We’ve touched on the subject of Good Sandwiches before; back in the summer of 2017 in the context of Monty’s Deli, Max’s Sandwich Shop, and a little bit of The Dusty Knuckle. Have a read. Though I also think it’s worth revisiting the theme two years on as we seem to be taking another leap forward. We are witnessing the gourmet sandwich reclaiming the lunch ground currently claimed by ‘street food’ wraps, pizzas, burgers and rice bowls.
The aforementioned makers remain at the top of their game (I had yet another unbeatable Meshuggener at Monty’s Hoxton at the end of March, and also enjoyed listening to co-owner Owen Barrett on The Kitchen is on Fire). But they’re joined now by Bodega Ritas (see January’s Tasting Notes, and also this oyster mushroom Banh-mi), and it seems Visions Canteen in Shoreditch, whose creative, global approach to sangers and baguettes is in line with and at least as good as Rita’s. My first from them was a stellar Thai-inspired chicken Grapow baguette, full of spicy ground chicken, Thai basil, peanut sprinkle, and with chipped potato crisps and gherkin on the side. Someone commented that a fried egg would’ve been both good and appropriate given the name and I agree. Regardless, it was super good and if you want me over the next few weeks you’ll find me working through the rest of the menu. Good times.
And there are other progressive sandwich makers joining the party soon. Watch this space.
Visions Canteen — 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EY — Mon-Fri 8-4, Sat-Sun 10-5
Peg opened a few months ago now; the sibling of the excellent P Franco and Bright. Like P Franco it’s heavy on the natural wine, slightly out on a Hackney limb and no reservations. But this time the cuisine’s firmly and unflinchingly westernised yakitori. SO chicken on sticks and house pickles.
I ate lunch there last week. And although I had a minor worry of being unable to build a meal, in fact the main difficulty was working out what to not order.
In addition to the chicken thighs, hearts, wings on sticks, there are mighty inviting plates and bowls, too. Like mizuna leaf and turnip salad, white asparagus with an orange and fermented chilli dressing, set custard chawanmushi with crab (I’ve seen it done with uni (sea urchin) other weeks), and absolute best of the bunch, a very not Japanese (nor Chinese for that matter) ‘mapo tofu’: soy bean curd and chickpea flour blended, set and deep fried like a panisse. Cubes of this sturdy yet still silken treat sat on and under minced pork licked with spicy red bean paste and oil that I’m keen to order in intravenous drip bag portions.
The wine list looks good — as with all natural wines, there’s nothing much for anyone under £30 a bottle, but the £36-50 a bottle options are plentiful and interesting, often hard to get elsewhere and / or actually decent value and very doable if shared between 3-4. I was pretending to work in the afternoon, so on this occasion it was just a glass of vibrant, bouncy, juicy and pleasingly acidic Californian orange wine. Will go again.
peglondon.co.uk — 120 Morning Lane, E9 6LH — Wed: 6-11pm; Thurs-Sat: 12-3pm & 6-11pm; Sun: 12-4pm
One #invite of note over the last few months was a night at Gloria, the newish and very kitsch Italian trattoria (or Parisian vintage) on the boundary of Shoreditch and Old Street. The outside is so heavily adorned with plants that the place feels like it must’ve been in situ for years, not weeks. But actually it’s an indication of the attention to decor and atmosphere and ‘grammable interiors generated vibe. Eat upstairs during the day, downstairs at night, and enjoy the keen pricing of pretty decent, approachable Italian food.
I thought carbonara mixed in a Parmesan wheel in front of us was an unsuccessful gimmick. Ditto a lemon meringue tart that demonstrates why your menu shouldn’t actually be built around social media likes: tart and custard were fine, but a literal mountain of meringue (which by definition is 50% sugar) was actually gross. Way, way more successful were supremely good (and good value) beef carpaccio salad, strong antipasti, truffled pasta and first class Neapolitan-style pizzas. Also, as mentioned, the prices, which are very fair indeed and ought to ensure queues continue long after the pot plants and climbers start to wilt / die back in the face of Great Eastern Street’s fumes.
A good edition. And the people behind it are quickly following up with a large site on similar theme, just off Oxford Street.
Gloria — 54-56 Great Eastern St, EC2A 3QR — Open through the week at varying times, some bookings possible but generally walk-in (see website)
If you’re on trend, you’ll follow your glam pizza or global-cuisine-inspired baguette with an of the moment Portuguese custard tart — or pasteis de nata.
There are a couple of nata focused places opening in Covent Garden, including Santa Ana, which looks as though it’s aped (for good reason) Lisbon’s standard bearer Mateigaria in the way it’s set-up: counter bar at which to neck an espresso and eat your still warm tart, and pastry makers on full display through the day. Assuming there’s enough demand for them to keep making.
They look promising. And yet if any of the new tarts come close to the quality of nata on offer at A Portuguese Love Affair on Hackney Road I’ll eat my hat (and quite a lot of nata). Seek them out: they’re the very best example of just set, not-too-sweet custard, and multi-layered, buttery crisp pastry shell. Perfeição.
Also, lots of good savoury things on the menu at this low-key, high-love cafe. Worth keeping in mind when wandering East.
A Portuguese Love Affair — 326 Hackney Road, E2 7AX — Tue-Fri: 12-10; Sat: 11-11; Sun: 10-7