In search of London’s best sandwich since sliced bread
We’re living in a world of uncertainty. Is it Spring or Summer? Should the government be making savage cuts or papering over the cracks? Should we be involved in Libya or stand back and watch? Would you rather have Pippa on your arm or Kate? Confused and befuddled by all these unanswerable questions we went in search of something to eat to put an end to this bombardment of dichotomies.
But the relentless uncertainty continued. For it was approaching 11am. Too late for breakfast. And too early for lunch. Arghhhh. The only answer was to find a sandwich that was as confused and conflicted as we were. We hoped that a double helping of uncertainty would balance things out. The only cure for this bout of angst was a Monte Cristo sandwich. It’s a sandwich for quantum physicists. A weird statement, but hopefully the next paragraph makes things clearer.
The Monte Cristo is an American interpretation of the Croque Monsieur. But instead of settling for a very respectable grilled ham and cheese sandwich this calorie overload is dipped in eggy batter and fried. To top things off, it is often dusted with icing sugar and served with jam. Our quest for an explanation about the Monte Cristo’s origins only yielded very boring answers. So we’d like to think that a hungover chef misunderstood an order from a French visitor and decided to combine a Croque Monsieur with French Toast. It’s been constantly played with ever since. Some savoury variations include a slice of turkey whilst most come with mustard, pickles or ketchup. And the sweet team have been even more inventive throwing marshmallows, jam, maple syrup, peanut butter, deep-fat-friers and bananas at it.
The only place we could find that serves them in London is Joe Allen in Covent Garden where you’ll find it on the breakfast menu that is served until 11am. We sat down in the subterranean space and slurped a coffee whilst awkwardly waiting for the uncertainty to be washed away.
We weren’t sure whether to expect the sweet or savoury version. So when our unsugared sandwich arrived we were a bit disappointed. It consisted of white bread that had been dipped in egg and fried to a golden sheen. Inside was a slice or two of Swiss cheese and a couple of tranches of the kind of ham you often get with Eggs Benedict. It tasted of stodgy comfort. Of indeterminacy. Of an opportunity to bowl London over with an outrageously good sandwich, missed. It felt rationed and restrained rather than the sort of thing that Hunter S. Thompson might have had 6 of whilst on an ether binge. We wish it had come with a smear of mustard, a squirt of ketchup or some crunchy pickles to cut through the delicious blandness.
If you know where we can find a sweet Monte Cristo, dusted with icing sugar, lacquered in maple syrup and accessorised with an insulin syringe in London, do let us know.
Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT