What links Jimi Hendrix, David Hasselhoff, and the sandwich? All are great cultural phenomenons initially unappreciated in their country of birth. Hendrix was a jobbing R&B guitarist before he sold his soul on the crossroads of Brook and New Bond St; Hasselhoff’s late-80s American career was tanking before he went to Germany. The sandwich, meanwhile, needed to be exiled from its spiritual home in Kent and taken to America before it reached its true potential. Unrestrained by British repression and taste, its form was broken and remade by successive waves of immigration in a kind of sandwich frontierism. Where British cities were defined by a cathedral, American cities became defined by the regional sandwich.
Back in London, sandwich culture stagnated in limp, refrigerated, single layer forms. In Chorleywood bread; in Boots meal deals; in Marks and Spencers; and finally, in Pret a Manger. There, the infinite potential of sandwiches got reduced to a kind of Myers-Briggs commuter test; people started to define their whole personalities on liking the jambon beurre. But this remained preferable to the gourmet sandwich culture outside its maroon walls, which used floury baps, untoasted sourdough, and luxe ingredients to distract from thoughtless construction and ruinous architecture.
Then Covid-19 changed everything. Chefs turned to sandwiches as a means of staying afloat, and the sandwich game was colonised by every functioning restaurant, by chefs that had never given them a second glance. This has been both good and bad, because cheffing and sandwich making are two different métiers. Where a chef is constantly looking to create and stave off boredom, a sandwich maker is an assembler. They abnegate ego entirely, deploying store-bought produce rather than in-house pickles and condiments; they do the same thing day in and day out entirely in service of their customers. Most importantly, they have a slightly perverse imagination.
The new London sandwich has not quite learned this, but it has improved unimaginably from a year ago, and with that improvement the city finally has something that, with enough squinting, looks like a sandwich culture. All of the following sandwiches say something meaningful about what this culture is and who participates in it; taken together, they form a snapshot of London as it exists in 2021, between two discrete slices of non-continuous leavened bread. (This list does not recognise wraps.)
London’s restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars reopen for indoor service from 17 May, with the rule of six in place. Customers can check with individual venues to determine their availability and Covid-secure measures before deciding to visit.Read More