Christmas Sandwich Round-Up, with DJ Yoda!

Christmas Sandwich Round-Up!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that time when all the retailers start stocking variations on a simple, delightful theme – the Boxing Day leftovers sandwich. This presents an excellent opportunity for any sandwich fan, but with so many options on the high street, which to part your money for?

Well, legendary disc jockey and snack-food expert DJ Yoda and I decided to take it upon ourselves to sample 8 of the leading contenders, and pass our learned judgement.

I whipped around town to collect the contenders, and headed to DJ Yoda’s London studio to get this show on the road.

The contenders, in alphabetical order…

Co-Op
Eat
Greggs
M&S
Pret
Sainsburys
Tesco
Waitrose

I tried my best to go like-for-like, essentially the generic “turkey & trimmings” leftovers sandwich. Sadly, Sainsburys had sold out of that, so we had the next-nearest option, and Boots was omitted due to their half-hearted approach – lots of variations on these flavours, but no “all-in” option.

Yoda was fresh from a recording of his brilliant song London Fields at Jazz FM, recorded with a 7-piece band, and treated me to a few of his works in progress from his forthcoming album, as well as scratching a load of The Young Ones video clips along with it all. Normal start to the week for one of the best DJs the UK has ever produced.

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A bit of chat about his forthcoming shows over the Christmas period, and his spectacular collection of novelty breakfast cereals, then we settled down to the real business at hand – our sandwiches, electing to start with those we guessed would be somewhere in the middle of the rankings. Quotes are DJ Yoda’s comments.

It was notable that there is a very generic “Christmas sandwich” visual style, right down to the shade of red used by almost all brands. Greggs were an exception in the triangular sandwich posse (a much more straightforward red, and white at the bottom end of the package), and Eat really went to a different place with their bloomer effort. We appreciated the “Carb Diem” slogan on that one. Most sandwiches clocked in around the 500 calorie mark. Prices ranged from £2.50 to £3.99

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Other trends – wholemeal/granary bread seems to be the standard, but there is a clear split about whether leafy greens belong in there, and that seems to be a choice for the more “luxury” brands, and omitted in the more budget outlets offerings. Several included a donation to charity, which is certainly something to be applauded.

Tesco – Turkey & Trimmings (£2.50)

An inauspicious beginning. Claggy, sticky bread, very heavy on mayo, VERY low on flavour. The “sausage”, discs of the worst sort of school-meal banger, the bacon completely passed us by until we noticed it on the list of ingredients. Cranberry weirdly lacking in any real taste too.

“Characterless, a poor start”. The sandwich was reasonably well filled, it’s just that the fillings were rubbish.

DJ Yoda – 3/10
Me – 4/10

Sainsburys – Turkey & Pigs Under Blankets (£2.40)

A little off-piste, but I felt Sainsburys should be represented even though they had sold out of their equivalent of the other sandwiches. This was close enough that I included it.

The sausages were still in “banger” territory, but sliced diagonally, giving much bigger pieces, and visibly contained herbs, and that was reflected in a marginal better taste. The bread had the same issue as the Tesco sandwich. Marginally better ingredients throughout, and marginally more flavour, and certainly a LOT of meat (working on the basis that there is meat in those not-great sausages)

“One for pig-lovers, more bang for your buck, and a better seasoned sausage”

DJ Yoda – 5.5/10
Me – 6/10

Co-Op – Turkey Feast (£2.95)

Surprisingly not as bad as feared, although we went to this one with spectacularly low expectations. The best bacon yet, at one point in the process this was probably in fact quite crispy (not now though, after sitting inside a sandwich for however long), and it had a little flavour to boot. Less mayo involved, and the bread not as claggy as either of the above. And yet still, it felt like there was too much mayo. We were starting to look at the sandwiches that contained some greens and wonder aloud if these sandwiches would be improved by some of that.

“Very perfunctory, one to insert in your cake hole while other shit is happening”. The overall view was that this one is a sandwich you might forget you ate 10 minutes later.

DJ Yoda – 5.5/10
Me – 5/10

Waitrose – Turkey, Stuffing & Bacon (£3.20)

One bite in and – “We’re entering the realm of flavour” This was soon mitigated somewhat by the observation “It tastes a bit like nightclub floor. Not that I taste nightclub floors”. This had a weird and not especially pleasant flavour and aftertaste, we suspect from the rather bizarre cranberry, port & orange chutney. Whether it was the alcohol or the orange, we couldn’t quite work out, but we weren’t into it. I had a bit of pretty chewy bacon fat in mine too, which wasn’t ideal.

The rest of the sandwich was fine, although we observed that turkey is quite possibly the most uniformly bland meat ever committed to a sandwich. In all 4 it had been identical, in that it had been entirely flavourless, dry protein chunks.

“I appreciate the effort, at least something is going on. It at least felt like I was eating an actual lunch”

DJ Yoda – 6.5/10
Me – 5.5/10

We took a moment to refresh our palettes with a bit of watermelon, and discussed Yoda’s forthcoming trip down under (gig details for him at the end of the piece), his love of open water swimming when away for gigs, something he tries to do whenever possible to maintain mind & body, and combat the fatiguing effects of long distance travel.

And then onwards to Sandwich #5 – a bit of a wild card in my mind, as I really think of them as a pasty shop

Greggs – Xmas Lunch (£2.70)

Most will be familiar with their famous Festive Bake, I had my first of the year a couple of weeks ago (it seems to get earlier each year!), and lord knows I’ll have plenty more before the end of 2018. This sandwich was very well filled, bursting at the seams inside it’s packaging.

This had by far the best bread yet, which an excellent, tasty crust – which makes sense, coming from a bakers. It was quite unevenly filled, but actually very decent. The lettuce inside was poor choice of leafy green – that had simply become soggy. There was good flavour to the stuffing, and while it was a little uneven in the fillings, there was plenty in there.

DJ Yoda – 7/10
Me – 6/10

Pret a Manger – Christmas (£3.75)

And now the clear favourite at the bookies, Pret’s near-legendary Christmas sandwich. I hadn’t realised how revered this was until a couple of years ago, when I foolishly chose a Pret veggie option in a taste-off, angering legions of devoted fans.

The packaging was oozing the confidence they clearly feel – no description, name, ingredients. It was verging on arrogance to my mind, but that’s just me being a tit.

“Well proportioned, with a good balance of texture and flavour”. The bread is genuinely tasty, and it’s filled with decent quality ingredients. Hard to criticise it, although for me I didn’t think it was quite the beast many make it out to be.

DJ Yoda – 8/10
Me – 7.5/10

Marks & Spencer – Turkey Feast (£3.50)

“Bread very processed, not very good. High marks for creativity, but doesn’t all work, a little bitter”. Yoda immediately picked up on the onion flavour even before we noticed them on the ingredients list – this contains fried onions, but looking, they seemed to be more of the crispy fried onion variety, which are as much about texture as flavour – in a sandwich the crunch disappears entirely once it’s been on the shelf a while. And since when are onions a flavour we associate with Christmas?

The rest of the sandwich was decent, but any praise tempered by the issues above.

After the comments made, I was a little surprised at the score Yoda gave here, but here it is.

DJ Yoda – 7/10
Me – 6/10

Eat – Festive Full Works Bloomer (£3.99)

And finally, another slight wild card – I only included this after hearing that Eat had a great Christmas sandwich, and it just happening to be near some of the other shops I was buying from. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten from here before – there’s something about the name “Eat” that I really dislike, and that has put me off them. Yoda concurred – “It’s like those homeware shops called “Dwell” or whatever, just a literal description of the thing they are selling”

It has to be said, by bucking the triangle-slice trend, this stood out, and it looked the business. Well layered, well balanced, and extremely well filled. A clear focus on slices for the ingredients – even down to the stuffing.

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“Substantial – it had the best texture, wasn’t mushy, but wasn’t dry.” The choice of smoked ham instead of bacon was a wise one, and worked very well indeed. The chicken stock mayo was subtle – “Mayo is like special FX in films – it works best when you don’t notice it”

For me, this was by far the best sandwich – each mouthful was a satisfying balance on textures and flavours, plus the bread was great (I really liked the oats on the crust which gave a little crunch, and the multiseed bloomer bread was tasty in it’s own right). Carb Diem, the packaging boasted – and at 614 calories, this one is a bit over it’s rivals (other than the 2nd placed Pret sandwich, which clocks in at 617 calories – interesting that the top 2 should have a lot more calories than the others…). But is anyone eating these to lose weight? For both of us, a clear winner anyway.

DJ Yoda – 8.5/10
Me – 9/10

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DJ Yoda looking delighted to be about to eat his 8th Christmas sandwich

Average scores

Eat – 8.75/10
Pret – 7.75/10

Greggs – 6.5/10
M&S – 6.5/10
Waitrose – 6/10

Sainsburys – 5.75/1-
Tesco – 3.5/10
Co-Op – 5.25/10

Eat are crowned champions of the Christmas sandwich, with Pret a worthy runner-up!

As we sat and dissected our findings, Yoda opined that 8.5 was as high as he was prepared to go for something that is inherently never going to match the full majesty of a proper leftovers sandwich. We noted that the clear winner was the one that looked and felt the most like an authentic experience – does anyone at home slice their sandwiches into triangles? There was a uniform blandness to many of these sandwiches (and a LOT of mayo at times), just about rescued by the fact that it’s hard to go too wrong with these basic component parts.

It was certainly a big surprise to me that Pret didn’t come out on top, I had next to no expectations for the Eat one, and everybody I’ve told in the time between tasting and publication has responded with a sort of “huh… maybe I should try them out, I’ve never been in there before”, which is interesting given how many seem to be around.

For now, happy hunting with your Christmas sandwiches, if you find any that I should sample, leave a comment, and look out for a Christmas Crisp round-up with Rob Pursey (Merry Crispmas?), and possibly a mince pie one too if I can find a co-taster to join me for that!

Catch DJ Yoda at these shows in December

Sat 8th December – The Red Lion, Leytonstone, London
Fri 14th December – Winterville, London
Sat 15th December – St Ives Theatre, St Ives
Wed 26th December – Breakfest, Upper Swan WA, Australia
Thurs 27th December – Fitzroy, Vic, Australia

Burger & Beyond, and beyond

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The bait that caught us

I started hearing about Burger & Beyond last year when I attended the National Burger Day event at Hawker House. Sadly, I was unable to sample their wares that day, and despite the best of intentions I’d not made it to Kerb, the South Bank Market, or any of the other places they’d been around. Then they moved to Dinerama, in my corner of London. I had arranged to meet an old buddy for food last Sunday, we were kicking ideas around, and then it hit me – go and try these sexy looking offerings, and have the scope to test a few other things out from Dinerama’s ample selection.

We met there at 7pm on a Sunday – the place was relatively quiet but had a nice atmosphere, a gentle buzz, the DJ playing an excellent selection of nu-disco, chilled house, that sort of thing – it had me and Alfie Shazam-ing away while we were there! We ordered our burgers, £10 for a hell of a recipe – The Big Lew, with 90 day dry-aged patty (Ribeye, Brisket, Chuck, Featherblade), pancetta bacon, cold smoked American cheese, and marrownaise.

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Alfie nipped to the next hatch, Thunderbird, for some Chipuffalo wings (buffalo sauce, chipotle, coriander, pickled celery, truffled blue cheese dip) and fries (Cajun spice, awesome sauce) – I’m not mad keen on wings so I sat those out, the fries were a bit meh in honesty; nice seasoning and sauce, but they had that weirdly hollow thing going on that some thin fries get, they were good and crispy, but they didn’t have me thinking I’d ever order them myself down the line. The wings are, by Alfie and many other people’s accounts, excellent.

The burgers arrived – they seemed smaller than the impression we’d had from the pic I’d sent to him earlier to get the saliva buds going (the one at the top of the page). But in isolation they were very attractive, well presented burgers, scoring high on the filthy-stuff-that’s-probably-bad-for-you-but-probably-delicious scale.

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Dutty

On first bite, the bread was somewhat dense, heavy. Almost like a bun on the verge of going stale, but I don’t think it was that. However, it tasted great, and held together like a champ (the Kiwi Burger from Shane’s I’d had earlier in the day had disintegrated into a million pieces by the 3rd bite, the less said about that travesty the better). The smoked American cheese seemed to act like a delicious putty, holding things in place. The marrownaise was rich, the streaky bacon strips suitably crispy, if a little over-salty to my palate.

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Plenty of bacon, good good

The patty, with it’s various cuts in there, had a good, beefy flavour, but a somewhat unusual texture. I suspect they grind their meat more coarsely than is common. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was different, and that unsettled me for the first few mouthfuls while I tried to work out what exactly was different. They’d said it would be served medium, and I’d say it was leaning towards medium-rare, but regular readers will know that is absolutely fine by me!

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It looks raw in the middle, fret not, that’s just an optical illusion from such a juicy burger with sloppy toppings! It was cooked through.

did very much enjoy this burger, but it was cursed by a common problem in this Instagram era – the sexiness of the photos that drew me here set expectations unreasonably high, and it inevitably disappointed on that level. I am keen to try another burger from these guys, as this was a very good effort indeed, but I left the experience feeling slightly let down, which on reflection is an odd thing considering the quality of the burger they served me. The jury is out to a degree, so I’ll avoid giving it a score for now, I think a 2nd sampling would be very useful for me to work out it’s place in my league table! But I would certainly recommend you try it if you see them around, it’s a very welcome addition to the city.

After this, we fancied something sweet, and found ourselves looking at You Doughnut – the options pretty straightforward, just 2 choices available. We both went for the malted milk choc doughnut over the salted popcorn peanut caramel , £3 each for a small portion (£5 for a larger one), which was plenty to sweeten up our evening. These were a delight. Freshly made, light, tiny doughnuts dusted with sugar, maltesers and digestive biscuits crumbled atop, with malted chocolate sauce to finish it off. The combination and balance was fantastic. I’ve generally not got that much of a sweet tooth, so tend to dodge desserts, but the very reasonable price encouraged me to sample these, and I’m glad I did. I will definitely have these on my next visit.

Being the pair of fatties that we are, our minds wandered to other places in the area, and then it hit me – Alfie had to try the brisket bun at Smokestak. Funnily enough they had a stall at Dinerama before opening their permanent site near Brick Lane, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I consider this the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. Better than Kappercesein’s majestic cheese toastie. Better than Katz’s Deli’s Pastrami on rye (although I’ve only had the Texas version, not the NYC effort, which looks to be a different beast). Better than the Hamish Macbeth from Deeney’s. I do not say this lightly.

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Little & Large

We ordered one small, one large – £5 and £8.50. For me, the extra is completely worth it for more of that heavenly brisket. The soft bun is toasted wonderfully, so it crackles and crunches to the bite, tiny bits of char at the edges catching your lips. The inside of the top of the bun appears to have been brushed with dripping or similar, the bottom with a sheen of delicious BBQ sauce. The brisket is coiled within the confines of the bun, and topped with a generous handful of sweet, fiery, pickled red chillies.

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Oh baby

Just writing about it has me gently shaking my head in awe at this masterpiece. The balance is flawless, the brisket juicy and tender, the combination just perfect. I’ve had this sandwich 5 times now, firstly at Meatopia 2015, and each time it has been as brilliant as that first one.

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From an earlier visit

There are other items on the menu at Smokestak worth shouting about, the smoked monkfish tail with burnt lemon is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and the jacket potato smoked rarebit is a fantastic side dish, but on this trip we simply sat, ordered brisket buns, ate, paid, left, in approximately a 15 minute sitting, something I expect I will do many more times in the future.

So all-in-all, a deeply satisfying evening with a good friend and some lovely food. I need to revisit Burger & Beyond to decide whether it deserves a place at the very top table of London’s burger contenders, but it certainly is in contention. London is in a great place right now in terms of the quality and variety of food available, long may this continue.

 

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.