Food Safari

Gourmet sandwich safari: the upper crust of sarnies

Move over cheese and pickle, London is hungry for a little luxury at lunchtime.

19 December 2019
asianfood-to-gosandwichesrestaurantsstreet food

Welcome to the sixth Food Spark self-guided safari, where we’ll lead you along a carefully curated route, visiting on-trend food hotspots to keep your finger on the pulse.

As well as breaking down the facts, we’ll take you to six London sandwich institutions that have made the trend take off. We highlight why each venue is interesting and what you should try when you visit, so you don’t miss out on ‘that’ signature sarnie.

You could take our word for it and digest these gems on-screen, but it’s more fun – and a lot more delicious – to taste first-hand. 

Sandwich 2.0

Around 11.5bn sandwiches are consumed in the UK each year, according to a study from the University of Manchester, but as consumers seek more fulfilling food experiences at multiple moments in the day, savvy restaurateurs are exploiting the hand-held favourite’s unique combination of nostalgic appeal and convenient, on-the-go format.

Enter the gourmet sandwich. Forget the £1 egg and cress sarnies; prices start from £6 for two slices of bread with something fancy in between, which means the sandwich has been promoted from lunchtime fare into all-day and late-night dining.

London’s sandwich revolution has international appeal too, as Dishoom’s bacon naan roll, bao buns, Brindisa’s chorizo rolls, or murtabak-filled roti from Gopal's Corner all jostle for the lunchtime limelight. We’ve selected six trend setters, some old, some new, who have well and truly re-invented the sandwich form.

1st stop: Max’s Sandwich Shop

Address: 19 Crouch Hill, Stroud Green, N4 4AP

Style: More is more at this excessive sandwich institution.

About: No London sandwich tour would be complete without visiting the self-professed ‘King of Sandwiches,’ Max Halley. Slightly out of the way in Crouch End, Max has been serving jaw-dislocating doorstoppers since before Instagram. However, he shot to fame thanks to the likes of influencers @the.xandwich and others waxing lyrical about his bread-based creations. Take note: this place is so rock ‘n’ (bread) roll it’s open 6pm-midnight in the week, and only open for lunch at the weekends.

What to order: The Ham, Eggs and Chips is what everyone comes for (slow-cooked ham hock with a fried egg and crispy shoestring fries), but we love the Korean Gangster with soy-braised mutton, two types of noodles and spicy doenjang paste (yes, that’s all in a sandwich).

Travel to 2nd stop: Walk to Finsbury Park and take Victoria Line to King’s Cross. Walk to Sons + Daughters


2nd stop: Sons + Daughters

Address: Unit 119a, Coal Drops Yard, N1C 4DQ

Style: Retro with a touch of style

About: When a former Michelin-starred restaurant opens a sandwich shop, you can bet serious attention is paid to the bread and fillings. The team behind Hackney’s Pidgin bring their innovative flavour philosophy to time-honoured sandwiches like cheese, ham and tomato. But there’s no cheddar in sight: you can expect first-rate taleggio, mortadella and smoked Isle of White tomatoes, with negronis on the side and sriracha salt french fries. Fancy. Also open until 10pm.

What to order: The egg or prawn sandwiches are forever-on-the-menu classics, but try their weekly special for innovative flavour combos that change on the regular. There’s always a layer of crispy, fatty goodness in every sandwich (whether that’s fries or good old-fashioned crisps) – we love the prawn crackers in the prawn cocktail sarnie.

Travel to 3rd stop: Walk one minute to Bodega Rita’s


3rd stop: Bodega Rita's

Address: Unit 114 Lower Stable Street, N1C 4DR

Style: New York subs get an international makeover

About: Coal Drops Yard neighbours Bodega Rita’s have rambunctiously reinvented the New York sub to create unapologetically messy lunchtime phenomena. Rita’s takes inspiration from the United States’ myriad of culinary cultures, including Korean, Vietnamese, Italian and Mexican flavours, and throws them between two slices of bread with a glass of natural wine on the side. If you’ve got time (and the appetite), pop into Morty and Bob’s grilled cheese sandwich shop just next door.

What to order: The Tony is Rita’s take on a classic deli sub, with pesto, prosciutto, spiced salami ventricina, smoked cheese, house made giardiniera pickled salad and cheese dust.

Travel to 4th stop: Walk to King’s Cross and take Northern Line to Old Street


4th stop: Chunky Buddha at The Night Jar

Address: 129 City Road, Hoxton, EC1V 1JB

Style: Underground speakeasy with next-level Asian-inspired sandwiches

About: Chef Lee Chau Le has moved from Truman Brewery’s JuJu’s Bar to a permanent residency The Night Jar. Drawing on his New York roots and Chinese-Vietnamese heritage, Lee puts his unique spin on London’s favourite sandwich of the moment, the katsu sando: juicy meat between pillowy Japanese milk bread. If you’re on a katsu sando mission, carry on to TĀ TĀ Eatery at Tayer+Elementary just round the corner. Their Iberico pork katso is legendary.

What to order: Pick between the Asian tapas and go for Lee’s trademark steak sando or, for a different kind of sandwich, crispy duck bao buns.

Travel to 5th stop: Walk 6 minutes to Bánh Mì Keu


5th stop: Bánh Mì Kêu

Address: 332 Old Street, Hackney, EC1V 9DR

Style: Elegant bánh mì bring all the flavour to lunchtime

About: This Old Street outpost was the first in a series of now successful bánh mì and Saigon street food cafes in Soho and the City. Sandwiches are top of the menu, with the classic bánh mì consisting of a Vietnamese take on the French baguette, sliced open with a generous slather of pâté, mayo, slow-cooked meat, crunchy pickles, spice and fresh herbs for colour. Traditionally a low-key street food, the bánh mì here have been elevated to gourmet sandwich status.

What to order: BBQ pork bánh mì with sweet and sticky honey-glazed pork shoulder, aromatic lemongrass and a kick of five spice rammed into a crunchy baguette. There’s smoky aubergine and tofu for veggies, too.

Travel to 6th stop: Take the 55 or 243 bus to St John’s


6th stop: St John restaurant

Address: 26 St John Street, EC1M 4AY

Style: Unadorned British classics with aplomb (and usually a glass of sherry, too)

About: Fergus Henderson is not one to complicate things. St John’s is celebrated for its no-frills, all-the-goose-fat approach to cooking, and they bring the same philosophy to their sandwiches. Welsh rarebit has been on the dessert menu for years (OK, it’s an open sandwich, but still a lesson in gourmet perfection), or they serve classic sandwiches at the bar. They’re not rewriting the sandwich rule book like some of the other venues on this tour, but St John’s excessive simplicity is what gourmet sandwiches are all about.

What to order: Egg mayo and watercress sandwich. There’s no hype to this dish (and you might be the only person taking photos of your food), but it’s a perfect balance of freshly baked bread with a light egg filling and sharp hit of green watercress.

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