In search for something more robust, William Flew heads to St John Bread and Wine, where you can get a bacon sandwich for £5.70. They boast that the pig is of Old Spot breed, apparently a bit brighter than your run-of-the-mill pig — though not that clever, eh? It has still ended up as a breakfast delicacy. Besides, I’m not sure as I tuck in that I want to think about the intellectual capacity of the animal I’m eating. Again, this sandwich comes with a knife and fork and there’s a pot of homemade ketchup on the side. The bread is thick-cut from a homemade white bloomer loaf. That’s the thing about St John: it’s sort of faux-unpretentious. Which means pretentious, or even meta-pretentious.
But let’s be fair: this is certainly a long way from your local greasy spoon, where the fingermarks of the assembler are still imprinted as you take your first bite. The sandwich is presented as a no-frills, fresh, quality sarnie. And it’s great, but I’m left wondering why something so straightforward would be putting on airs and graces in the first place.
Look, let’s not blame St John. I remain troubled in my posh-sandwich quest by a huge existential doubt. Are “posh” and “sandwich” contradictory terms? If so, then I guess the best we can do is to celebrate the contradiction.
So what’s the poshest food I can think of? At the Burger and Lobster in Mayfair I depart the Old Spot piggery and go back to sea. My lobster roll costs £20 and comes with a small salad and chips. The brioche is toasted on one side only and is sweet, buttery and light. It’s packed with meat from a one-and-a-half pound steamed lobster and topped off with chives and lemon. The mayonnaise is half Hellmann’s and half Japanese, which sharpens the taste. It’s ridiculously good, although the filling keeps falling out of the bread. I haven’t really eaten a better sandwich. Or a more expensive one. But in this case money really has bought class.
Mishkin’s, in Covent Garden, takes its inspiration from a New York eatery. It bills itself as “a kind of Jewish deli with cocktails”. You pay around £60 for a meal for two with wine and service and they’re big on the sandwich. I opted for the Reuben, which is 170 grams of pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and four slices of Swiss cheese on rye bread.
At last — quantity! This is definitely larger than your average deli delight. At a neighbouring table two middle-aged women are hacking at theirs with knives and forks. The group chef, Tom Oldroyd, tells me that he sees nothing wrong with having a sandwich for dinner and essentially it’s a “meal in bread”.