FILLING: Salt beef, mustard.

PROS: Gaby’s deli is famous. When threatened with closure they started a campaign to keep the place open. I supported it. They were obviously successful and so, well, here we are.

You’re going to get an idea of my experience immediately because I’m going to start by telling you how much I enjoyed the pickle. I mean, I’m a pickle lover, a pickle fiend, in fact, but still. The pickle wasn’t in the sandwich. It was a quid extra but also huge, crisp and perky. A fine example.

CONS: I am hungover. I’ve been sat in the hairdressers for 3 hours, having made it there I don’t know how. The hairdresser has taken pity on me, giving me first a Diet Coke, second an Alka Seltzer and third, a glass of prosecco. None of them touched the sides, not even the prosecco. I’ve been sat there for 3 torturous hours planning what I am going to eat that is going to save my ass and I decided that a Gaby’s salt beef sandwich was it.

As I watch the sandwich being made a pang of hunger comes over me, of the kind that can only be produced by a hangover. I check several times that the sandwich comes with mustard and a pickle. The man making my sandwich is starting to look pissed off. I decide it’s best to takeaway so I pay and, clutching sandwich, scuttle off to the bus.

The bus is hot, really hot. The air inside is a thick fug of human sweat and bad breath. I feel dizzy and nauseous. I can’t even think about eating the sandwich. Eating on the bus is disgusting, but I’m so ravenous I’d totally do it if I could. The sandwich sweats inside its bag. The salt beef suffers. When I get home I eat half of one half, but the poor beef has started to dry up at the edges because it’s been about an hour since the thing was made. Then it occurs to me that actually, it’s all pretty damn dry.  I dunno, 45 minutes on the bus ride of hell isn’t going to do much for a sandwich, but should the meat really have been as dry as it was, even on the inside? I thought good salt beef was all about moist meat and even with the fat in there it was hard work in places.

There’s also just a really one note flavour profile; yes, you’d expect caraway to be prominent but there’s honestly nothing else to it, to the point where my boyfriend and I both remark on it.

I had really high expectations for this sandwich, which made it all the worse when it let me down. Has Gaby’s changed hands? Something must have happened. I refuse to believe that this was/IS the norm. The staff were pretty surly too, and I don’t think just because my hangover was in the room. I mean come on, it’s central London, I’m a pussy cat compared to some of the shite they must have to deal with.

A thoroughly disappointing salt beef experience. Funny thing, salt beef – the expectations are always so high, the taste of glory always so nearly within reach and then…meh. I’ve heard on the grapevine however that there’s a Canadian in town with a passion for salty b and word is he’s packing the goods. You can bet I’m all over that.

Watch this space.

SCORE: 4/10

Christmas High Street Sandwich Showdown!

3 Dec

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I found myself around Chancery Lane recently, standing within spitting distance of an EAT, a Pret, a Boots and Marks & Sparks, all at the same time. No surprises there, huh, Londoners! They all offer Christmas sandwiches, so it was time to see which one makes the best. Yes I know I’ve left out the supermarkets and coffee shops but in case you haven’t noticed, this blog is a product of my whim and fancy at any given moment and anyway, I had 15 minutes to get to a meeting; 15 minutes is a 4 sandwich window.

LOCATIONS: Pret a Manger, Boots, Marks & Spencer, EAT – all on High Holborn [map]

PRICES:

Pret: £3. 50

Boots: £2.60

M & S: £3.25

EAT: £3.50

BREADS: All malted wheatgrain bread.

FILLINGS: 

Pret: Turkey, pork stuffing, cranberry sauce, crispy onions, spinach, mayo.

Boots: Turkey, pork sage and onion stuffing, bacon, cranberry sauce, spinach, mayo.

M & S: Turkey, pork and chestnut stuffing, smoked bacon, spiced cranberry chutney, butter, mayo.

EAT: Turkey, pork sage and onion stuffing, smoked ham, cranberry sauce, reduced fat mayo, mixed leaves.

CHARITY DONATIONS:

Pret: 5p per sandwich to Hope for the Homeless.

Boots: Fuck all.

M & S: 5p per sandwich to Shelter.

EAT: 25p per sandwich to homeless charities.

PROS & CONS:

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Pret: Oh, hello mayo! What a surprise it is to find a lot of mayo in a Pret sandwich. HEAVY SARCASM. The stuffing is quite nice and ‘poncy with sage’ although it overpowers the turkey. To be fair though, there’s not much flavour in a turkey to be overpowered. There’s loads of spinach too, but I rather enjoy its festive colour. Thankfully, they’ve been parsimonious with the cranberry sauce, which is one of the main evils lurking within the Christmas sandwich. In short, it’s not bad. Relatively speaking. BRACE…

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Boots: This is, visually, a shocker. We don’t even want to eat it but you know…all in the name of research. The smell upon release from protective environment is one funky kiff of artificial smoke flavour and, sure enough, the label reveals this isn’t properly smoked bacon but a shadow of the proper thing infused with ‘smoke flavour’. Seriously Boots, you’re already up against it with the fact that the bacon is cold, dammit! Have some respect for a) the sandwich b) the pork products and c) YOUR CUSTOMERS.

All we can taste is the shitty fake smoke flavour of course. Oh and the sweetness; it is overwhelmingly sweet with nasty cheap cranberry sauce. To top it off, they give a big fat zero of the profits to charity, making them the meanest of the bunch. Stick to selling drugs and plasters, Boots the Chemist.

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M & S: This is one deeeeeeep fill; so stuffed and meaty and varied in shades of pink it is described as looking like ‘a war wound’. It is rammed. This makes it a very Christmassy tasting sandwich, the most so far, although it is incredibly dense and in the end, pretty damn hard work. There’s no denying the value for money though and respect on the butter AND mayo – it is Christmas after all!

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EAT: I immediately notice the stuffing, which has been made in a sort of giant block and then sliced. Kudos for the reasoning behind this which I hope is in order to maintain the structural integrity of the sandwich by ensuring that the stuffing lies flat. I like the sentiment but it’s visually a bit wrong in a sort of Bernard Matthews way.

The turkey is actually discernable here, which tells you that there is a lot of it. A lot. It’s dry. The leaves are totally misjudged, like the kind one finds in a bag of mixed salad from the supermarket; sort of spiky yet sodden and wilted at the same time. Spinach works better. Also, reduced fat mayo? EXPLAIN YOURSELF.

SCORES:

Pret: 3/10

Boots: 1/10

M & S: 3.5/10

EAT: 2.5/10 (an extra point for a proper 25p donation to charity)

M & S wins mainly on generosity of filling and festive taste. Pret and EAT are, well, Pret and EAT. Boots bombs spectacularly, having managed to make a really grim sandwich, and not donate any of the proceeds to charity, as is tradition. At the end of the day though, I’d advise just giving some money to charity, making your own sandwich at home and avoiding the whole sorry lot.

Croque Monsieur at The Delaunay, Aldwych

3 May

LOCATION: The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, WC2B 4BB [map]

PRICE: £5.75

BREAD: Sliced white

FILLING: Ham and Gruyère cheese

PROS: Well, melted cheese is never a bad thing, although when I say melted…

CONS: …what I actually mean is, melted at some point, quite a long time before arriving at my table. Congealed. Bendy. This was, without a shadow, the worst croque monsieur I have ever eaten. So, instead of delivering a croque monsieur, The Delaunay decided to deliver a game. The game was called: ‘Find The Croque Monsieur Under a Big Pile of Salad Ha Ha Ha Sucker!’  What the actual piss take is a mountain of (under-dressed) baby gem doing on top of my sandwich? Oh and the sandwich is TINY, by the way. I put the two halves together and they did not amount to a full sized slice of white bread, even with the crusts removed. On the inside was a really generous amount of spectacularly poor quality ham; you know, the shiny kind. The Gruyère was a very poor example – apologetic, pathetic. The whole thing was blistering hot on the outside and stone cold in the middle. The bread was so greasy it reminded me of a caff I used to visit in Oxford where they deep fried everything, including the sausages and bacon. In short, I didn’t rate this sandwich. The Delaunay is a lovely room however. They can have one point for that and one more for the waitress, who was charming and brought me a Martini.

SCORE: 2/10

Lobster Roll at Burger and Lobster, Mayfair

4 Mar

LOCATION: Burger and Lobster, 29 Clarges Street, Mayfair, W1J 7EF [map]

PRICE: £20 including chips and a side salad.

BREAD: Brioche roll.

FILLING: Lobster meat bound with mayo, sprinkled with chives.

PROS: Everything about this sandwich is perfect. It brims with big chunks of tender, sweet lobster meat; the perspective on the photo doesn’t do justice to the generosity of filling. I was worried there might be too much mayo but no, just enough to bind everything together and lubricate. Perfectly judged. As much as I enjoy working over a lobster, there’s a lot to be said for having it all there, ready and waiting to be stuffed in my face. The bread is absolutely incredible too, the butteriest brioche I’ve ever tasted; the texture impossibly light and fluffy within, crisp and toasted on the outside, the butter in the bread leaving it caramelised. Bite after bite of that stunning, rich brioche and that decadent lobster meat, the subtle oniony tingle of chives. Heavenly. I ate half then made sure to finish my chips and salad before polishing off the rest; an experience to be savoured and repeated, often.

CONS: None. The first ever perfect 10 on LROS. I knew as soon as I took the first bite.

SCORE: 10/10

Shrimp Po Boy at The Diner, Soho

22 Jan

LOCATION: The Diner, Soho (18 Ganton Street London, W1F 7BU). Map.

PRICE£6.40? Around the £6 mark anyway (I’ve lost the receipt and it isn’t on their web menu)

BREAD: A soft white sub.

FILLING: Battered, deep fried prawns with a mayo based sauce and shredded lettuce.

PROS: Um. Ummmmmm. Right, so the sauce was okay – piquant yet sweet mayo, with little crunchy bits of onion and ummm, ooh, the sub roll was nice and soft.

CONS: Crikey. Okay so, the prawns. This is a shrimp po boy right, so that means the shrimp/prawns are the  most important ingredient. If the prawns at The Diner did not come from a freezer bag I would be very surprised indeed; they tasted funky, almost ‘high’ with unpleasant fishiness and were coated in the kind of batter one finds surrounding a sweet and sour chicken ball. Po boy prawns should be coated in a cornmeal batter, surely? These tasted of grease and meals at TGI Fridays circa 1995. The sub was nice and soft, as I said, but really, I was clutching at straws.

You may, quite rightly, be wondering what I was thinking ordering a sandwich from a chain restaurant in soho. The reason I did is because I’d heard good things about a limited edition burger they’re soon to launch and the po boy – honestly – did look nice when they posted a picture on Twitter. Also, where else does one get a po boy in London? I was so excited to try this famous Louisiana creation but it seems I may have to make my own version at home, pending my lottery win which will take me on an eating tour of America.

SCORE: 2/10

My po’ boy recipe here.