In search of London’s best sandwich since sliced bread
Meatballs seem to be one of 2011’s big trends as the recession ushers us into the comforting embrace of mincy stodge. The other craze seems to be street food which is driven by similar forces as well as a post globalization shuffle into the paradox of local exotic flavours. So Luca’s meatball sandwich shack seems bang on.
We dawdled across to Dalston’s Ridley Road Market, having heard on Twitter that a chap called Luca was serving up meatball sandwiches that would have James Gandolfini hopping on the next American Airlines flight to London. We unearthed the stall rubbing shoulders with tropical fishmongers, vendors selling cows’ feet and a surfeit of ironmongers. The market is reassuringly home to another of London’s finest sandwiches – a jerk chicken bagel courtesy of Mr. Bagel – so we felt like we may have stumbled into a sandwich-topia.
The stall itself is vividly coloured and just as enthusiastically run by Luca himself. You can choose to have your polpette either in a sandwich or (if you are a sandwich-averse-deviant) balanced on creamy polenta. And vegetarians can have, erm, non-meat-meatballs in the same formats. We had the meatball ciabatta sandwich which came with four juicy globes of meat, a smothering of wild mushroom sauce, a slick of bold tomato pulp, some striking basil, plenty of seasoning, oozing cheddar cheese and plenty of Italian passion. Luca then toasted it for 4 or 5 minutes and presented us with what we can only describe as the best meatball sandwich we’ve ever had, which we ate sitting on shipping palettes and swigging down pomegranate juice to the sound of Prince blaring out of a nearby sound system that had heard better days.
People think sandwiches are easy. They get glossed over by serious cookery gurus because they are too frivolous to write about. But, as Simon Hopkinson recently commented on the precision needed to make the perfect ham and cheese toastie;
To make that little sandwich perfectly isn't an easy thing. You must make sure you don't put too much of the cheese mixture in, use the wrong ham, use the wrong bread.
The key to the success of Luca’s sandwich is the attention to every little detail that goes into preparing them.
Luca’s polpette have the perfect texture, flavour, moistness and springiness. The sauces cleverly complement the flavours of the meat. The basil isn’t wimpy, yet doesn’t overpower. The bread is bespoke for this particular sandwich and succeeds where other dry ciabattas fail – the outside is crisper than a starched fifty pound note and the inside cuddles the balls like the furry lining of a broad bean pod. The garlic, chilli and herb dressing adds layers of flavours that are distinct whilst being complementary. The cheddar cheese works fine, but is being upgraded soon to an aged smoked mozzarella called Scamorza which will add even more depth of flavour and stringy texture. And it has the perfect structural integrity – with enough solidity to stay complete and enough give to be welcoming. It would be so easy to cut corners. But Luca hasn’t. And that’s why this sandwich has made us gush so excitedly.
Luca is based on Ridley Road Market and is open at lunch times on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They also serve platters of charcuterie in the evenings and seem to have lots of plans up their sleeves. For more information about what they are doing next, check out their news on Twitter and Facebook.