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London's top chefs pick their favourite sandwiches

Whether you’re in the mood for an artisanal, slow-roasted pork masterpiece or a supermarket staple, these are all worth seeking out

A perfect sandwich for lunch.
A perfect sandwich for lunch. (Photo by Geraud Pfeiffer, Pexels )

Sandwiches might be a staple worldwide, but nowhere are they so enshrined in daily diets as in the UK. They’re such a desk lunch constant for Brits that in May 2021, Bloomberg launched the Pret Index to track back-to-work activity in London (and a handful of other international cities).

Also read | 9 places for the best breakfast in London

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association estimated the country’s sandwich industry to be worth £8 billion ($10.2 billion). In the first half of 2023, the figure fell to around £6.8 billion, a 15% decrease. (The UK’s definition of a sandwich is stricter than in some places. Whereas New York State’s Department of Taxation considers a buttered roll a sandwich, the British group decrees that a sandwich is “any form of bread, with a filling.”) 

Still, business in the UK is booming at Pret A Manger Ltd. 'The humble and reliable sandwich is a British favorite. Last year, we sold 52 million of our sandwiches,” says Katherine Bagshawe, Pret’s UK food and coffee director.

No one walking into a London supermarket at lunchtime on a weekday would suspect decreased demand. Within an hour, shelves that were stocked with containers of egg mayonnaise, and ham and cheese will be almost bare.

As it turns out, supermarket sandwiches aren’t just popular with time-pressed office workers. They appeal to some of London’s top chefs, too. The coronation chicken at the supermarket chain Tesco PLC is a favorite of chef Sameer Taneja who runs the kitchen at the innovative Indian restaurant  Benares, in Mayfair.  Matthew Ryle, chef of Maison François, favors the cheese toastie from Five Guys.

Not all chefs opt for such accessible sandwiches. Ben Marks, whose latest spot is the buzzy wine-bar Morchella, has to plan ahead to eat his favorite, the Three Little Pigs from Rogues Sarnies. That’s because the Hackney Road spot is open only from Thursday through Sunday and sells out quickly. Marks preorders the triple pork extravaganza on Wednesday nights. Likewise, you’ll probably have to get in line for one of the city’s most compelling sandwiches, the pork ciabatta from Borough Market’s the Black Pig. Featuring a juicy slab of roast pig on fresh baked ciabatta, it’s the favorite of more than one chef we polled.

Below you’ll find sumptuous choices that include a Japanese-styled tuna sandwich from a self-proclaimed “secret” spot and a buttery, bacon-enhanced, stuffed roll in Epping Forest. Or simply wander into a Pret a Manger and make a selection: It will still register in Bloomberg’s Pret Index. 

Honey Truffle and Parmesan Pork Ciabatta
Where: The Black Pig, Borough Market

There’s always a line outside the Black Pig storefront, which offers a short list of Italian-accented sandwiches. One is particularly renowned. “The Black Pig’s signature honey truffle and Parmesan pork ciabatta has become well known across the city,” says Marcus Eave, executive chef of members club George. “Without a doubt, the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.” It’s stuffed with slow-roasted free-range pork, fennel apple slaw and 30-month-old aged Parmesan from a neighboring Borough Market stall. “To top it off, it’s all finished over coals in their Big Green Egg,” says Eave.

Giovann Attard, executive head chef of Norma, agrees: “The slow-cooked pork is to die for, then they cover the sandwich with loads of grated Parmesan. Impossible not to love! Plus, they are in the heart of Borough Market, which makes it all the more fun.” 

Recommended by: Giovann Attard, executive head chef, Norma, and Marcus Eave, executive chef at George, both in London

The Egg, Chilli Cheese 
Where: The Dusty Knuckle, Dalston

What makes Patrick Powell’s favorite sandwich so magnificent? “The bread is only hours old,” observes the head chef of Allegra and Midland Grand Dining Room. The egg, chilli cheese on focaccia is a lunchtime staple at the flagship location of one of London’s best bakeries, the Dusty Knuckle. To make it, the team fills the puffy, oily bread with a fried egg topped with drippy melted cheddar, pungent pickled green chillis and spring onions. “With extra bacon, it’s a game changer,” he says, noting that the courtyard is dog-friendly, too. A close second choice is the herb-stuffed porchetta, watercress and housemade quince aioli.

Recommended by: Patrick Powell, head chef at London restaurants Allegra and the  Midland Grand Dining Room

Cheese Toastie
Where: Five Guys, locations around the UK and the world

The US-based Five Guys mega-chain may focus on burgers and hot dogs, but Matthew Ryle, who heads the kitchen at popular bistro Maison François, favors the grilled cheese toastie, a golden concoction of melted American cheese in an inside-out, mayo-brushed, griddled bun. “It’s cheap, cheerful and you can load it up with all the sides,” says Ryle. The sandwich costs approximately £5.50, and up to 15 toppings—grilled onions, pickles, jalapeños, and the like—are free. “Sides are a free-for-all,” he says. “I have every side to load it up as much as possible and then plenty of hot sauce.”

Recommended by: Matthew Ryle, executive chef, Maison François, London

Po Boy
Where: Poor Boys, Kingston upon Thames

For pastry chef Tia Mistry, the best sandwich in town can be found at Poor Boys, which evokes New Orleans in southwest London. Unsurprisingly the sandwich of choice is the po boy, with selections from fried soft shell crabs to grilled chicken. Mistry opts for the buttermilk fried shrimp. “It’s nothing fancy, but the soft brioche bun, crunchy Cajun fried shrimps, crispy lettuce and creamy sauce is the perfect combination for me,” she says. “I just love how it’s a burst of flavor in every bite and the perfect ratio of both soft and crunchy textures.”

Even the bread speaks to Mistry: “My ideal sandwich bread has to be brioche. Golden brown and shiny on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. As a pastry chef, it is my favorite to make as well.”

Recommended by: Tia Mistry, Pastry Sous Chef at 45 Park Lane

Tuna Panuozzo
Where: Theo’s, Camberwell

Wood-fired ovens at Theo’s turn out classic Neapolitan-style pizzas, but they also make flatbread for a handful of oven-made pizza sandwiches. Tom Clements, head chef at the Cajun-inspired Plaquemine Lock says the tuna is a “must try.” He continues: “Ortiz tuna, black olives, rocket and a generous heap of chilli [as Britons call chile] sauce in a panuozzo (that’s a puffed up Italian flatbread cooked to order) there is nothing that could be added, removed or swapped to make this a better sandwich.” If you need a back-up, he recommends the pork rib panuozzo. “Also really good for this time of year—and £6! I can’t recommend it enough.”

Recommended by: Tom Clements, head chef at Plaquemine Lock, London 

The Rosette
Where: Paul, locations throughout London

In early January, the French-styled bakery Paul reintroduced one of its cult classic sandwiches, the Rosette. It’s a less-is-more assemblage of fat-flecked rosette salami slices and cornichons, arrayed on a crisp-crusted baguette spread with a swatch of French butter to pull it all together. The return of the sandwich is good news for Oliver Gladwin, chef-owner of five restaurants around the city. “The simplicity of the sandwich and the classic ingredients is why it’s my favorite,” he explains. 

Recommended by: Oliver Gladwin, chef and co-owner of Local & Wild restaurants in London, including the Shed, Rabbit and the Black Lamb

Jamaican Patties in Coco Bread 
Where: Patty Palace, Sydenham

This no-frills Jamaican cafe’s locations include one in South London’s Sydenham, where vats of jerk chicken and oxtail stew are on display near the register. A different special—the flaky, buttery crusted, meat-filled patty—appeals to Dom Taylor, chef at the Good Front Room, especially when it’s stuffed inside a coco roll, a pillowy, sweet bread enhanced with coconut milk. “I have these really strong memories being out shopping with my Mum as a kid in Brixton and buying Jamaican-style patties in coco bread, a popular Caribbean snack,” he says. The version at Patty Palace is made with house-baked bread and golden patties, packed tight with ground, spiced meat. “It’s truly divine. I highly recommend,” he says.

Recommended by: Dom Taylor, chef at the Good Front Room at the Langham Hotel, London

Coronation Chicken Sandwich
Where: Tesco, locations around the UK and world

One of the UK’s quintessential sandwich fillings, coronation chicken, was created to celebrate the crowning of the late Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953. Now, the curried, creamy chicken salad, that may or may not be studded with raisins, is a staple of tea services and grab-and-go lunch offerings. “I love the mix of sweet, spicy and acidic flavors, and chicken makes for a great protein,” says Sameer Taneja, executive chef of Benares. “There’s no denying that curry sandwiches are delicious. Tesco sells the best supermarket ones: The curry flavor is the sharpest version I have found.”

Recommended by: Sameer Taneja, executive chef at Benares, London

Kimchi BBQ Pork Banh Mi 
Where: Bahn Mi Keu, Soho location

This cheerful minichain specializes in Vietnamese street food such as summer rolls and saucy egg noodles. As the name infers, you’ll find a long list of banh mi options, from the classic filled with sausage and paté to a vegan option with smoked eggplant and tofu. Diana Militski, founder of the nearby dumpling restaurant Kinkally, goes for the unconventional, honey-glazed barbecue pork with potent kimchi slaw, crispy green onion and fresh chilli. “The baguette crusty outside but the soft baguette inside, the sauce, the juiciness!” says Militski. Bonus: “Its so filling!”Recommended by: Diana Militski, founder of Kinkally, London 

Bacon and Scallop Roll
Where: Oyster Shack, Loughton, UK

In the middle of Epping Forest on the border of Greater London, this little seafood shack stands as a brilliant, unexpected surprise. Picnic tables around the patio make it a great place to consume platters of oysters and fried seafood on a nice day. Especially noteworthy is the bacon and scallop sandwich option. “Incredible,” says Rae Arends, head chef at Pophams Bakery. “In a crunchy white baguette, with loads of butter melting on the freshly grilled scallops and bacon. It’s my favorite lunch to have after a walk with the dog in the forest. I usually grab a pot of the super-sweet crayfish for the journey home, too.'

Recommended by: Rae Arends, head chef, Pophams Bakery, London

Three Little Pigs
Where: Rogue Sarnies, Hackney

“Rogue Sarnies is categorically, undoubtedly certified the best sandwich place in the UK,” maintains chef Ben Marks. He lists the reasons why: “They bake their own bread everyday in a wood fired oven, they head to the market each week to pick out the very best products they can find and write the menu accordingly.” His favorite is the Three Little Pigs, which honors its name by combining soft, silky mortadella with rich salami and salty, tender porchetta, crowned with a sharp, burnt-lemon aioli and refreshing wild rocket (arugula). “You’ve got to be organized,” he warns. “The menu is released on a Wednesday at 6 p.m. for preorders that week.” 

Recommended by: Ben Marks, chef and co-owner of Perilla and Morchella, London

Tuna Mayo
Where: Secret Sandwich Shop, Notting Hill

Behind a nondescript door above the Globe nightclub, stairs lead up to this hidden enclave where sandwiches are the social media superstars. They’re all a construction that starts with thick pieces of bread, often shakupan — Japanese white milk bread — and sometimes fluffy brown or seeded slices. “My guilty pleasure is the tuna mayo,” says Dom Fernando of Paradise. His chosen sandwich features a solid layer of kewpie mayo-dressed tuna with ruffled fresh lettuce leaves and juicy tomato and creamy avocado—a perfectly proportioned, memory-evoking sandwich for £10. Another favorite for Fernando, and customers in general, is the chunky egg salad sandwich with watercress and a hit of Dijon mustard.

Recommended by: Dom Fernando, chef and co-owner of Paradise, London

Fish Sando 
Where: Milk, Balham

Executive sushi chef Miho Sato habitually grabs something from Milk in Balham when she’s out for a walk. The sunny, big-windowed corner eatery is a popular all-day dining spot, thanks to dishes like poached eggs with burnt hollandaise. Sato favors the rotating list of sandos. “Their take on a fish sando—panko fried red snapper in shokupan is a favorite,” she says. Milk uses its fish of the day, with a crunchy, freshly fried crust that’s accented with pungent housemade tonkatsu sauce and sweet Japanese mayonnaise in the soft, cushy bread slices. 

Recommended by: Miho Sato, executive sushi chef at the Aubrey in the Mandarin Oriental, London 

Salt Beef and Mustard Sandwich
Where: Brass Rail at Selfridges, Marylebone

Chef Luke Farrell spends his days immersed in Thai food, the focus of his popular London restaurants like Speedboat Bar. Sometimes he needs variety. “For a complete diversion, I smash a salt beef and mustard sandwich at the Brass Rail in Selfridges,” he says. The NY deli-styled restaurant, which has been around since the mid 1960s, gives customers a choice of hand-carved meats for sandwiches: Pastrami, tongue, and Farrell’s choice, meaty, cured salt beef streaked with pockets of fat. “A few jolts of Tabasco with hot mustard make it for me. Been going since I was a kid, when you had to stand up to eat them,” he adds.

Recommended by: Luke Farrell, chef and creative director of Plaza Khao Gaeng, and Speedboat Bar, London

Also read | The hottest new restaurants in London in 2024

 

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