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The corned beef hash sando at Panadera in Kentish Town
The corned beef hash sando at Panadera in Kentish Town
Panadera [Official Photo]

Where to Grab a Great London Sandwich

2020 was a banner year for things between bread — and in 2021, the city is beginning to define its sandwich culture

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The corned beef hash sando at Panadera in Kentish Town
| Panadera [Official Photo]

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.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Shree Krishna Vada Pav

Copy Link
121 High St
Hounslow TW3 1QL, UK

The best of the Dishoom menu, as everyone knows, is contained in the small plates section where paus, bhels, fries and cheese toasts abound. Shree Krishna Vada Pav is what happens when the menu is only this — 70+ Maharastrian snacks inspired by Bombay and its Chowpatty Beach made for the Gujarati communities of Harrow and Hounslow. For homesick expats missing their native foods in London, these share a curious affinity with snack culture from the north of England and Scotland: any fried carbs available are stuffed in between soft barms; think samosas, vadas, bhajis, along with various puris and wraps sprinkled with sev and Desi-Chinese curries. The paneer bomb, a light tomato curry of paneer, stuffed into bread and then deep fried, is an innovation any Glaswegian chippy would be proud of.

2. Al Enam

Copy Link
Acton Business Centre, School Rd, Park Royal
London NW10 6TD, UK

Some sandwiches don’t travel, as Will Smith well knows. In Fresh Prince of Bel Air, knowing that Will is homesick for his native Philly, the Banks family buy him an unrecognisable cheesesteak from a bougie shop in Beverley Hills. “Look at the bag, no grease stain” he points out. London cheesesteaks are much the same, and even with those executed with the utmost respect lose something in translation. So what does a London cheesesteak really look like? Maybe something like the shawarma sub from Al Enam, an Iraqi grill restaurant situated on the outskirts of Park Royal, where the Acton Business Centre has turned into a small hub for the local Lebanese and Iraqi communities. When chopped and sliced, its lamb shoulder has the gumminess that a good cheesesteak should have, with the cheese wizz replaced by tahini. Order tahini wit (pickles), and then devour immediately on the concrete. 

3. Sam Sandwiches

Copy Link
9 Shepherd's Bush Market, Shepherd's Bush
London W12 8DE, UK

London has an unfortunate tendency to look over its shoulder at American cities and compare itself — to Katz’s pastrami, to Los Angeles’ tortas — which stops it from appreciating what it actually has. At Sam’s Sandwich in Shepherd’s Bush Market, the titular Sam, Samir Ladoul makes Algerian sandwiches as good as any torta or Reuben. Meat comes in the form of marinated chicken, lamb’s liver, kofte patties or merguez, made fresh every lunchtime by the butcher across the street who uses Ladoul’s spice mix. Choose two and they will be fried with egg and chips into one scoopable mass, while discs of bread, so cushioned they spring back at the merest hint of pressure, are halved and then carefully filled with the prudent additions of olives, harissa and mayonnaise. The result is generous and hefty, but leavened by the bitterness of the olives, the tang of the harissa, and the lightness of the bread. The kind of sandwich to order two of. 

4. Paul Rothe & Son

Copy Link
35 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone
London W1U 2NN, UK

There is old school and then there is Paul Rothe. This sandwich shop-cum-deli on a Marylebone side street has been preserved in amber, run by Paul — named for his grandfather who founded it — and his son Stephen. Do not expect unusual ingredients or gigantic portions, but do expect quick, fresh to order and endlessly customised sandwiches, with hot soups and spreads produced daily on site, which would, in better times, all be set to the rhythm of greetings, small talk and ‘white, brown or granary?’. Fillings like liptauer and liver sausage nod to the Rothes’ German heritage, but it’s still one of the few places that manages to nail the much maligned colonial hangover that is Coronation Chicken. In a city of infinite Prets, there is something comforting and honest about Paul Rothe.

5. Panadera

Copy Link
83 Kentish Town Rd
London NW1 8NY, UK

In a world of unlimited choice it takes some gumption to open a shop with just two unchanging sandwich options, yet that is exactly what Panadera has done. It’s the latest addition to the Maginhawa Group, aka the JKS of Kentish Town Road, where Omar Shah and co-conspirator Florence Mae Maglanoc keep doing their best to open every single style of restaurant except straight Filipino. Panadera is the straightest so far: a bakery, doing everything from ube tarts to calamansi meringue with coffee roasted by fellow sandwichmakers Catalyst. The sandwiches here are a showcase for sweet and fluffy pandesal, which can either be filled with a lightly spiced, rich egg mayo or gooey corned beef hash encased in a croquette, both imaginatively showcasing what is too often considered a poor ingredient in a package that gives the Tata Eatery sando a run for its money.

6. Tongue & Brisket

Copy Link
23 Goodge St, Fitzrovia
London W1T 2PL, UK

Where else but London would Ashkenazi Jewish traditions be faithfully preserved by Greek Cypriots? The deli sandwiches at Tongue and Brisket are the most recent and centrally located in this tradition, still continued over at B&K in Edgware (also owned by the Georgiou family) as well as the Ronsil-like named Salt Beef Bar in Temple Fortune. Sandwiches here are less jaw-breaking than Katz’s but generous: the tongue is soft and ambrosial, while the chopped liver makes an excellent secondary sandwich if the first isn’t enough. A quick tip: order sides. A latke or fishball or two has the same textural function as a hashbrown in a breakfast McMuffin.

7. Café Deco

Copy Link
43 Store St, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7DB, UK

One underwritten about aspect of Cafe Deco is how there was a Cafe Deco before Cafe Deco, and that Anna Tobias’s quandary was how to take over a working man’s cafe, bringing in a new crowd but having something to keep the old one too. As London caffs become increasingly yuppified, not many have handled this with such sensitivity. Part of that sensitivity is the simplicity of the sandwiches, which don’t muck around by being too clever: oil rich focaccia, thin and crisp, with cold cuts of meat, like ham, mortadella, salame, roast pork, maybe some cheese, some rocket, and that’s it. There is nothing revelatory about all this, just a good thing done with some thought, which is all Londoners can ask for.

8. Alex's Cypriot Sandwiches and Soup

Copy Link
18 Chase Side, Osidge
London N14 5PA, UK
020 8886 9519

A year ago there was nothing quite like Alex’s in London, which shows how quickly things can change in a city. While the Palmers Green restaurant scene has traditionally focused on the taverna, Alex Eleni was the first to identify the need for something that was quick and casual but not a bakery. His solution is absurdly simple: a sandwich shop straight from Nicosia, serving foot long subs of halloumi, lountza and loukanika on crusty sesame bread out of a panini press, with an optional (obligatory) serving of trahana, a cracked wheat soup with halloumi. So far, so Cyprus. But the real draw is Eleni himself, a Southgate boy with something of the wheeler dealer about him who is known by literally everyone in the area. Of course this would not be north London without a bit of unnecessary machismo: Alex’s has a sandwich eating competition to win £500, sponsored by a local estate agent and attempted by local geezers (the last person spotted doing this was the dad in Stavros Flatley. He gave up.) The sandwich bar format has since been replicated across north of North Circular north London, but there’s still only one Alex.

9. Catalyst

Copy Link
48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, Holborn
London WC1X 8LT, UK

If London has an ur-sandwich it is surely the egg and bacon toasted sandwich, a map of which exists in the heads of every builder and landscaper in the city. There is not much to add or subtract from it, which is usually the sign of something perfect: the egg can be runny or hard, the sauce red or brown, but it generally stays the same. That Catalyst, a Greek cafe which is not a Greek cafe, should reinvent the egg and bacon sandwich. which is itself a mainstay of Greek-Cypriot owned cafes, is something of an unintentional joke. Here the sandwich is sando’d: thick toasted white bread, bacon with contrasting areas of crispness and creamy softness, runny egg, ketchup and ...tartare sauce. Like most great snacks, it tends towards the flavour profile of a Big Mac and is therefore delicious.

10. Maria's Market Cafe

Copy Link
The Market Porter, 9 Stoney St
London SE1 9AA, UK

Hashes, as seen recently at St John Bread and Wine and at Panadera in Kentish Town, are a much underrated way to use up leftovers in sandwiches. The original London hash sandwich is the bubble and bacon at Maria’s, one of the few hot food survivors from the older part of Borough Market before Stoney Street became pizzas, bao and tacos. The hash in this case is the rarely-seen bubble, hefty mashed potato with pieces of vegetable allsorts squidged inside, fried to a crisp in a pan and served as a patty on top of the bacon. Bubble is naturally quite dry so its necessary to cane on the brown sauce at the table to get the moisture level correct, but when eaten in the morning, before work has intruded, it has the capacity to change the entire trajectory of a day. 

11. Flor

Copy Link
1 Bedale St
London SE1 9AL, UK

In many ways Flor epitomises the struggle of the London sandwich: here is a restaurant, blessed with the best produce, helmed by some of the most creative chefs in London, forced to make sandwiches. Bread made with heritage grains is all well and good, but what about a sandwich with heavy sourdough? Does Natoora and Flourish produce accentuate or detract from a sandwich? The chicken-fried veal sweetbread on buttered brioche squares that circle, providing something luxurious but simple; cheffy and yet enjoyed by anyone. At £10 it’s the dearest sandwich on this list, but it’s cheaper than what most restaurants would charge if it hadn’t been put between bread.

12. 40 Maltby Street

Copy Link
40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK

For writer Vaughn Tan, “the quality of a good sandwich lies in an architecture of contrast, and an awareness of how it unfolds through time”. One of the few restaurants to grasp this is 40 Maltby St, whose weekly sarnies exemplify gestalt sandwich construction with each aspect working as a part of a unified whole. There is an innate understanding of texture here, repurposing items that would normally adorn the top half of the menu ─ terrines, fritters, rostis, frittatas ─ and scrambling them up in a way that amounts to something more than simply putting a meal in bread. Yes, the focaccia (the London sandwich’s bread of choice) could be a bit thinner, but this is quibbling: a rare beef, onion fritter and horseradish cream number was one of the best things available anywhere in the city in 2020.

13. Mangal 2 Restaurant

Copy Link
4 Stoke Newington Rd, Clapton
London N16 8BH, UK

What makes a good sandwich? First of all: context. The great American sandwiches took what was locally abundant and cheap: Maine lobster, New Orleans shrimp, tough cuts of meat simmered to melting in Chicago Italian beef. So, what should London put in a sandwich? Eels have long since fled the Thames, but it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for anyone to turn to mackerel, that princely, oily fish which the Brits seem to hate and is exported overseas ─ at least until this year. With Brexit ravaging the entire fishing industry it only seems appropriate than Mangal II cooked it over coals to the cusp of burnt, and put it in a pide with dill mayo, in a kind of Dalston-on-Bosphorus update on the balik ekmek.

14. Bell’s Cafe

Copy Link
145 Grange Rd, Bermondsey
London SE1 3GF, UK

Bell’s doesn’t sell the best sandwich in London, but there is perhaps no better example of where London has been and where it’s going. Here is a very British institution, the park cafe, selling that most British of all British-Italian food forms, the panini, filling it with Turkish kofte, chilli oil and American cheese, and serving it to the part of Bermondsey that does not yet see queues for sandwiches. There’s something of the essence of London in Bell’s: old institutions being refreshed by new faces, such that a fish finger sandwich sits handsomely on the menu alongside gozleme and bazlama. NB: The cafe is located in the Ellen Brown Children’s Centre, which some maps list as 97 Grange Road.

15. St. John Bread and Wine

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94-96 Commercial St, Shadwell
London E1 6LZ, UK

The bacon sandwich at Bread and Wine has long been one of its sacraments, but the pandemic has allowed the cult of St John to add some new items to the liturgy. Weekends now see hash sandwiches, ox tongue or middlewhite pork mixed with potatoes and deep fried into a croquette the size of a tennis ball, squashed down in a bap or barely there toast with brown sauce, conjuring a British cuisine that never existed but should have. Like the best of St John, it is a simple idea, executed with supreme grace ─ and it should be on the menu permanently.

16. Crossroads Cafe

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190 Bellenden Rd, Peckham
London SE15 4BW, UK
020 7358 0436

There are two types of sandwich lovers: those willing to try anything, and those who might love everything but who will, when given the choice, always order the escalope sandwich. It is something of a fading art in London ─ brought over by the Italians but gone out of fashion, and often disrespected. Crossroads, a caff on the otherwise bougie Bellenden Road in Peckham, gets it. The bread is, crucially, soft and untoasted, a thick, doorstop white that traverses that liminal space between “terrible” and “not terrible.” The escalope is fried fresh, to a deep copper rather than a lazy tan. There is shredded lettuce, lemon, mayo and a little bit of hot sauce. That’s it. Bite into the bread, meeting resistance only at the barrier of escalope of its juices hotter than the sun, and gulp for fresh air.

17. Bright

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1 Westgate St, Hackney
London E8 3RL, UK

One of the very few hype sandwiches which actually delivers, the squid sandwich used to be an occasional Bright special and is now the only thing Bright actually does (according to Instagram.) To be fair, it’s a great sandwich: brioche, aioli and freshly fried squid hit with a bit of lemon and salt and otherwise left well alone. Last summer, with the sun out and the scent of calamari in the air, it was genuinely transportive in a time when travel was impossible. Bright, however, must be absolutely sick of it by now.

18. Neco Tantuni Künefe Salonu Enfield

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4 Brick Ln
Enfield EN3 5BA, UK
020 8804 8909

While London was out enjoying mediocre tacos, it should have been studying the tantuni. At Ponders End’s Neco Tantuni, it’s possible to order one of the city’s best late night snacks: either tantuni, finely chopped flesh and fat stuffed into cigarillos, or the somin tantuni, where the same is sandwiched into cubano-like subs. The sandwich version is glossed in a slick of fat, so the bread comes out looking shiny, like Gregg Wallace’s head after a workout. A small tip: the whole family who run Neco can make any of the items superbly, but if the wife makes the tantuni, it’s just that little bit more transcendent.

19. Banh Mi Leo

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19 Lovibond Ln, Greenwich
London SE10 9FY, UK

“Bánh mì refers to the bread,” certain people love to explain. More specifically, it is often used to refer to the crusty, Vietnamese baguette so often mourned by Vietnamese Londoners due to the fact that no one seems to get it quite right. Banh Mi Leo next to Greenwich station is not Hanoi reincarnated, but during the pandemic it stumbled upon another solution. Its baker stopped making baguettes, and started sending them a kind of ciabatta instead. And ... it works perfectly. Once over the shock of the flatness, the crisp exterior giving way to light, airy bread is the perfect vehicle for the bánh mì, with its finely balanced accord of pork, pate and pickles.

1. Shree Krishna Vada Pav

121 High St, Hounslow TW3 1QL, UK

The best of the Dishoom menu, as everyone knows, is contained in the small plates section where paus, bhels, fries and cheese toasts abound. Shree Krishna Vada Pav is what happens when the menu is only this — 70+ Maharastrian snacks inspired by Bombay and its Chowpatty Beach made for the Gujarati communities of Harrow and Hounslow. For homesick expats missing their native foods in London, these share a curious affinity with snack culture from the north of England and Scotland: any fried carbs available are stuffed in between soft barms; think samosas, vadas, bhajis, along with various puris and wraps sprinkled with sev and Desi-Chinese curries. The paneer bomb, a light tomato curry of paneer, stuffed into bread and then deep fried, is an innovation any Glaswegian chippy would be proud of.

121 High St
Hounslow TW3 1QL, UK

2. Al Enam

Acton Business Centre, School Rd, Park Royal, London NW10 6TD, UK

Some sandwiches don’t travel, as Will Smith well knows. In Fresh Prince of Bel Air, knowing that Will is homesick for his native Philly, the Banks family buy him an unrecognisable cheesesteak from a bougie shop in Beverley Hills. “Look at the bag, no grease stain” he points out. London cheesesteaks are much the same, and even with those executed with the utmost respect lose something in translation. So what does a London cheesesteak really look like? Maybe something like the shawarma sub from Al Enam, an Iraqi grill restaurant situated on the outskirts of Park Royal, where the Acton Business Centre has turned into a small hub for the local Lebanese and Iraqi communities. When chopped and sliced, its lamb shoulder has the gumminess that a good cheesesteak should have, with the cheese wizz replaced by tahini. Order tahini wit (pickles), and then devour immediately on the concrete. 

Acton Business Centre, School Rd, Park Royal
London NW10 6TD, UK

3. Sam Sandwiches

9 Shepherd's Bush Market, Shepherd's Bush, London W12 8DE, UK

London has an unfortunate tendency to look over its shoulder at American cities and compare itself — to Katz’s pastrami, to Los Angeles’ tortas — which stops it from appreciating what it actually has. At Sam’s Sandwich in Shepherd’s Bush Market, the titular Sam, Samir Ladoul makes Algerian sandwiches as good as any torta or Reuben. Meat comes in the form of marinated chicken, lamb’s liver, kofte patties or merguez, made fresh every lunchtime by the butcher across the street who uses Ladoul’s spice mix. Choose two and they will be fried with egg and chips into one scoopable mass, while discs of bread, so cushioned they spring back at the merest hint of pressure, are halved and then carefully filled with the prudent additions of olives, harissa and mayonnaise. The result is generous and hefty, but leavened by the bitterness of the olives, the tang of the harissa, and the lightness of the bread. The kind of sandwich to order two of. 

9 Shepherd's Bush Market, Shepherd's Bush
London W12 8DE, UK

4. Paul Rothe & Son

35 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone, London W1U 2NN, UK

There is old school and then there is Paul Rothe. This sandwich shop-cum-deli on a Marylebone side street has been preserved in amber, run by Paul — named for his grandfather who founded it — and his son Stephen. Do not expect unusual ingredients or gigantic portions, but do expect quick, fresh to order and endlessly customised sandwiches, with hot soups and spreads produced daily on site, which would, in better times, all be set to the rhythm of greetings, small talk and ‘white, brown or granary?’. Fillings like liptauer and liver sausage nod to the Rothes’ German heritage, but it’s still one of the few places that manages to nail the much maligned colonial hangover that is Coronation Chicken. In a city of infinite Prets, there is something comforting and honest about Paul Rothe.

35 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone
London W1U 2NN, UK

5. Panadera

83 Kentish Town Rd, London NW1 8NY, UK

In a world of unlimited choice it takes some gumption to open a shop with just two unchanging sandwich options, yet that is exactly what Panadera has done. It’s the latest addition to the Maginhawa Group, aka the JKS of Kentish Town Road, where Omar Shah and co-conspirator Florence Mae Maglanoc keep doing their best to open every single style of restaurant except straight Filipino. Panadera is the straightest so far: a bakery, doing everything from ube tarts to calamansi meringue with coffee roasted by fellow sandwichmakers Catalyst. The sandwiches here are a showcase for sweet and fluffy pandesal, which can either be filled with a lightly spiced, rich egg mayo or gooey corned beef hash encased in a croquette, both imaginatively showcasing what is too often considered a poor ingredient in a package that gives the Tata Eatery sando a run for its money.

83 Kentish Town Rd
London NW1 8NY, UK

6. Tongue & Brisket

23 Goodge St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2PL, UK

Where else but London would Ashkenazi Jewish traditions be faithfully preserved by Greek Cypriots? The deli sandwiches at Tongue and Brisket are the most recent and centrally located in this tradition, still continued over at B&K in Edgware (also owned by the Georgiou family) as well as the Ronsil-like named Salt Beef Bar in Temple Fortune. Sandwiches here are less jaw-breaking than Katz’s but generous: the tongue is soft and ambrosial, while the chopped liver makes an excellent secondary sandwich if the first isn’t enough. A quick tip: order sides. A latke or fishball or two has the same textural function as a hashbrown in a breakfast McMuffin.

23 Goodge St, Fitzrovia
London W1T 2PL, UK

7. Café Deco

43 Store St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7DB, UK

One underwritten about aspect of Cafe Deco is how there was a Cafe Deco before Cafe Deco, and that Anna Tobias’s quandary was how to take over a working man’s cafe, bringing in a new crowd but having something to keep the old one too. As London caffs become increasingly yuppified, not many have handled this with such sensitivity. Part of that sensitivity is the simplicity of the sandwiches, which don’t muck around by being too clever: oil rich focaccia, thin and crisp, with cold cuts of meat, like ham, mortadella, salame, roast pork, maybe some cheese, some rocket, and that’s it. There is nothing revelatory about all this, just a good thing done with some thought, which is all Londoners can ask for.

43 Store St, Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7DB, UK

8. Alex's Cypriot Sandwiches and Soup

18 Chase Side, Osidge, London N14 5PA, UK

A year ago there was nothing quite like Alex’s in London, which shows how quickly things can change in a city. While the Palmers Green restaurant scene has traditionally focused on the taverna, Alex Eleni was the first to identify the need for something that was quick and casual but not a bakery. His solution is absurdly simple: a sandwich shop straight from Nicosia, serving foot long subs of halloumi, lountza and loukanika on crusty sesame bread out of a panini press, with an optional (obligatory) serving of trahana, a cracked wheat soup with halloumi. So far, so Cyprus. But the real draw is Eleni himself, a Southgate boy with something of the wheeler dealer about him who is known by literally everyone in the area. Of course this would not be north London without a bit of unnecessary machismo: Alex’s has a sandwich eating competition to win £500, sponsored by a local estate agent and attempted by local geezers (the last person spotted doing this was the dad in Stavros Flatley. He gave up.) The sandwich bar format has since been replicated across north of North Circular north London, but there’s still only one Alex.

18 Chase Side, Osidge
London N14 5PA, UK

9. Catalyst

48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, Holborn, London WC1X 8LT, UK

If London has an ur-sandwich it is surely the egg and bacon toasted sandwich, a map of which exists in the heads of every builder and landscaper in the city. There is not much to add or subtract from it, which is usually the sign of something perfect: the egg can be runny or hard, the sauce red or brown, but it generally stays the same. That Catalyst, a Greek cafe which is not a Greek cafe, should reinvent the egg and bacon sandwich. which is itself a mainstay of Greek-Cypriot owned cafes, is something of an unintentional joke. Here the sandwich is sando’d: thick toasted white bread, bacon with contrasting areas of crispness and creamy softness, runny egg, ketchup and ...tartare sauce. Like most great snacks, it tends towards the flavour profile of a Big Mac and is therefore delicious.

48 Grays Inn Rd, Chancery Ln, Holborn
London WC1X 8LT, UK

10. Maria's Market Cafe

The Market Porter, 9 Stoney St, London SE1 9AA, UK

Hashes, as seen recently at St John Bread and Wine and at Panadera in Kentish Town, are a much underrated way to use up leftovers in sandwiches. The original London hash sandwich is the bubble and bacon at Maria’s, one of the few hot food survivors from the older part of Borough Market before Stoney Street became pizzas, bao and tacos. The hash in this case is the rarely-seen bubble, hefty mashed potato with pieces of vegetable allsorts squidged inside, fried to a crisp in a pan and served as a patty on top of the bacon. Bubble is naturally quite dry so its necessary to cane on the brown sauce at the table to get the moisture level correct, but when eaten in the morning, before work has intruded, it has the capacity to change the entire trajectory of a day. 

The Market Porter, 9 Stoney St
London SE1 9AA, UK

11. Flor

1 Bedale St, London SE1 9AL, UK

In many ways Flor epitomises the struggle of the London sandwich: here is a restaurant, blessed with the best produce, helmed by some of the most creative chefs in London, forced to make sandwiches. Bread made with heritage grains is all well and good, but what about a sandwich with heavy sourdough? Does Natoora and Flourish produce accentuate or detract from a sandwich? The chicken-fried veal sweetbread on buttered brioche squares that circle, providing something luxurious but simple; cheffy and yet enjoyed by anyone. At £10 it’s the dearest sandwich on this list, but it’s cheaper than what most restaurants would charge if it hadn’t been put between bread.

1 Bedale St
London SE1 9AL, UK

12. 40 Maltby Street

40 Maltby St, London SE1 3PA, UK

For writer Vaughn Tan, “the quality of a good sandwich lies in an architecture of contrast, and an awareness of how it unfolds through time”. One of the few restaurants to grasp this is 40 Maltby St, whose weekly sarnies exemplify gestalt sandwich construction with each aspect working as a part of a unified whole. There is an innate understanding of texture here, repurposing items that would normally adorn the top half of the menu ─ terrines, fritters, rostis, frittatas ─ and scrambling them up in a way that amounts to something more than simply putting a meal in bread. Yes, the focaccia (the London sandwich’s bread of choice) could be a bit thinner, but this is quibbling: a rare beef, onion fritter and horseradish cream number was one of the best things available anywhere in the city in 2020.

40 Maltby St
London SE1 3PA, UK

13. Mangal 2 Restaurant

4 Stoke Newington Rd, Clapton, London N16 8BH, UK

What makes a good sandwich? First of all: context. The great American sandwiches took what was locally abundant and cheap: Maine lobster, New Orleans shrimp, tough cuts of meat simmered to melting in Chicago Italian beef. So, what should London put in a sandwich? Eels have long since fled the Thames, but it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for anyone to turn to mackerel, that princely, oily fish which the Brits seem to hate and is exported overseas ─ at least until this year. With Brexit ravaging the entire fishing industry it only seems appropriate than Mangal II cooked it over coals to the cusp of burnt, and put it in a pide with dill mayo, in a kind of Dalston-on-Bosphorus update on the balik ekmek.

4 Stoke Newington Rd, Clapton
London N16 8BH, UK

14. Bell’s Cafe

145 Grange Rd, Bermondsey, London SE1 3GF, UK

Bell’s doesn’t sell the best sandwich in London, but there is perhaps no better example of where London has been and where it’s going. Here is a very British institution, the park cafe, selling that most British of all British-Italian food forms, the panini, filling it with Turkish kofte, chilli oil and American cheese, and serving it to the part of Bermondsey that does not yet see queues for sandwiches. There’s something of the essence of London in Bell’s: old institutions being refreshed by new faces, such that a fish finger sandwich sits handsomely on the menu alongside gozleme and bazlama. NB: The cafe is located in the Ellen Brown Children’s Centre, which some maps list as 97 Grange Road.

145 Grange Rd, Bermondsey
London SE1 3GF, UK

15. St. John Bread and Wine

94-96 Commercial St, Shadwell, London E1 6LZ, UK

The bacon sandwich at Bread and Wine has long been one of its sacraments, but the pandemic has allowed the cult of St John to add some new items to the liturgy. Weekends now see hash sandwiches, ox tongue or middlewhite pork mixed with potatoes and deep fried into a croquette the size of a tennis ball, squashed down in a bap or barely there toast with brown sauce, conjuring a British cuisine that never existed but should have. Like the best of St John, it is a simple idea, executed with supreme grace ─ and it should be on the menu permanently.

94-96 Commercial St, Shadwell
London E1 6LZ, UK

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16. Crossroads Cafe

190 Bellenden Rd, Peckham, London SE15 4BW, UK

There are two types of sandwich lovers: those willing to try anything, and those who might love everything but who will, when given the choice, always order the escalope sandwich. It is something of a fading art in London ─ brought over by the Italians but gone out of fashion, and often disrespected. Crossroads, a caff on the otherwise bougie Bellenden Road in Peckham, gets it. The bread is, crucially, soft and untoasted, a thick, doorstop white that traverses that liminal space between “terrible” and “not terrible.” The escalope is fried fresh, to a deep copper rather than a lazy tan. There is shredded lettuce, lemon, mayo and a little bit of hot sauce. That’s it. Bite into the bread, meeting resistance only at the barrier of escalope of its juices hotter than the sun, and gulp for fresh air.

190 Bellenden Rd, Peckham
London SE15 4BW, UK

17. Bright

1 Westgate St, Hackney, London E8 3RL, UK

One of the very few hype sandwiches which actually delivers, the squid sandwich used to be an occasional Bright special and is now the only thing Bright actually does (according to Instagram.) To be fair, it’s a great sandwich: brioche, aioli and freshly fried squid hit with a bit of lemon and salt and otherwise left well alone. Last summer, with the sun out and the scent of calamari in the air, it was genuinely transportive in a time when travel was impossible. Bright, however, must be absolutely sick of it by now.

1 Westgate St, Hackney
London E8 3RL, UK

18. Neco Tantuni Künefe Salonu Enfield

4 Brick Ln, Enfield EN3 5BA, UK

While London was out enjoying mediocre tacos, it should have been studying the tantuni. At Ponders End’s Neco Tantuni, it’s possible to order one of the city’s best late night snacks: either tantuni, finely chopped flesh and fat stuffed into cigarillos, or the somin tantuni, where the same is sandwiched into cubano-like subs. The sandwich version is glossed in a slick of fat, so the bread comes out looking shiny, like Gregg Wallace’s head after a workout. A small tip: the whole family who run Neco can make any of the items superbly, but if the wife makes the tantuni, it’s just that little bit more transcendent.

4 Brick Ln
Enfield EN3 5BA, UK

19. Banh Mi Leo

19 Lovibond Ln, Greenwich, London SE10 9FY, UK

“Bánh mì refers to the bread,” certain people love to explain. More specifically, it is often used to refer to the crusty, Vietnamese baguette so often mourned by Vietnamese Londoners due to the fact that no one seems to get it quite right. Banh Mi Leo next to Greenwich station is not Hanoi reincarnated, but during the pandemic it stumbled upon another solution. Its baker stopped making baguettes, and started sending them a kind of ciabatta instead. And ... it works perfectly. Once over the shock of the flatness, the crisp exterior giving way to light, airy bread is the perfect vehicle for the bánh mì, with its finely balanced accord of pork, pate and pickles.

19 Lovibond Ln, Greenwich
London SE10 9FY, UK

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