From Insta-hyped katsu sandos to luxe cheese toasties, the rise of the gourmet sandwich shows no sign of slowing down.
It started in 2018. Images of meticulously sliced crustless bread encasing perfectly pink slabs of Iberico pork began doing the rounds on Instagram. A sandwich, but elevated to art form. The katsu sando, a Japanese export introduced to us by TaTa Eatery in London, became the cult foodie dish of the moment and ushered in a new wave of high-end sarnies.
While the katsu sando may have once again drawn our attention to the humble practice of placing fillings between bread, the signs of a sandwich revival have been there for a while. Max’s Sandwich Shop in north London gained a fervent following after it opened in 2014 to serve hefty focaccia sandwiches to hungry post-work crowds. And in 2016, four friends from Liverpool founded Finca, which went on to win £150,000 in funding after appearing on BBC Two’s My Million Pound Menu with their grilled Cubano sandwiches, packed with mojo pork shoulder and gouda cheese.
Bored of over-processed, meal-deal BLTs inhaled at our desks, the new breed of sandwiches are worth taking your time over, made using high-quality ingredients and designed to be savoured, not scoffed.
Last year the trend really began to take off, with a bricks-and-mortar opening from submarine specialists Sub Cult, while the founders of Michelin-starred Pidgin launched sandwich shop Sons + Daughters in King’s Cross in September, serving gourmet options such as egg and miso mayo with truffle crisps.
James Ramsden of Sons + Daughters says, “It’s very exciting to see people going nuts for great sandwiches. We’ve had decades of Pret and Eat and, decent as they can be, I think the realisation that sandwiches can be taken up a few levels has struck a chord.”
Indeed, even the cheese toastie has had a makeover, appearing on menus at top-end restaurants such as Darby’s and at wine-pairing events: Morty & Bob’s in King’s Cross holds monthly wine and toastie nights, while Kilder in Digbeth, Birmingham, serves up decadent n’duja grilled cheese sandwiches with craft beer and natural wine. And there’s more sandwich worship to come. Alan Yau (the man behind Wagamama) is set to open Mozzasando in west London this spring – a partnership with mozzarella specialists Obicà offering an Italian take on the sando.
But what’s behind our cravings? Partly, it’s tied to an increase in artisan bakeries – what better way to show off the finest slow-proved sourdough than turning it into a sandwich? The tide has also turned on clean eating, and we’re embracing carbs again: Waitrose recently reported a 30% increase in sourdough sales over the last three years.
The sandwich is a dish as British as they come, and the options for what you can put between two slices of bread are endless. Turn over for eight gourmet sandwiches that are so much more than the sum of their parts.
What A hearty Alpine-inspired chicken roll.
Stylist says From the first bite you’re on to a winner with this combination of smoked chicken, gouda and sundried tomato in the softest roll, plus a knockout lemon and parsley mayo. £10 (including fries or salad), Albert’s Schloss, Manchester
What A grilled Cuban sandwich with citrussy pork shoulder.
Stylist says This hits all of the taste buds. The sweetness of the bread balances perfectly with the sumptuous pork, salty glazed gammon and sour crunch of pickles within. When can we eat one again? £8, Finca, Liverpool
What The katsu sando that launched 1,000 katsu sandos.
Stylist says This Insta-famous sandwich is more than a pretty face. With juicy Iberico pork neck, cabbage and raspberry brown sauce wedged between bouncy toasted brioche, it duly lives up to the hype. £14, Tóu at Arcade Food Theatre, London
GRANNY AINSWORTH’S CHIP BUTTY
What Newly relaunched in the Cornish foodie hub of Padstow, Paul and Emma Ainsworth’s Caffè Rojano has put a gourmet spin on the classic chip butty, featuring beef dripping chips stacked Jenga-style between slabs of rye sourdough.
Stylist says This reinvention of the chip butty is a glorious combination of hand-cut chips cooked in beef dripping, tomato fondue, St Ewe egg mayonnaise and, for (very) good measure, Davidstow cheddar. Crunchy, unctuous and encased in a charred campaillou sourdough, it puts its pappy predecessors to shame. £7.95, Caffè Rojano, Padstow
What An Italian-style sandwich popular among the expat community of New Orleans, now available on the Sea Containers brunch menu. A loaf of sesame bread is hollowed out and layered with fillings.
Stylist says The Muffuletta is more of a slice than a sandwich, or perhaps we’d call it a slab – it’s almost the width of a human head, and crammed full of so many delicious fillings that you’ll barely need to eat for the rest of the day. You will need a knife and fork to tackle it, but the numerous layers mean it combines all sorts of flavours within each bite: salty salami, creamy cheese, smoked turkey and earthy vegetables. £13, Sea Containers, London
EGG MISO MAYO
What A next-level egg mayo with miso and truffle crisps.
Stylist says Banish thoughts of a bland egg salad sandwich: this is all-singing, all-dancing flavour thanks to tangy miso mayo and salty truffle crisps, served on doorstop wedges of fluffy white bloomer. £8.50, Sons + Daughters, London
What A vegan take on the traditional Colombian corn cake.
Stylist says It looks a bit like a burger: colourful and full of flavour. The cornbread is crispy and light and the spicy kick of the jackfruit works well with the lime yoghurt and coriander chimichurri. £6.50, Kanassa at Kirkgate Market, Leeds
What Mozzarella, prosciutto and pesto in an airy croissant.
Stylist says The crisp, not-too-flaky croissant was a tasty alternative to bread, and the hazelnut and peashoot pesto brought the whole sandwich together. A triumph. £4.50, Twelve Triangles, Edinburgh
Images: courtesy of restaurants, Unsplash