Pret Christmas Lunch

Due to the profound amount of positive feedback the Christmas Sandwich Review has received, we’ve decided that our future lies in sitcom-writing and we currently have a concept in the pipeline.

Let me set the scene. It’s the early 90s, and 5 York-based friends find love, friendship and themselves in a multitude of quirky capers. Romance blossoms, withers, and dies but throughout all of their often hilarious misadventures they know they will always have each other. Our protagonists: Monica, Chad, Raquelle, Ross, Joseph and Phoebe are the stars of ‘Buddies’ (featuring cameos from Tom Selleck and others.)

Before you rush online and buy the boxset on Blu-Ray, you may or may not have noticed that we have plagiarised this format and I’ll save you the effort of trawling through 10 years of great, great hair and tell you Ross and Rachel eventually get together (after a romantic history as up-and-down as as Chandler’s breakfast- post weightloss) and Chandler and Monica also end up doing the do (who’d have thought it? You had Selleck: Magnum PI on the cards and you went for Matthew Perry? That’s like being offered a flapjack and a hug- from the most majestic moustache on television, and deciding you’d rather put your face in the George Formby grill.) As for Joey and Phoebe? They both go it alone and believe me when I say, I’ve had Jennifer Aniston-inspired erections longer than their solo careers.

So my question I pose to you, dear readership is this: if ‘Buddies’ is dead in the water; if you’ve heard it all before, and if even Selleck can’t breathe life into the franchise, why the FUCK have Timeout London been allowed to steal our format and release their own christmas sandwich review?

Next they’ll be using pre-pubescent colloquialism to excuse the otherwise jejune linguistics in their reviews.

Onto the business proper. Let us show you why we are the original and best guide to sandwiches this christmas. I like to think of us as the ‘Heinz’ of reviews. Sure, you can go for a cheap imitation. Sure, for a while it might feel good. I’ll raise you a third sure: for a while you might even question why you bothered with us in the first place seeing as this new brand leaves a suitable aftertaste and it’s cheaper than the leading brand. But believe me when I say if you dip into us, you know we are the real deal and if you act like a cheap arsehole you can only expect the shittiest portion.

The Pret Christmas Sandwich

8/10

Living in London, the abundance of Pret A Manger restaurants is plain to see. If you drunkenly take a piss in a doorway anywhere within zone 1 there is an over 60% chance you will be pissing on a Pret. If you include Starbucks and Costa that figure rises to well over 90%, but with Starbucks and Costa I would actively encourage the practise, and if you are desperate why not drop your trousers and curl out a Christmas log on their doorstep. That is essentially what they serve to you in a cardboard cup with every visit.

Unlike the below par corporate giants mentioned above, I find the proliferation of Pret A Manger a little comforting because at least they hold themselves to a much higher standard of fresh sandwich making, so you know you will never be far from a decent lunch.

So mid-November came, and the Pret sandwich development team served up their annual Christmas special.

The staples we have come to expect: turkey, cranberries, stuffing and some sort of obligatory salad leaf. All present and correct.

But on closer inspection there was more to this sandwich than meets the eye. Last year Pret dropped the ball somewhat with an apricot and walnut stuffing. This year I am pleased to report a staggering return to form with a crispy pork stuffing along with what I can only describe as a complete masterstroke: crispy onions. The onion flavour cuts through the other ingredients adding an earthy sweetness but also a satisfying crunchy texture.

This all combines to make a winning formula and caps off a vintage year for Pret A Manger….the acceptable face of corporate lunch establishments.

It is worth also pointing out this is part of a much larger Christmas menu from Pret, which also includes a soup and a hot wrap as well as a vegetarian Christmas sandwich. It seems their strategy this year is somewhat inspired by the old adage: “throw enough shit, some sticks.” Whether the other dishes can also deliver remains to be seen, but stick this sandwich certainly does.

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Mince Pie from Gail’s Artisan Bakery

9/10

 

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The Mince Pie. The most quintessential of Christmas treats. It rightly deserves its hallowed place in the annals of human achievements alongside the invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire. That’s right, they are that fucking good.

But like wheels and fire, it is only great in the right hands. No one wants fire in the hands of some dickhead at the back of the classroom with a lighter and an aerosol. That’s not helping anyone, its downright dangerous… and like the doctors said just a few more seconds and it could have been curtains.

Similarly no one wants a mishandled mince pie. I’m looking at you Kipling. Before you pat yourself on the back for being a national institution just remember that so are the Daily Mail, social inequality and herpes.

But it in the right hands the sky is the limit for the humble mince pie. And in Gail’s Artisan Bakery we have found a great pair of hands. And big old balls to boot.

Firstly, the pastry. Its a straight-up shortcrust affair with a light and delicate dusting of icing sugar. Needless to say, at a high-end deli such as this the finish is superb. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing but the pastry is crumbly and buttery with a slight crunch as you bite into it. It’s what Paul Hollywood might call ‘a stellar bake’.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The crowing glory of this mince pie is the filling. The mincemeat is dark and sugary, laden with christmas spices. Within that, the dried fruit has been left large enough to not dry out but small enough to maintain a delicate and consistent texture throughout. There is a hint of brandy permeating the whole filling, not usually my cup of tea, but in this case it is executed with aplomb. Hail to the chefs. The artisan chefs.

If you are wondering where you can find this yule pie of dreams, Gail’s bakeries can be found all over London these days from Soho to our very own Queen’s Park. One minor gripe is that this mince pie will set you back £1.50 a piece. Thats a hefty price to pay when you can consider you can get a box of 6 at M&S for less that £3. Sure they might not be quite as good but a much cheaper way of eating yourself into a christmas induced coma.

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Tesco Triple Chilli Chicken

Tesco Triple Chilli Chicken
£2.00
5/10
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It is well known in our local area of north west London that the Tesco Express in Kensal Rise is among the worst commercial establishments on God’s green earth. It’s is prone to water leaks and stock shortages and is staffed by automated bagging areas. One of the most eagerly anticipated events in the community is the bi-monthly fridge break down which shits all over the hopes and dreams of anyone looking for fresh produce.
 

So with a pre-disposed antipathy towards the supermarket giant and everything it stands for, it was with a heavy heart that I crossed it’s threshold on a grey and drizzly September morning. Upon inspecting the sandwich section (which, incidentally, is indicated as Milk & Dairy on the shop signs), I was filled with both scepticism and intrigue to see the eye catching red packaging of a new sandwich on offer: Hot Hot Hot Triple Chilli Chicken.

 

Did I expect this sandwich to stand out from the mirky cesspool of Tesco sandwich range? Not really.

 

Was I going to find out in the interest of great journalism and the search for truth? You bet.

 

Given my aforementioned derogatory remarks towards Tesco you might think me unable to approach the task of reviewing this sandwich without letting my bias and prejudice get the better of me. Well you would be wrong and you would be forgetting that you are reading the internet’s premier sandwich review blog written by some of the finest scholarly minds when it comes to the art of critical writing and culinary analysis.

 

So, let me begin.

 

This sandwich is based around three ingredients which form the ‘triple’: chilli bread, chilli sauce and, of course, chilli chicken. The chilli bread is light and soft, and the slight undertones of chilli a most welcome surprise on the palette. It has also managed to avoid being too dry – a problem which plagues so much of the pre-packaged sandwich market. The chilli sauce adds a dark and smokey note to the sandwich but lacks any real heat and spice. In my opinion, the subtle use of the chilli in the bread would have been better complimented by a more fiery sauce, which I expected and not unfairly given the ‘Hot Hot Hot’ tagline. Completing this chilli trilogy is the chicken which, unfortunately, is questionable at best. It is watery and bland and adds little more than bulk to this sandwich. To top it all off we have a couple of slices of tomato and a rather uneventful smudge of some mayo/sour cream/sauce thing.

 

To be fair to Tesco, this sandwich isn’t too bad. For £2 it has a far more interesting set of flavours than most others at this price point. I would even go far as to say that the concept of using various applications of chilli to create a continuity throughout the sandwich is a strong one. As ever though, the problem is with the execution, which in this instance in fundamentally lacking. Tesco’s refusal to use enough chilli and a decent quality chicken has let the wind out of the sails of an otherwise promising sandwich, and left it drowning in a sea of bland mediocrity.

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Natural Kitchen: The ‘Everything’ Cookie

The ‘Everything’ Cookie
The Natural Kitchen (NW1)
£1.95
6/10

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Let me set the scene for you. You’re enjoying a fresh summer salad consisting of tomatoes (dressed), feta, quinoa, chicken (caked in an herb-infused crumb): you go to pay and by the till you spy a jar filled with what appears to be cookies. Or are they nuts? Pretzels? Not sure. Ask the blonde cutie behind the counter. Neither is she. Interesting she’s so oblivious- this is an artisan deli on Marlylebone High Street and I’m paying nearly £10 a head for a salad box and a chai latte, which incidentally was devoid of a cinnamon dusting.
On closer inspection, take all of the above, mix it with flour, milk, sugar and love- bake it and what have you got yourself? An abomination. Salty, sweet, savoury, scrumptious and oh so goddamn sexy. It’s the ‘everything’ cookie. Would you take a chance with that £1.95 in your pocket and buy into this Frankenstein’s monster of a biscuit? Your guess is as good as mine.

Of course I did. Don’t be ridiculous.

First concerns: (I try not to judge a book by its cover, but unfortunately my first impressions do tend to ring true,) these ‘cookies’ are being stored in a jar. I use the term ‘cookie’ in inverted commas as to my mind a cookie baked to the correct consistency should be crunchy on the outside and soft and doughy in the centre: such a specimen would not have the structural integrity to survive being stored in a jar. In my opinion the association of cookies with jars is akin to the presence of pubes on a toilet seat: barbarous. On removing the cookie, this fear manifests itself into an unsavoury truth. This isn’t a cookie; it’s a biscuit*.

Breaking the biscuit- it’s brittle; the pretzel chunks look sharp and jagged, and the peanut butter has been baked into what appears to be some kind of igneous formation. I feel like i’m about to fill my mouth with a handful of burnt lego: and not in a cute nostalgic way. Here goes nothing: and by nothing I mean my molars, incisors, gums and inner cheeks. However, what comes next is a pleasant surprise…

Hats off to the team at Natural Kitchen, despite the obvious textural discrepancies the balance of flavours isn’t half bad. It would have been very possible for this biscuit to be nothing short of repulsive, repellent, abhorrent, disgusting, foul, scandalous; but somehow the saltiness of the pretzels happily compliment the peanuts and the chocolate, and as an overall piece this biscuit gels well. Sure, the sheer acuity of this biscuit is nothing short of ghastly; but this is an issue that can be quite easily resolved with a couple of dunks in a chai latte (which may also compensate for the absence of spice and cinnamon-seasoning, which is frankly unforgivable.) Although I cannot praise this biscuit as I feel I should and recognise it as a a sovereign of baking: a count of cookie-making, a baron of biscuitery; I will happily say that if you happen to frequent the kitchen for a light lunch, this biscuit is well worth a punt as a guilty after-dinner indulgence.

*I maintain that the M&S cookie assortment (freshly baked in bag) and Ben’s Cookies are the only range of confectionary this side of the Atlantic that have really mastered the fine art and craft of the cookie: not only in soft-centre, size and ratio of crunch to chew; but also in size and regularity of chunk whether it be milk, white or plain chocolate, or indeed a more cosmopolitan nut-based recipe. While ‘Ben’s’ tend to be a little sweet for my palette, there is no questioning that they are indeed the Rolls-Royce of cookie-bakery, while M&S is more of a Lexus; not as high-brow or fashionable, but considered universally strong all-round.

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MID-YEAR REVIEW: Tesco BBQ Southern-Fried Chicken (No Mayo)

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3/10

It was a wise man who once said that “Christmastime is not the only period in which man may rejoice, enjoy the fruits of his labour and indulge his taste buds; for the earth has treats and seasonal sundries all year round.”

That wise man was this humble reviewer, and I still stand by that sentiment. While Christmas offers a range of sweet and savoury delights to warm the cockles, surely will summer not have something equally appropriate in store? Perhaps a selection of European cured meats in a rustic French artisan loaf? Fresh, zingy tastes enveloped in your choice of carbohydrate. I’m spitballing- but a naan or a tortilla, a fresh cutlet from the barbecue, a crunchy British salad and a hearty dollop of chilli jam to lube that sandwich up- this is the very least i expect. If you have the audacity to serve that sandwich to me in a bag as part of a ‘gourmet’ range, you’d better have augmented it with a vinegarette, perhaps a seasonal fromage (such as halloumi, but be creative!) and a mango lime salsa; otherwise you’ve just wasted everyones time and betrayed the tradition of fine sandwich-making. It’s not just a bag, it’s an epaulette of quality, invention and craft.

I start this year with a base level Tesco summer sandwich. The label reads “BBQ southern fried chicken sandwich- No Mayo.” I’m confused by the ‘no mayo’; is this meant to be a positive feature? Why are you advertising this? The absence of a mayonnaise or at very least a salad cream is immediately setting off warning alarms- yet again Tescos has managed to omit its most prevalent ingredient from the back label: disappointment. This sandwich is lifeless, limp and dry; and worst of all- they know it. The decorative packaging reeks of embarrassment.

First bites reveal truth. The chicken hasn’t been barbecued; the lack of charring synonymous with a barbecued meat, along with the obvious taste connotations a telltale sign. And NO Tesco, a barbecue sauce does not give you the right to advertise this as a barbecue sandwich. Looks like you replaced that mayo with a dollop of over seasoned, sickly lies. The bread has all the hallmarks of a budget salt-saturated loaf. This sandwich is just getting worse by the mouthful.

I ate half this sandwich, then gave it back to its rightful owner despite only saying I’d take a bite. My actions were through gluttony, not enjoyment. This sandwich is the piss on the barbecue that the Tesco christmas sandwich was a turd under the christmas tree. I can only be thankful this new range of summer inspired sandwiches only hit the shelves in September; too late to spoil the most part of a healthy summer spirit that could so easily have been quashed by Tesco’s lack of care, attention and aptitude for sandwichery.

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The Burger Company Bacon and Cheese Meal

Unclassified

PRICE: £7.99

Being a reviewer of Christmas sandwiches, paraphernalia and tidbits, you would expect to only read thoroughly festive reviews on this site. No longer so; not since ‘The Burger Company’ (at Watford Gap Services) unzipped its trousers and forced its shaft of overpriced bad food, and indeed balls of poor culinary hygiene in my mouth. This, my dear readers, is not a review. It’s a warning.

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Although my experience is limited, I am convinced that Britain has the poorest tradition in Europe of roadside food on a budget. France has the boulangerie, the charcuterie; Italy has the range of cured meats, the stews the broths; we have the Burger King and the WH Smiths. The only upside being at least in a well stocked Smiths you can purchase a copy of ‘Nuts’ for the road. Sure, the food was shit- but at least I leave with a boner, yet feeling too bloated to do anything about it.

My standards were low when first spotting the Burger Company, but I was in need of a warm meal- a meal that Costa Coffee and a Ginsters could not fulfil. Checked with Nobby and the microwave is indeed broken: looks like those toasties will be staying cold this Christmas. Burger Company it is. Yikes. However, I was temporarily won over by the brand. To me ‘The Burger Company’ suggests an expertise in the field of burgers, a class of burger execution, and indeed a knowledge of what it takes to bring that meat patty and seeded batch bun off the page and into realisation.

First and foremost, I was concerned that only the chicken wrap boasts ‘100% chicken breast’, while the fillet burger and nugget do not come with the aforementioned quality guarantee. Obviously selections of beak, claw and indeed arsehole. Safe in this knowledge, I went for the bacon and cheese burger. How hard can it be?

Very, it would seem.

Patty- burnt.

Bread- wet.

Cheese- non existent.

Bacon- dont get me started. I couldn’t have been more offended if I’d received pubes in a brioche.

I’m not going to even grace this meal with any more subtle imagery. Suffice to say it was the worst meal I’ve ever eaten.

So let me leave you dear readers with this sentiment; no matter how hungry, how desperate, how goddamn exhausted; don’t frequent this establishment. If anything turn back up the M1 Northbound as there’s a very reputable KFC around 40 miles away.

And to you, ‘The Burger Company,’ stop trying to be a budget Burger King. Indeed, Burger King struggle enough to be a budget burger establishment themselves. Cut any more corners, and balls get dropped, and the Burger Company’s balls have dropped so far they’re tucking them into their socks.

Bin off the advertising, the unenthused staff and the wide range of burger-related misery. Take it back to basics- a simple, honest bit of meat in a bun, with perhaps some treats from the local fromagerie; you can’t really go wrong with a good cheddar or a shropshire blue. Give the public what they want. Of course with obligatory bacon, cheese, salad and indeed garnish.

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Cadbury’s Chocolate Yule Log

4/10

PRICE: £2 or thereabouts

Cadburys is the quintessential British purveyor of chocolate goods on a mass scale, and I for one will not argue with the fact that the Dairy Milk is the chassis upon which all other chocolate bars are based.
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But how would Cadburys cope outside their comfort zone? I’ll tell you of what I speak…a long, spongey chocolate cake cylinder coated in rich chocolate, with veins of chocolate cream oozing through the log like arteries delivering precious lube to the otherwise dry sundry. Of course it’s the traditional yule log, based on the heathen ways of olde.

Very little to say about this log, as it’s very good on the whole. At least, it doesn’t offend me. Certainly getting chocolate in the first few bites, and the sponge is soft and delicious. However, like the famed dairy milk chocolate bar, it hardly reaks of class. The cake is a tad heavy, and the chocolate cream tastes somewhat over-processed; if I were to give it a savoury equivalent it’d be the Bernard Matthews turkey ham or the Dairylea Lunchable. The chocolate coating is hard and brittle; more of a textural effect for my money, and although it’s not overly sweet, it doesn’t make me want to eat more than one serving, and leaves me feeling vaguely sick after the second. Zero decoration too; what an absolute cop out. We’re talking confectionary on a budget. Hardly pushing the envelope.

On the whole, not a bad punt if you want a cheap treat to put in your child’s lunch box, but not recommended for personal indulgence.

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Sainsbury’s Boxing Day Lunch

5/10

Price: £2-3ish probably…

Sainsbury’s have dared to be different this year in taking on the challenge of reincarnating a Boxing Day lunch in sandwich format…

In my opinion, Sainsbury’s has long stood behind many of its supermarket rivals in terms of its lunchtime range of sandwiches, wraps and salads concentrating its efforts instead on feel good advertising featuring Jamie Oliver.

But now with another Christmas season approaching and with Jamie Oliver now rivalled as the country’s premier food icon by the likes of Heston Blumenthal and the estimable Michel Roux Jr, the supermarket giant can’t afford to rest on its laurels.

There are signs of progress from within the corporate leviathan – Jamie and his ads have been sent packing and this sandwich, whilst far from perfect, is better than any I’ve had from the chain in a long while.

The combination of turkey, ham, coleslaw and cranberry stuffing was surprisingly delightful and exceeded my meagre expectations. Coleslaw provides a satisfying crunch but the watery turkey is slightly overpowered by the ham and I could barely taste any cranberry in that stuffing.

The overall experience is far less fresh or well executed than say Pret, Eat or M&S, but that is stating the obvious. You do not need me to tell you that Sainsbury’s is in no danger of challenging the culinary status quo.

To sum up – a sandwich that doesn’t impress, excel or make you feel good about yourself in any way. However, especially given Sainsbury’s recent efforts, it’s not completely shit.

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Pret Nuts About Christmas

6/10

If Jesus was around around today and wanted a Christmas themed sandwich on a dreary November lunchtime, he would no doubt opt for the Kosher friendly Nut’s About Christmas Sandwich from Pret.


No sign of turkey and pork stuffing here, this unconventional sandwich is based around the long standing staple of the vegetarian cook book, the Nutroast.

Not normally one to go for a meat free sandwich, I was initially sceptical that the Nutroast filling could deliver on taste and give that sought after Christmas feeling.

However, I had my road to Damascus moment on that dreary November lunchtime.

The Nutroast is moist, crunchy and filling. I definitely didn’t miss the turkey here, and the slightly tart cranberry contrasted well with the sweetness of the onions to give a satisfying, filling mouthful. The real gem was the roasted carrots that I thought brought a sense of The Boxing Day sandwich and added a new depth of flavour and even more crunch.

That said and done I will still be roasting a Turkey this Christmas and not a load of nuts. However, the nuts about Christmas sandwich has opened my eyes to the possibilities of a Christmas sandwich that looks beyond the obvious turkey and stuffing.

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The Eat Christmas Full Works

PRICE: £3.50

7/10

I seldom frequent famed dining establishment ‘Eat’, preferring to bag myself a panini for half the price in the Eastern European deli a stones-throw away. In addition to the obvious financial benefits, I also prefer the pussy in there. But with the yule-tide looming, and the deli’s range of cured meat sundries left un-augmented with any sign of a micklemass treat, I was forced to enter Eat, and to my surprise was greeted with a festive range of seasonal sarnies, with 25 pence of the proceeds going to the homeless. If this sandwich stands up to scrutiny, it appears everyone’s a winner, and I will officially be eating my words. As in the chain, ‘Eat.’

First looks can be deceiving, and I stress the word CAN. Which is why I always judge a book by its cover, unless its a pornographic novel, in which case I’ll skip straight to the illustrations. This sandwich appears to be fully loaded with turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry, peppery salad and indeed a garnish- all sealed in a freshly malted bready envelope. Check the ingredients and my suspicions ring true, that is a marriage of the two meats: poultry and pork. My question posed to this sandwich is indeed, will these two elope in a marriage of flavour, or will they clash like two peas punching it out in the same pod?

Packaging aside- understated, tasteful and minimalistic, the bread is fresh and the condiments haven’t left the sandwich soggy, which has been the bane of many a fine sandwich. The sandwich tastes fresh, very full but not to the extent eating it becomes a logistical nightmare- or to the extent that I have to do a cleanup operation post-sandwich to eat the bits that fell out during the initial eating session. Looks like I won’t be needing those wet wipes after all; that is, unless this sandwich gets any more special than it is already proving to be. Come to think of it, where is the sauce? Looks like Eat made the ultimate sacrifice: opting for a sandwich sans condiment in exchange for a dry bread. Bold, and a move that I feel pays off; although a rustic cut coleslaw could really make this sandwich unhinged. Maybe they could consider marketing this sandwich with an auxiliary ‘slaw or indeed gravy pot? The cranberry is good: exceedingly tart, but it fails to lubricate the actual sandwich like only a light mayonnaise can.

I’m glad to note the ham and turkey compliment each other: however strictly speaking, the sandwich shouldn’t need the extra firepower of an additional meat. If seasoned, cooked and indeed carved correctly, the turkey should speak volumes alone.

However, despite my constructive criticism there’s a lot of commendable qualities to this sandwich. A fine effort by Eat: an effort that makes me question with a desperate anticipation what last years favourite ‘Pret a Manger’ will bring to the 2012 table.

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