Signature Ethnic Sandwiches
Last September I naively suggested that Hackney was reaching breakfast saturation. I was utterly wrong – new cafes are springing up so quickly you could almost believe it was a council initiative to fill empty shop fronts. Just this morning I walked out to post a letter and discovered another one had opened up across the road (albeit one inside a Danish furniture shop). Anyway, the most recent two that I’ve sampled are Railroad and Pacific Social Club. Both are on insalubrious streets, both are carved out of cramped, less than idea units and both feature charming, mismatched crockery and charming, harried staff.
Railroad is the slightly bigger and more grown up of the two, a double corner unit of white walls and bare wood. It was a small, changing menu (which moves beyond breakfast to dinner) but the one thing that remains on the menu is a Vietnamese sandwich with slow cooked, spiced pork and pickled vegetables. N ordered courgette gratin with tomato salad but I was always going to have this sandwich. After I ordered mine, I saw a woman at another table receive her’s and start cutting it up with knife and fork. Pft, I thought to myself, how fastidious. When mine I arrived I just stuffed it in my mouth. And realised I’d bitten of more than I could chew; there was no way for me to put it down without the sandwich disintegrating. This meant I ate it very quickly and with the odd plaintive request for my wife to hold my mint tea up to my mouth. A good sandwich – the warm, spicy meat counter by the crunch of the vegetable and coriander – but it needed some sort of sauce to bind it all together; breakfast is a time for moist food. Breakfast is also a time for drinks and they were very impressive. My fresh mint came as a pot at a scandalously low price (it really didn’t need a strainer though). They’ve also got a really interesting beer list that I’d like to sample at some point.
Pacific Social Club is even smaller, it is so narrow it doesn’t even have room for a kitchen. Instead, there is a tiny prep counter next to the coffee machine which means they are limited to the bread and diary portions of breakfast but they are inventive with what they have. I ordered the Venezuelan sandwich because how could I not? Chorizo, black pudding, black beans, avocado and cheese squashed into a crescent of flat bread. This is what you need for the first meal of a Saturday: high protein, rich, sticky, slightly excessive. The only error was in a bizarre choice of cutlery. I was presented with a tiny butter knife that might as well have been a toothpick. I looked around and, to my astonishment, saw that everyone had one. They’ve obviously hijacked a consignment of dollhouses. Baffling but didn’t really detract from the food. However, if their sandwich was slightly than Railroad’s then the drink was slightly worse. Now, I’m not allowed to drink coffee so, when I very infrequently break the rules and indulge, I don’t feel qualified to criticise but this was seriously underwhelming. (The Time Out review I linked above because they don’t have their own website identifies a similar problem).
After these two happy accidents, on Friday I explicitly went in search of a signature sandwich. This one has Anglo-Franco heritage but can’t be described as anything but a great British sandwich: the foie gras toastie. This meant a pilgrimage down the the Canton Arms, a surprisingly pleasant half hour walk from my office in Victoria down some pretty unpleasant main roads. I arrived before the kitchen opened but, although I had a hunger and the toasties are available from the all day bar menu, I decided to heighten my sense of anticipation with a pint of Timothy Taylor Golden Best and the G2 crossword.
The pub is basically the Anchor & Hope of South London (technically, the Anchor & Hope is the Anchor & Hope of South London but, spiritually, Waterloo is Central.) That is where chef Trish Hilferty has come from and she has applied the same formula here: a glass of fizz to start (in this case damson gin and prosecco, the thump of the gin perhaps too pronounced), a relatively short menu of British dishes and a couple of specials to share (rabbit for two and lamb neck for four on my visit). Briefly tempted by the fried ox heart, I stayed true and ordered the toastie of the bar menu followed by chicken leg with bacon and peas served with chips. The latter was a nice, simple dish but I would quibble over the description on the menu. Chips are chips, particularly on a such a British menu, so if you are going to serve fries (which I was happy to have) then you should say so. It also came with cream sauce – again, nice but unexpected (and a bit of a hazard for the fries which I would have served separately) – which transformed it into much more of a bistro dish than was apparent from the menu. As for the froi gras toastie, it was exactly that: white bread, cheese, thin layer of liver, all compressed into the classic Breville triangle. It was rich, obviously, but not overwhelmingly so; the fried bread was almost delicate which meant its cargo was manageable. Still you wouldn’t want one every day. It was served with a good, sharp chutney that was too strong for the middle but worked well with the crusts.
Finally, yesterday I popped down to Feast on the Bridge as part of the Thames Festival. For one day a year, Southwark Bridge is closed to traffic and laid out as a huge banqueting table with a brilliant selection of food stalls at the south end of the bridge. This year I sampled the Hepworth brewery tent (Summer was vile, Prospect was nice, Blonde was the best but went flat in about five minutes), the Arancini Brothers (great risotto balls but duff advertising which must have kept away the punters) and, best off all, a hog roast sandwich. This was the unassuming name for great hunks of porchetta stuffed into a ciabatta. Nom.
So what am I going to have for my sandwich today?
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