Tuesday, 21 April 2015
Delancey & Co, Fitzrovia
With my usual route to work disrupted due to a large chunk of central London spontaneously bursting into flames a few weeks back, I've had to get used to a slightly longer commute in the morning. So instead of taking the bus up Kingsway, surely one of the least inspiring roads in Britain, passing on the left Eat, Costa, Subway, Wasabi, Pret, Café Rouge, Caffe Nero, Starbucks, another Subway, another Eat and finally emerging at Holborn station bus stop wanting to emigrate to anywhere that doesn't think cheese and mayonnaise is an acceptable sandwich filling and doesn't need my first name to sell me a bottle of orange juice, I instead take a stroll through Covent Garden.
Covent Garden, it's true, still has its fair share of dreadful tourist-bait grothouses, but dotted amongst them are gems such as the Opera Tavern, Mishkin's, 10 Cases and the ever-wonderful Kanada-Ya. There's also exciting new indoor food market Startisans, which during the week showcases a variety of interesting stalls and on Friday becomes a mini beer (and mead) festival hosting some of London's newest producers. The point is, look even slightly off the beaten track in London and you will invariably find something interesting going on - all any of us often need is a little push in the right direction, be that a block-wide underground electrical fire or even (ahem) a handy app.
So yesterday morning I was winding my way up Catherine Street and noticed a little place calling itself a "Smart Burger and Vodka House". It seems their claimed USP is to be able to match burgers with vodka, and indeed the short menu of all-bases-covered sandwiches (a normal burger, a fish burger, a chicken burger, a vegan burger) each comes with a short list of suggested vodkas. Lemon, saffron and horseradish to go with a cod burger, for example, or cranberry, lemon or mint flavours to go with the vegan. "What an interesting idea," I thought, "just what we've all been waiting for."
Actually, I didn't think that at all. Of course I didn't. No, what I actually thought was, "the very last thing that's going to make me feel happy about having to eat a grilled courgette and pumpkin purée 'burger' is the thought of having to wash it down with a shot of Toilet Duck-infused petrol." So, shaking my head at the seemingly endless ways dollar-eyed restaurateurs will conjure up to squeeze the last drops of bloody juice out of London's burger obsession, I walked away. And instead of a rant about Smart© (their copyright symbol, not mine) Burgers and tarragon vodka, I'm here to tell you about Delancey & Co.
Ironically, there isn't too much to say about Delancey & Co because it's really just a little sandwich shop on Goodge St selling salt beef, turkey and smoked salmon sandwiches in a couple of different breads with a couple of different toppings for not very much money. In New York it would hardly register as anything worth noticing at all, but here in London we've still not quite got past the stage of a New York-style deli being a wonderful novelty, and for that reason Delancey & Co deserves a lot more attention.
A salt beef sandwich on marbled rye was a doorstop-sized beauty, filled with an over-generous amount of meat and loosened with Swiss cheese. The most important ingredient here is clearly the beef, and it was of superb quality, with ribbons of translucent fat woven through the pink flesh and cut into satisfying thick slices. The cheese had been melted on with a blowtorch, a nice time-saving feature, and American mustard added an extra layer of authenticity. My only minor niggle was that the top slice of bread was slightly stale on one side; a shame as the attention to detail shown else where couldn't be faulted. Let's hope these are starting-months niggles.
Friends I was with had similar ingredients inside a Challah roll, which by all accounts was even more successful, firstly not being stale (which helped) but also having a lovely soft brioche-y sweetness which was even more evocatively Old Americana. House pickles were also fantastic, coming in home-cured 'Sweet'n'Sour' and 'Salty' variations a cut above what you might expect from most other sandwich shops in town.
OK so, it is "just" a sandwich shop and yes, salt beef in rye is hardly a concept unknown in the Western world. But people doing this kind of thing this well are still very few and far between - I could point to the Brass Rail in Selfridge's (good but expensive), the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane (good and cheap but on Brick Lane), Tongue & Brisket on Leather Lane (decent but inconsistent) but even doubling the number of purveyors of lovely fresh salt beef in rye bread would I'm sure still not meet demand. At least, it shouldn't do. Salt Beef sandwiches are a wonderful thing, and deserve to be obsessed over just as much as any burger. Having said that, if it ever gets to the stage someone opens a salt beef sandwich and vodka matching bar, I'm emigrating.
Unexpected underground fires and random scaffolding collapses destroyed your favourite restaurant? Use Where to Eat London to find somewhere brilliant to eat tonight.