If you thought the humble sandwich was actually humble, think again. In London, sandwiches are doing an awful lot of showing off.
If you’re looking for two slices of bread filled with something that's (ideally seriously) tasty, then the capital has a cornucopia of shapes, sizes and flavours to offer, with incarnations from all around the world.
Whether you've a need for naan or you’re a bottomless pit for bagels, here’s where to find the capital's best sandwichess.
For steak – Hawksmoor
Hawksmoor cooks very good steak – and unlike many places that do the same, it's very happy to stick it in a sandwich for you. Sliced rib eye steak and soft Graceburn cheese is joined by a superlative anchovy hollandaise (salted, creamy, golden, to be eaten in large portions) at its Guildhall and Knightsbridge locations and fresh horseradish at the bar of Seven Dials.
Steak sandwich served at WC2, EC2, SW3, thehawksmoor.com
For grilled cheese – Kappacasein
For a fromage fix, we’re going to somewhere that isn’t even a sandwich shop. Kappacasein Dairy makes cheese – very good cheese that is very good at melting. The owner, William Oglethorpe has perfected his very own Ogleshield cheese, which is designed for a flavour-packed melt. The sandwiches come with a mix of Montgomery cheddar, leeks, garlic and onion, and come squished between slices of Poilâne.
For bagels – Beigel Bake Brick Lane
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bagel-hunting on Brick Lane. Closely followed in acclaim by its neighbour Beigel Shop (note the authentic non-Americanised spelling for both), the 24-hour Beigel Bake sees thousands of shiny golden dough rings fly out of its ovens every day. Fill one with its juicy salt beef, add gherkins and mustard, and enjoy the hole-in-one of the sandwich world.
For naan – Dishoom
India isn’t the first place you look to for a sandwich but the Bombay-inspired Dishoom's take on a British classic has developed quite the fanbase. Breakfast at Dishoom means a bacon naan roll: oak-smoked streaky bacon (from winning butchery The Ginger Pig) is wrapped up in a freshly baked naan. Add an egg if you fancy and prepare for total Saturday morning salvation.
E2, N1, W1, WC2, dishoom.com
For bánh mì – Kêu
If you’re a fan of this Vietnamese-French creation – a stuffed baguette, fluffy on the inside, thinly crusted on the outside – then get yourself to Keu. Its sourdough baguettes are toasted to your liking and filled with a range of spicy fillings. The Keu Classic is a must-try for meat-eaters: Mortadella sausage, pork “floss” (an Asian dried meat), homemade chicken liver paté, ham terrine and spiced pork belly with spicy mayo.
EC2, EC1, W1, thevietnamesekitchen.co.uk/brands/keu
For Spanish flavours – Enrique Tomas
If you thought ham and cheese were boring, Enrique Tomas has a very important lesson for you. These champions of jamon iberico not only sell it by the leg (literally), but slice it up and serve it in pretty fantastic sandwiches. Simplicity is key: baguette, layers of its incredible Iberico ham (at a range of qualities and thus prices), some equally fabulous manchego cheese (in some not all) and just a drizzle of olive oil. That’s it, and that’s enough.
W1, WC2, E20, enriquetomas.com/uk
For bao – Bao
Steamed buns are having a serious moment in the sun. For London’s fluffiest buns, look no further than Bao. This Taiwanese incarnation – called bao, funnily enough – has had folks queuing down Soho's streets since Bao opened in 2016. They’ve died down a bit since opening a second branch, so it’s a little easier to get hold of their lauded classic bao, stuffed wide open with braised pork, pickled veggies, coriander and crushed peanuts.
W1 (two locations), E8, baolondon.com
For something fancy – Quo Vadis
Forget cucumber – the fancy sandwich has had a gutsy makeover at Quo Vadis courtesy of head chef Jeremy Lee. Lee brought the famed recipe for his Smoked Eel sandwich over from his Blueprint Café. Inside two perfectly grilled squares of buttered sourdough is a meticulously prepared tower of smoked eel, horseradish cream and Dijon mustard, served with a fresh red onion pickle on the side. Simple, but it packs punch.
For barbeque – Smokestak
If you like the fillings in your sandwiches about two inches tall, the brisket bun at Smokestak is here for you. Multiple slabs of Smokestak’s very slowly smoked, treacly brisket are served between butter-varnished bun halves and topped with pickled red chillis. This is arguably the dish that took the smoked-meat connoisseurs from street food to sought-after Shoreditch restaurant – and they don’t look like they’ll stop barbecuing any time soon.
For overall bliss – Max's Sandwich Shop
Many a sandwich shop lures in punters with a plethora of ingredients to cater to every filling-related whim. Max's Sandwich Shop doesn't do that. Max's Sandwich Shop sells four sandwiches. Luckily, they are four very good sandwiches that have warranted something of a cult following. The starring role of the minimalist menu goes to the Ham, Egg and Chips: the golden ooze of fried egg on top of slow-cooked torn ham hock, with matchstick fries piccalilli and malt vinegar mayonnaise.