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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

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

Lobster Club at Christopher’s Martini Bar, Covent Garden

22 Jul

LOCATION: Christopher’s Martini Bar, 18 Wellington Street, WC2E 7DD [map].

PRICE: £22.

BREAD: Brioche.

FILLING: Lobster, bacon (according to the menu), fried egg, iceberg lettuce, tomato.

PROS: The brioche is nice. It can’t not be, really, containing as it does all that lovely butter.

CONS: It’s not even really worth my ranting about the fact that the tomato is insipid, the fried egg completely overwhelms the lobster, the advertised bacon is entirely absent, and the chilli mayo is like something that turns up with your chips at GBK. It’s not really worth my even beginning to be upset about all those things because there is one monumental piss take happening here and that is the fact that each triangle, each quarter of the sandwich, contained 1 tiny piece of lobster; I’d say 4 pieces barely the size of a postage stamp and I mean the small ones, no special edition stamp sized pieces of lobster here. The sandwich is £22. TWENTY TWO POUNDS. Someone must be laughing all the way to the bank while relishing the fact they’re dressing all the customers up like total mugs. It’s frankly outrageous money for what is essentially a fried egg and salad sandwich with posh bread.

What makes this even more wincingly, acutely painful, is the fact that the lobster has been shonkily prepped; my mate gets a nice long piece of claw cartilage with his bit. Bigger than the piece of lobster meat it comes with. It’s not a one off either, as we can see from this review in The Independent. The kitchen consistently can’t be arsed.

And finally, just in case I haven’t discouraged you enough from ever ordering this sandwich, let’s consider that for two pounds LESS, you could eat a WHOLE LOBSTER, perfectly cooked, served with melted butter, chips AND a salad at Burger and Lobster on Dean Street.

They make a much better martini too.

SCORE: 1/10

Original Falafel at Just Falafel, Covent Garden

17 Jul

LOCATION: Just Falafel, 1 Monmouth St, London, Greater London WC2H 9DA [map]

PRICE: I can’t remember and there are no prices on the website. Weird.

BREAD: Saj (that’s a Lebanese flatbread).

FILLING: Falafel, cucumber pickles, turnip pickles, parsley, mint, tomato, tahini dressing.

PROS: I’ve been sitting here fretting over this sandwich. Just Falafel are a chain, and an incredibly successful one. They’re huge in the Middle East. Huge. The reason I’m fretting is because it is precisely these chainlike characteristics that make me at once like and dislike their sandwiches. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been invited by the PR. He is there. He tries to push the healthy fast food angle on the falafels. I tell him I don’t care about that. He looks puzzled and orders baked falafels rather than fried. No. I’m thinking ‘has he actually seen my blog?!’ at which point he says that he hasn’t actually seen my blog.

The baked falafel, is, predictably, inferior to the fried. They’re crumbly and soft and obviously lacking in the essential and most endearing quality of falafel – biting through the freshly fried crust. A fried falafel is duly ordered. And you know what? They’re not bad, actually. Not bad at all. The herbs are perky fresh too, as is the salad. The pickled turnips have that brilliant purple/pink hue that make me think I must be getting radiation poisoning; this uses the same logic as the reasoning behind my not standing next to the microwave at work because it ‘makes a funny noise’ and I fear it may make me infertile.

CONS: There is a condiment ‘situation’. We order a side of hummus; always a good test of a place. It’s silky smooth and actually really bloody good, except there’s nothing to dip in it. I end up eating hummus with a plastic spoon. There are pots of other dips and spreads too, and I wonder if I’m supposed to put these in the sandwiches? That’s impossible though, because the wrap is very tightly wrapped, which is obviously a good thing when it comes it being just a sandwich, but when it has become an exercise in finding new ways to eat hummus, well, somewhat of a hindrance to say the least. I think perhaps you can buy the falafels separately, or with fries and then…dip either the falafel or the fries in the hummus? I dunno.

You could do a lot worse than a falafel from Just Falafel ( the ‘original’ – I’ve not mentioned the ‘Greek’, ‘Japanese’, ‘Italian’, ‘Indian’ etc. variations – hold me) but then really, what kind of endorsement is that?

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.