In search of London’s best sandwich since sliced bread
The Sandwichist is now a year old. So what better way to mark this seminal milestone, than to guzzle beer and then head to the Edgware Road for a kebab. Given that Eid fell on the 20th September we felt even less guilty about indulging in a shawarma.
Edgware Road is known as a Mecca for Middle Eastern food. You can smell the spices from several roads away. The streets come alive after dark and were spilling over with people languidly smoking hookah pipes and enjoying the buzz; a couple of stilettoes and mini skirted young ladies appeared to be guarding the entrance to a flat; policemen were randomly stopping and searching passers by; queues snaked from well imaginatively named kebab shops such as Ranoush, Fattoush, Maroush.
Having heard great things from a man who can only be identified as a “kebab guru” we decided that Café Helen was a place that couldn’t be missed. With a short queue and fresh looking meat it seemed like a fine choice. And so it proved.
The key to a good shawarma, our “kebab guru” explained, is to find a vendor who has a rapid turnover of customers. This ensures the meat is always fresh and not stored overnight only to be wheeled out again the next evening. It’s also important to have a good look at their meat. If it looks well layered and is glossy with fat you won’t go far wrong. And finally, pay attention to who their customers are.
Café Helen ticks all the boxes. The meat is marinated in spices (nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, all spice, black pepper & salt) and lemon juice overnight before being threaded onto a large spit. It then browns as it rotates on the spit before being carved by what can only be described as sheep shears and assembled along with pickled chilli, and tahini inside a wrap. Chicken shawarmas recieve a squirt of garlic mayonnaise and a quick toasting.
The lamb shawarma was heavenly. Juices oozed. Flavours throbbed. And the meat yielded all the way down to the last morsel. The experience of eating a top class shawarma doesn’t even compare to most people’s experience of a greasy, drunken kebab. The chicken shawarmas was arguably even better. The flavours were fresh and acidic in comparison to the depth brought to the sandwich by the lamb.
Café Helen is a gem. Just don’t go there on a Tuesday, or during the daytime because they will be closed. And you will be disappointed.
105A Edgware Road, London