The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 7

CHRISTMAS SANDWICH-OFF!

Marks & Spencer vs Pret

After my tour around various London restaurants and diners, I found myself with a couple of long journeys to go and see my parents in their respective homes. Christmas sandwiches were purchased to see me through the long trips, both well over 3 hours door-to-door. Sustenance is crucial on such days!

This was actually a pretty solid pair of sandwiches. Although in the case of Pret, that can be taken two ways – the granary bread mini-baguette was rather dense, possibly even to the very verge of being about to be stale. Or it might just have been very heavy bread. I’m not sure, but it wasn’t great.

The fillings though? Actually pretty good. I’d gone for their vegetarian option, which means this isn’t a like-for-like comparison, which is maybe a bit unfair. But hey – life ain’t fair, suck it up Pret! As a mark against M&S, they didn’t seem to have a Christmas vegetarian option at the shop I went to, which is pretty poor. Maybe they’d sold out though, as it was Christmas Eve and a lot of people were travelling that morning.

When I broke out the Pret on my way to Dad’s, it was noticeable that the sandwich had made a lot of liquid inside the plastic wrapper, and on opening you can see the effect. Not ideal if I was short on napkins, and not very appetising.

So the bread wasn’t great, the wrapping was making the sandwich a bit greasy, it’s a bad start by anyone’s reckoning. But you know what? This was a perfectly enjoyable sandwich. The chutney and parsnip puree gave it a sweet, tangy flavour, and the grilled carrots had a pleasing bite to them. The crispy onions had lost their crunch in truth, but not too much, so they were passable. And the pistachios were a great touch. The filling quantity was about right, if not generous. In a better baguette, and having not been wrapped and getting a bit sticky and wet, this would have been a very decent sandwich. Was it a Christmas sandwich…? Ehhhhh. Not to my mind, but I suppose it had some festive flavours going on if you’re avoiding the traditional Turkey dinner combinations.

I do try to buy vegetarian sandwiches if I’m forced to eat on the go, I don’t generally eat meat at home hardly at all, or at restaurants unless it’s stuff that’s been responsibly farmed etc, and I tend to be a little doubtful of sandwiches from these places to be very high quality meat. The trade-off, sadly, is that too often they are completely lacking in interesting flavours and textures. No such issues with this one, very impressive, and something I’d buy again. This was £3.75 and clocked in at 489 calories and 1.65g of salt.

Now to Marks & Spencer, although sadly I don’t have as many photos as I should really, as I was on a much busier route, and felt all embarrassed and self-conscious about taking photos of the sandwich in front of strangers!

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I’ll cut to the chase – this was a bloody brilliant Christmas sandwich. The bread was very fresh, the filling amounts incredibly generous, none of that trickery some triangular sandwiches pull, this was the same amount throughout. The bacon was crispy, the stuffing full of sage & onion flavour, plenty of sauces and mayo, delicious cranberry chutney and a good amount of turkey. I could happily eat these all day long at this time of year – for a store-bought fridge-sandwich, this really was a very good effort indeed. This one clocked in at 457 calories and 2g of salt, which apparently is a third of recommended daily intake, so pretty damn high really.

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 Both sandwiches include a donation to homeless charities, 50p from Pret, 5% from M&S (so that’s 16p from the £3.25 price), which is a pleasing thing to see at a tough time for many people. If you feel like making a donation, I can recommend St Mungo’s, who do terrific work with the homeless.

So the verdict in this head-to-head? I’m not going to put actual scores up, as I don’t want to conflate these with the restaurant reviews, it’s a totally different game. But the M&S Turkey Feast was nigh on perfect in terms of what you could hope for from a sandwich like this, and £3.25 is excellent value. The Pret Very Merry Christmas Lunch – nowhere near as good, but a perfectly decent sandwich in it’s own right, and certainly something I’d be happy to recommend as a veggie option, and I suspect I’ll nick the basic idea for my own self-made sandwiches in future!

The winner though – no contest. Take a bow M&S, well done for a wonderful Christmas sandwich.

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 5

MEATmission – XXXmas Burger

I’ve never reviewed MEATmission or MEATliquor, as I felt that my involvement with their now defunct MEATtransMISSION radio show made it a bit of a conflict of interests, but now that I don’t have that issue, my first time casting judgement on one of the big hitters of the London burger game.

 

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I managed to sneak in between a pair of gigs on a Friday night, and it was a simple task for me to choose the sustenance from the offerings available – piggies in blankets and the XXXmas Burger, as well as one of their excellent sazeracs. As the meal was an in-and-out hit job, so too will this review be a lot shorter than the others I’ve done so far.

The piggies in blankets were absolutely bloody lovely. Fantastically juicy and meaty, with a wonderful flavour that danced around savoury with a hint of sweetness in there, you could tell that these chipolatas are made from great pork. The bacon they were wrapped in was as crispy as you’d hope, giving the right combination of textures as you bit through that and into the softer sausage they encased. A little blob of mustard to add heat made for a genuinely delicious side dish.


The main event didn’t massively impress me at first glance. The turkey is thin slices kind of folded up in there, going against the grain in the Christmas burger which seems to favour a big lump of, breaded, deep-fried breast.

But if we’re looking at this logically, MEATmission’s approach is more “authentic” – a lot more people will have thin slices on their Christmas dinner plates than breaded, deep fried pieces! The top filling is the rather clever bacon disk they make – basically smushing and cooking a load of bacon so it fits in the bun better than the more normal slices people would use. The stuffing crumbles were a little dry I thought, presumably because of being smaller pieces, but a good touch – stuffing is quintessentially Christmassy for me. The Old Spot patty was excellent, with the cranberry adding that traditional sweetness aspect of a Christmas sarnie. The turkey was super juicy, a result of it being sort of “basted” with the gravy it mentions. An extra tray of gravy to the side to dip this in, a la Blacklock, now that would have been fantastic.

It was a really proper feast of flavours and textures – the turkey was so juicy, savoury and succulent in particular. I demolished the thing in no time at all, and it really did evoke the season to my palate. As I mentioned, stuffing is a big Christmas food at my home – sage & onion being my favourite. A lot of these specials seem to use that as the vehicle for pork, but personally I’ve never really gone down the meaty stuffing route, so this was a welcome choice for me and my tastes. All in all, a success, if not quite at the level of Blacklock or Mac & Wild.

XXXmas Burger – 8/10

Christmassyness – 9/10

Piggies in Blankets – 8.5/10

Sazerac – Boozy/10

Overall 8/10

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 2

Lucky Chip – Rudolph Burger

Lucky Chip is, by my reckoning, one of the most consistently excellent burger joints in London. Quite why it hasn’t grown in the way Honest, Patty & Bun or Meat Liquor have, I don’t know. But they have always given good burger.

However, the big standout compared to others is that they consistently produce burger specials that not only look good on paper and Instagram, but also taste incredible. Their World Peace Burger in collaboration with Bleecker Street was a work of art, probably the 2nd best burger I’ve ever eaten.

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So the unveiling of their Christmas menu immediately grabbed my attention. The instagram picture of the Rudolph Burger, a deer-based offering, held it.

So a lunch date was set with a buddy, and in we went.

For me it was quite easy; a Rudolph Burger, and something else festive, so turkey nuggets jumped off the page. My friend went for a Santa’s Little Helper hot dog, chilli cheese fries & buffalo wings, which weirdly don’t seem to be on the above menu.

When the burger landed, it wasn’t the most beautifully presented thing in the world, but this is junk food, and I know how deceptive appearances can be with this stuff.

The wings and some cheesey fries arrived with it, with a mention that the rest would be with us shortly. Thus began a strange and confusing back and forth!

But first things first – the burger. I have to say, it was delicious. We were both struck at how little the burger itself tasted like venison as we know it, maybe that’s a product of it being minced and cooked burger style, but it did have a note of the gaminess you’d expect from that meat. The other fillings were generous in quantity and nicely spread throughout the sandwich, giving each mouthful a great balance of flavours and textures. The blueberry, blackberry & gin jam gave a lovely hit of sweetness and just enough acidity, which counterbalanced the stilton very well indeed. It was cooked to around medium, and even though there was a lot of juice flying around, the bun held together excellently throughout my demolition job.

The wings were decent – although that’s my verdict as someone who isn’t much of a wings connoisseur. I have to say that the pepper sauce was extremely good, delivering an excellent slap of heat to the tastebuds and having a nice thick, sticky, viscous character. They weren’t the meatiest wings I’ve ever had, and I’m not the biggest “on the bone” chicken fan in general, but yeah – these did what you’d hope, and I’d happily recommend them, although I’d have preferred a blue cheese dip to the more herby one we got.

So far so good, except for the fact they’d brought the wrong fries out, and no hot dog or nuggets. We pointed this out and they took the fries very apologetically, and promised the rest would be with us soon. And lo, the nuggets arrived.

The turkey nuggets were very enjoyable indeed – big, solid chunks of turkey breast meat, breaded and presumably deep-fried, and served with garlic aioli. Turkey being what it is, they didn’t have a strong flavour in and of themselves, but were well seasoned and the breadcrumb was pleasingly crunchy to the bite. The aioli could have handled a touch more garlic, but then I like to smash my tastebuds with a hammer with flavours and seasoning, and there was nothing really “wrong” with it, I’d just like everything to have more garlic in it really!

After a little while longer, the chili cheese fries and hot dog arrived. Look at how happy he is! This was a temporary pleasure, until I pointed out that his dog was missing it’s onions and cheese. Another quick back and forth later, and after much apologising and offering of refunds, a ramekin of lovely, sweet caramelised onions and a massive tray of grated cheese (it seemed to be something like a Leerdammer, which is great for melting in food like this) arrived.

I should note – the staff were all lovely, all this happened in a very friendly context, they offered refunds/free rounds of drinks against our protestations not to worry – it was a bit chaotic but it was mid afternoon on a Saturday, the pub was pretty quiet, I suspect there was just a slightly less-than-alert kitchen staff member nursing a hangover and taking their eye off the ball. It really didn’t spoil the experience, and they handled it like champs.

The fries were pretty good – not at the God-level of Meat Liquor’s incredible chilli cheese fries, which are possibly my favourite side in london, but these were sufficiently different to occupy their own corner of the map. The chilli contained both minced beef and pulled pork, and was very mildly spiced. The ample cheese was thoroughly melted within the mix, creating huge conjoined blobs of fries, chilli and cheese – to my mind, this was a happy outcome. I enjoyed the different textures from the two types of meat in there.

The hot dog was ok – obviously it was a bit of a cock-up how it was served, and that detracted from it. Having seen and tested the excellence of Dirty Bones’ hot dogs, this was a pretty poor effort really by comparison, although at a slightly lower price point – it didn’t look great, and tasted pretty meh. It improved hugely with the addition of the onions and cheese, and it was a perfectly decent frankfurter in there, but when you’re eating out you want something you couldn’t do at home – this, when it first arrived, looked like something I might drunkenly cobble together at home at 4am after a night out.

So all in all, a mixed bag as an experience, but a cracking Christmas burger at the heart of it. I’ve never had these service issues there before, and as I mentioned. they handled it all really well. The hot dog and sides ranged from mediocre to good – but I’d have no hesitation in recommending the Rudolph burger.

Burger – 8/10

Christmassyness – 8/10

Sides – 6/10

Service – Doh!/10

Overall score – 7.5/10

Snack Attack, Vol 6

Walkers Bacon & Heinz Tomato Ketchup flavour crisps 


The main take home I got from these crisps, and a few of this other limited edition range of sandwich-combo based flavours, is that whoever is in charge of tasting at Walkers is rubbish at tasting.

Ketchup… Maybe. Like, Iceland own-brand vinegary stuff (I’m not even sure that exists tbh), the sort of shit you convince yourself is ok when you are a student and can’t afford Heinz, or even Daddies.

But bacon? Where? There’s a musty undertone to the aroma, is that supposed to be smoked bacon? Or socks? Brined and smoked socks maybe?

I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of regular Walkers crisps as a rule – I don’t enjoy the texture (while not being offended by it), and the only flavour I’ve had which tickles my fancy is the marmite ones – the classic flavours don’t do it for me, and these ones… Yikes. I’ve also sampled the salad cream/cucumber and chicken/mayonnaise oriented flavours in this limited edition range, I doubt I’ll go out of my way to locate the other 3… Might review those, but not sure I want to relive the dubious experiences tbh.

These are rubbish unless you like the taste of terrible tomato ketchup. I’m assuming that Heinz paid to have their logo featured – quite why is beyond me, as these are a terrible advert for their industry standard ketchup.

2/10