Whether swiped on a tight lunch break or enjoyed on a leisurely market stroll, the sandwich — at its best — is a thing of rare beauty. As London has grown wiser to stunning produce, careful preparation, and lucrative street food endeavours, its sandwich offering has improved in line with the city’s many excellent bakeries, with stalwarts holding their own against the new school. Packing the city’s cosmopolitan generosity, staggering variety, and enduring love for molten dairy into one map and between two slices of bread is a serious undertaking, but these are the sandwiches and shops that have risen to the challenge.Read More
The Greatest Sandwiches in London
The best things between sliced bread
Shree Krishna Vada Pav
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.
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B & K Salt Beef Bar & Restaurant
John and Michael Georgiou’s Ashkenazi-Jewish deli in Edgware is the custodian of arguably the best deli sandwiches in the city. If pastrami is the meat of choice in New York, then London’s pick is surely salt beef, austerely seasoned and thick-sliced, perfectly rosy with flavoursome inlets of fat. Here, it’s the melt-on-the-tongue tongue that is the standout, the texture of meat fudge melded with mustard and caraway. Portions, unlike Katz’s in New York aren’t ludicrously large, which means it’s possible to save room for latkes, possibly to insert into the sandwich, or a gigantic slice of lokshen pudding for dessert.
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.
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At Sam’s Sandwich, the titular Sam, Samir Ladoul works wonders in the medium of Algerian sandwiches, as good as any NY deli or LA torta. Meat comes in the form of marinated chicken, lamb’s liver, kofte patties or merguez sausage, made fresh every lunchtime. Choose two of these and they will be fried with egg and chips into one scoopable mass, with the prudent additions of olives, harissa, and mayonnaise. The result is generous and hefty, meaty and rich, but leavened by the bitterness of olives, the tang of harissa, and the lightness of the bread itself. An exceptional London sandwich.
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Falafel can be found all over London. Some of the best falafel are in Shepherd’s Bush. Keeping it classic will never fail, with the crunch of pickled turnips and cucumbers set against creamy hummus and those yielding chickpea nuggets. But, after a few game-changing visits, it’s time to up the ante: the falafel + ful medames subs in broad beans singing with garlic and cumin, while the falafel supreme adds feta, avocado and a revelatory pomegranate syrup to the mix.
This cafe run by two brothers on Finchley Road offers a raft of stellar weekend specials, falafels whose emerald glow speaks to their intensely herbed character, and one of London’s finest sandwiches: a sabich loaded with fried aubergine, hard boiled eggs, the bite of pickled mango, chilli sauce, and chips. The star turn surrounds that bounty: an impossibly fluffy pita, the lightness of which somehow supports the generosity of the filling.
Paul Rothe & Son
119 years old and looking good for it, Paul Rothe & Son is one of London’s last sandwich shops that goes for the ‘anything goes’ approach and executes it with aplomb. The too-often ruinous coronation chicken is treated with the respect it demands, and blackboards are lined with set options for those feeling meek around lunchtime, but the real strategy here is to survey the ingredients, throw together what the heart desires, and let the sandwich makers do their work.
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 renowned Tata Eatery sando a run for its money.
I Camisa & Son
One of those old school stalwarts in the Soho rabbit warren: a proper Italian deli. It’s focaccia, it’s provolone, it’s parma ham, it’s mortadella, parmesan, it’s anchovies, it’s tomatoes, it’s mozzarella. It’s everything a lunchtime sandwich should be about — even all of those all at once, if so desired — and pricing is according to heft and luxury. So go ahead and add that black truffle. It’s there, so why not?
Few sandwiches — all of the ones on this list included — are as complete as the smoked eel number at Jeremy Lee’s Dean Street institution. The umami heft of smoked eel is cut first with piquant horseradish, and then the zing of pickled onion, all between lightly toasted — and crucially thin — sourdough. An institution all of its own.
Alex's Cypriot Sandwiches and Soup
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.
Saturday mornings at Italo are devoted to the dark art of breakfast sandwiches, which here involve reclaiming breakfast as merely the first thing someone eats and thus taking carte blanche to stuff beautiful ingredients between ciabatta. Steak and mustard greens; fennel sausage and kale; soon, winter tomato with fried egg? There’s also porridge on the blackboard, but, no.
Max's Sandwich Shop
Max’s is perhaps the perfect crossover point of the Katz’s Deli-inspired monsters of Monty’s, and a distinctly tongue-in-cheek approach to menu development. In practice, that means that Max Halley’s sandwiches are basically what, in any other establishment, could be referred to as “meals”, wedged between two slices of focaccia: never sourdough. The ham, egg ‘n’ chips is a natural London favourite, but the Korean Gangster — soy braised beef, kimchi and kraut, baby gem and crispy noodles, swimming in gravy and mayo — is unbeatable.
Alexandros Gkikas continues to create something special at Catalyst, constantly evolving its version of Greek/definitely-not-Greek food that isn’t straitjacketed by moussaka. Take the retired, but signal example of the katsu sando, which is at heart a halloumi sandwich, except here three fingers have been breaded Birdseye style and come with a fried egg, plum ketchup, politiki — a pickled version of a cabbage salad whose name refers to Constantinople — and a coffee sriracha. In a single sandwich, references to Greece, Turkey, the UK, Australia and Thailand. The other sandwiches are as good: tartare sauce on thick cut bacon and egg; another bacon and egg, but this time with the latter chopped down into salad.
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, now Terry’s, and still 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.
Bill Oglethorpe’s grilled cheese sandwich is a Borough legend, right up there with Brindisa’s chorizo roll. A heady mix of his own Ogleshield cheese, comté and Montgomery’s cheddar, it’s also laced with a wonderfully aromatic mix of leek and onion to create what is an oft-imitated classic.
Some may argue that a panuozzo is just a folded pizza but a folded pizza is bread wrapped around a filling, which makes it a sandwich. Fillings vary, with seasonal specials such as Parma ham, asparagus, mozzarella, and pine nuts; or Datterini tomatoes, gem lettuce, ham and house mayo. Among the regulars, however, is a surprise success story: tuna, mozzarella and black olive. The astute will draw a parallel with one of the world’s most reviled sandwiches, the tuna melt. So why does it work for Theo’s? Well, there’s a difference between skipjack-n-cheddar in a congealed panino and Ortiz tuna and Bianca la Bufala wrapped in pillowy fermented pizza dough. Just don’t forget a dollop of the addictive house chilli sauce.
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Towpath’s classic, rarely bettered toasted cheese with quince jelly is one of few dishes to make the leap between solstices at this seasonal canalside hotspot. To be clear, this sandwich is not a meal, but a side, an essential accessory to whatever other warming, brazenly seasoned dishes make the cut.
40 Maltby Street
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 takeaway lunch 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.
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Ellen Brown Children Centre
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 145 Grange Road.
The Dusty Knuckle Bakery
Few sandwich fillings are as lucky as those that make their home inside a fresh-from-the-tray Dusty Knuckle focaccia. The bread itself is a thing of wonder — all chewy, airy dough encased in blistered, salty crust — so filling it with the likes of chimichurri-marinated onglet and sweet’n’sour onions, or porchetta, quince and watercress, or roasted spiced cauliflower, tahini and soft-boiled egg makes for a sarnie that’s hard to beat.
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.
The original and still the best, Beigel Bake started in 1974, and now pumps out over 2000 fresh beigels a day, filled with peerless salt beef and hot mustard. They’re open 24 hours a day, and for most of those hours, expect to wait in line.
The fluffy steamed pitas at this stall on Netil Market are stuffed with a rainbow of salad, freshly fried falafel of the smooth textured kind, hummus, tahina, zhoug, a fried battered slice of potato just to gild the lily and on request Itamar’s amba. He seemed worried about people liking it, but it’s possibly the mellowest and brightest tasting amba in London, mango pickle with pops of lemony acidity. The wrap be big enough for two sensible people to share, but really it’s just the perfect main course.
Bánh Mì Hội-An
What is the best bacon and egg sandwich in London? Regency? Pellicci? St John? No. It’s the no 8 special (extra spicy) at Banh Mi Hoi An, located on a side street near Hackney Central. Not a single banh mi stall in London quite nails the the optimal lightness of the baguette, but Hoi An’s is soft, crisp, well toasted, and weapon-ready vast. The Hoi An special has both sweet char siu and thinly sliced pork belly, with little pockets of wobbly omelette coddling the meat; pickles cut through the richness in the manner of a sharp brown sauce. Aside from the egg and bacon, the beef ball curry banh mi is excellent when the chef has it on — needless to say, with the lack of any competition, it’s also the best meatball sub in this city.
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Otis Wright’s Jamaican jerk chicken stand in the front yard of St. Augustine’s Tower, off Mare Street in Hackney Central, is responsible for some of east London’s best street food. From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday to Sunday, one of Wright’s lesser-known menu items is the £5 jerk chicken sandwich. He debones a freshly grilled leg of chicken, rose-coloured from marination and smoke, adds some cabbage, carrots, onions, and a touch of gravy. Customers add their own hot sauce and/or mayonnaise.
Neco Tantuni ve Künefe Salonu Enfield
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.
Piggy’s Cafe at Billingsgate Market
For the early risers out at dawn Piggy’s Cafe is a ritual and a treasure. Offering the legendary sandwich stuffed with seared scallops and Bacon on buttered baps. The meeting place where simple pleasures are enjoyed... Until they move the whole thing out of London. Go while it still stands.