As Londoners, we are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to the mighty sandwich.
Two years of working in the City opened my eyes to the diversity of options available: pre-made (but always fresh, as they keep reminding us) baguettes from a Pret A Manger store, custom-made butties from an independent hole-in-the-wall, artisan wraps from a colourful-looking food truck boasting a queue of hungry bankers. Each a very respectable institution in its own right – some are better than others, yes, but none are notably offensive amongst a reasonably discerning Square Mile clientèle.
I believed I had found my sandwich soulmate after two years of hard work and serious research (Pret’s ham and pickle combo, if you must know). A recent trip to Burgundy, however, gave me a whole new perspective on the mighty sandwich.
After five hours of driving around the Côte de Nuits touring vineyards and tasting wines (hard life I know), I had built up quite an appetite. All of the authentic restaurants nearby were closed – a result of the mid-afternoon lull in traffic I assume – and I was hungry and impatient. Our tour guide, a wise young man called Gabriel, suggested wine and home-made sandwiches in an underground cellar not far away. I wanted to hug him.
We made our way to a supermarket just outside Nuits Saint Georges where we acquired two fresh baguettes and a selection of charcuterie. Next door was a cheese factory. Yes, that’s right, I said factory. In this subsidiary of heaven, they make époisse – a deliciously pungent cheese originating from Burgundy. Sparing no prisoners, we bought two, and Gabriel had to almost drag me out of the factory. He then drove us to an underground cellar that had low ceilings and little light, but it made up for these transgressions with a vast amount of wine.
This escapade brought a whole new meaning to food and wine pairing – we quite literally tasted nine different wines from the region alongside the ethereal combination of fromage, jambon and baguette. I particularly enjoyed the Meursault – a rich, buttery, oaked white – it had the body to stand up to the multitude of flavours in the food, while perfectly complementing the saltiness of the charcuterie and the creaminess of the cheese. Meursault is one of my favourite wines – check this one out (it isn’t cheap but worth a try). Enjoying wine from Burgundy is a very expensive hobby – my bank account will confirm this.
This experience made me re-evaluate my position on the sandwich. You don’t need anything fancy (please put your garlic aioli and coriander away) or expensive (shelve the truffle shavings). All you need is a baguette, a bit of fresh salami and some creamy cheese. The wine is experience-enhancing but optional.
There’s no secret – it really is that simple. I suspect Gabriel was quite amused by my ostensibly life-altering epiphany.
So now I’m in a bit of a pickle (sorry, bad pun). I’m not sure what I’m going to do now that I’m back in London – Pret A Manger just won’t cut the mustard (sorry, I’ll stop).
I fear that the French have set the bar too high. I suppose I could always move to Burgundy.