One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: sandos

Since it exploded onto London’s foodie scene last summer, the Japanese take on the sandwich has been an object of much experimentation.

15 July 2019
Homeboys Pork Sando

The trend

  • The aesthetically pleasing sando is an Instagram sensation. At the time of writing, 69,000 images were uploaded to Instagram with the #sando hashtag.
  • The portability of sandos means they are set to capitalise on the booming grab-and-go market in the UK. According to MCA Insight and HIM, the UK food-to-go sector is set to be worth £21.2bn in 2019, up 3% on 2018.
  • Wagyu beef brand Wagyumafia, which has restaurants in Japan, boasts the world's most expensive sando. The wagyu katsu sando is made with kobe beef chateaubriand and costs around £140.

The UK's ongoing exploration of Japanese cuisine combined with the British love of the sandwich is helping to push sandos into the mainstream.

That's the view of former MasterChef contestant and Homeboys founder Pete Hewitt, whose own version – a katsu pork sando – has been proving a major hit with his customers since he began serving it a month ago.

Sandos are a simple concept: a breaded and fried cutlet of meat or fish with tonkatsu sauce and raw cabbage is served between two slices of soft white, crustless bread and cut into neat squares or slices.

In its native Japan, the sando is traditionally made with a sweet milk bread called shokupan, but here in the UK, fluffy white sliced bread or even brioche buns are used to hold its filling.

As Jason Williams, chef at Little Mercies in London's Crouch End, says, sandos “hit every craving” which is why they are proving popular. “Sandos are easy, good to share, tick all the boxes of sweet, sour, soft, crunchy, meaty, pickly and smooth.”

Little Mercies sando

The dish is also popular with chefs. Varying styles have appeared on the menu at a range of cafes and restaurants around the country – from hip London joints Milk and Bright, through to exclusive hotel Nobu Shoreditch and sushi chain YO! Sushi.

While sandos follow certain rules – namely with the style of bread used – as with any food trend, rules are made to be broken.

After testing the water with experimental sandos at pop-up TaTa Eatery, chefs Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves, are preparing to open sando-focused restaurant Tou at Arcade Food Theatre at London's Centre Point this summer. Here, they aim to “change people’s perspective on what you can put between two slices of bread” with fillings like eggy tofu and ox cheek. 

“Everyone is doing the same thing with sandos.  We need more of the speciality kind of sandos like our friend Max Halley from Max's Sandwich Shop is selling,” they say.


The trailblazers

Pete Hewitt, founder of Homeboys in Nottingham, describes his pork katsu sando: “We started off serving a fried chicken brioche bun sando, but then started to do pork, because we had pork belly left over from a ramen dish we'd served. To make our sando, we braise the pork belly in soy, ginger, mirin and spring onion for about four hours, then chill, press and slice it. We then pané and fry it, before serving it in white bread – we use extra-thick-cut Hovis with the crusts cut off – with shaved cabbage, a miso English mustard, mayonnaise, tonkatsu sauce and dill pickles. Our sando is grab-and-go and proving popular. We'll start looking at other versions than the classic versions we've got at the minute too. We're planning on doing the chicken one again with a tartare sauce and a load of dill, parsley, chopped boiled eggs and chopped gherkins as well as cabbage and tonkatsu sauce.”

Jason Williams, chef at Little Mercies in London, devised a chicken katsu sando in collaboration with the restaurant team: “Our sando is a soft, tangy, crunchy and cheeky treat all wrapped up in a sandwich. The chicken is brined for 24 hours in a salt brine, then cooked sous vide for two hours at 65 degrees. It’s boneless thigh so it’s full of flavour too. It’s then breaded and fried pretty quickly as it’s already cooked. This way it remains tender. The sauces are house mayo – made from the egg yolks we would waste in the bar – and a sweet and sour that we also make in-house. Then we add pickled bean sprouts and radish, fresh fried prawn crackers crunched over the top of the bread and slice in half.”

Ana Goncalves and Zijun Meng of Tou London preview the new restaurant's forthcoming ox cheek sando: “We slow cook the ox cheek and then, when ordered, we grill it in the plancha with sake glaze. It is served in between toasted Tokyo Loaf [a Japanese milk bread] with a home-made burger sauce, pickled onions and pickled cucumber. It's a bit like a mixture of a burger and pastrami sando, but with completely different textures. After the success of the Iberian Katsu Sando, we saw there was a market for these more luxurious and refined sandos so we decided to embark on the ride and open! We want to change people's perspective on what you can put between two slices of bread.”

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