Monday, 15 March 2010
Fernandez & Wells Espresso Bar, Soho
London should be the greatest city in the world if you love sandwiches, shouldn't it? Just look at every high street in the city. There are more sandwich shops than almost any kind of business, from Pret a Manger to Eat, Benugo to Pod, Abokado, Apostrophe, the list goes on and on and oh God it goes on. London must be a great place if you like sandwiches - just look at the queues! Look at the variety!
Except, of course, it isn't. Apostrophe tantalises at first with its French patisserie style until you realise the beauty is skin deep; ordering from Benugo is like trying to buy a car in Communist Russia ("No, sandwiches are over there. I'm just soup. No, you can't pay here. Take your receipt to the till. No, drinks are from the cabinet."); and the only way Pret could get any more mayonnaise into their produce is if they somehow developed a bread made entirely from egg yolks and olive oil. So thank the lord for Fernandez and Wells, a (very mini) chain which stands so far above the head and shoulders of any other sandwich monger in the area it may as well be on stilts set into those shoes Elton John wore for Tommy.
With things like English muffin with fried egg and black pudding, proper Swiss-style raclette and freshly-sliced Spanish ham on the menu, choosing your lunch at Fernandez and Wells is a thrill and a delight, in stark contrast to the miserable experience of selecting whichever item in Pret is the least likely to give you a mayonnaise-induced coronary. Fighting back the temptation to order everything all at once, I limited myself to a pulled pork and apple sauce sandwich, a handful of stuffed chillies, and a little Portuguese custard tart, and carried them all off to eat in the sun in Soho Square.
The stuffed chillies were great, hardly cheap at £3.50 for five but with a very moreish mix of textures, cool feta cheese balancing the crispy heat of the chillies. That my pork sandwich wasn't quite as good as that available from the Roast of Sherwood on Whitecross Street is hardly much of a criticism - only the addition of some crackling would have improved it. And best of all was that fantastic custard tart, every bit as good as the examples I tried at the world custard tart headquarters, Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon.
Such quality, and expertise in the pastry department, comes at a price. The items above plus a bottle of Luscombe organic ginger ale came to £12, far too much to spend on lunch on a regular basis. But even just the pork sandwich and a glass of tap water would have made a sufficiently filling (and very tasty) snack for £5, and reason to traipse over to Soho from my office in Holborn. And there's every chance I may do just that again very soon.
If you are a sandwich fan, and I mean a PROPER sandwich fan, then you should consider Jonathan Brown's Sandwichist column for the Londonist a must-read.