The Eagle has landed
I sometimes work from home in the little cranny, which acts as my office. Anyone who does this knows it throws up many plusses but a few minuses too.
On the plus side it does drastically reduce the amount of mind-bogglingly boring trips I have to make to the local post office (where my current record for queuing stands at 43 minutes) if I am out when a delivery arrives – I don’t know why I get sent the level of food-related products that I do.
It also means I don’t have to get into the equivalent of a battery chicken cage by shoe-horning myself into the district line at Putney Bridge, one of the most over-populated of tube lines, only to emerge wherever I am working looking crumpled and dishevelled. My dogs Flora and Marge would definitely argue against it, however, chiefly as it results in a day at home for them as opposed to happy hours out with their friends tearing around Richmond Park, illegally chasing deer and then sleeping it off under the oak trees.
The main reason I dislike it is the lack of lunch. I like lunch to be an event; no matter how small and simple it still needs to be memorably delicious and exciting in some small way. As I write I am looking forward to my Fisherman Brown Shrimps and hot buttered Vogel toast with a splash of Tabasco (they come from Waitrose and are utterly scrumptious and also make an incredible sandwich if you’d like to give them a go).
I tend to avoid being tempted into the kitchen for more than a fleeting visit when I am working as it constitutes getting side- tracked.
One thing often leads to another and before I know it I am experimenting with something I haven’t tried before and hours have disappeared. So I try to think of what instant deliciousness I can possibly find in a five minute radius of my house and, well, the options are pretty non existent, so this often results in no lunch at all.
Perhaps I should move to Sheen and, judging by my recent visit, I would never want for a good lunch again. The Waterloo mainline comes through Putney and stops at many marvellous places on the way to Eton and Windsor Riverside. Some of the trains stop at Mortlake which, like Richmond, is pretty as a picture with a little High Street peppered with lovely shops and restaurants. Turn right out of the station and you are on Sheen Lane, walk for only a couple of minutes and you will come across my lunch venue: Pickle & Rye, purveyors of authentic American sandwiches.
When I heard about this place I was to be honest hugely dubious. I imagined groaning plates laden with vast triple decker creations, haemorrhaging mayo and only just held together with wooden skewers fighting for room alongside mountainous coleslaw and fries.
This genuinely has me feeling queasy before I’ve even crossed the threshold. Why on earth did I decide to review this place ? How was I going to get through a tasting and survive ? Would it just be too rude to ask for several spit cups? And yet I’d only heard good things.
Alex and Val are both, needless to say, Americans; he is a chef with an impressive background and Val takes care of the rest. They describe their business modestly as “an American Sandwich Shop which is all about homemade tasty sandwiches”. I like it already. Anything understated gets points at the starting gate from me, it’s when there is shouting from the roof tops I get worried.
I sit in this little tidy, welcoming and well designed café at the beginning of our hopefully post Olympic Indian summer in full force of their fan while I get to know them.
Half my hair is disconcertingly flapping about my face as if I have my head hanging out of the side of a convertible on the motorway. This makes questions and concentration slightly difficult. They are young, full of enthusiasm and clearly totally dedicated to their cause and, dare I say, passionate to get it right (I do so try and avoid using that word but sometimes it is absolutely necessary).
Alex fields my attempts to challenge his use of so many artisan breads and such a large menu with great aplomb; there is a good enough reason he feels for everything but he is happy to experiment with change.
It comes to light that over the two years since they have opened they have been on a journey and have made many such valuable changes to get to where they are now. This is the way it goes for most new sandwich ventures which start from absolute scratch but these two strike me as having the tenacity to win all the way through.
Alex is off making me sandwiches and before I know it I am at the first; a Toronto, slow roast topside of beef, melted English cheddar, pickled hot peppers, leaf, tomatoes, red onion, horseradish mayo on toasted sourdough (£5.25) with a perfectly cut section of a sour dill pickle on the side.
He couldn’t find a sour dill pickle that was close enough to what he wanted, so he makes them from perfect little Lebanese cucumbers and brines them with dill, garlic and salt.
This sandwich isn’t ridiculously oversized but it is substantial enough to be worth the money, and that’s the important thing. And it’s so delicious I’m eating far too much of it and as if possessed I don’t seem to be able to stop myself. Ah now that is the sign of a very good sandwich. The beef is meltingly tender and the Roquito peppers just the right heat level, all the many flavours work together just perfectly and, quite unlike me, I am at a total loss to muster any kind of a suggestion for improvement.
On to the Buffalo which Alex makes with shredded corn fed chicken, celery, carrots, red onion, romaine and buffalo hot wing sauce – this comes on a soft roll.
Now I’m not one for hot sauces which so often get overused in sandwiches and blow your head off but this is, I have to say, totally tasty. Like each sandwich it is presented with the lid slightly angled, the contents invitingly peaking out, and its carved dill pickle on the side. The only thing stopping me finishing it is the arrival of the Roast Mushroom Burger. Finally a sandwich that even the most dedicated meat eater like me would choose. Here is a more than generous balsamic and garlic roasted Portobello with a slab of melting goat’s cheese on top, drizzled in basil vinaigrette with tomato, red onion and lettuce. It’s almost enough to turn me veggie.
I have to try the New York Style Salt Beef Reuben, which is made with homemade salt beef, sauerkraut (yes, Alex makes that as well, I am wondering if there is an end to this man’s talent), Russian dressing and melted emmental. Now this is on dark rye, which is also used for the Smoked Ham & Cheese, which I don’t agree with. It’s a very strong taste and a light rye would sell far more. No, Alex isn’t convinced but I ask him to give it a try – take it from an old sandwich sage like me, I say, because sometimes I am right.
The last I can fit in is Pat’s BBQ Pulled Pork. I annoyingly now realise I never did find out who Pat was so this will have to remain a mystery until my next visit. Alex makes cider braised pork shoulder and adds homemade slaw, lettuce and BBQ sauce on a soft roll again and for lovers of BBQ I can see this firmly ticks the box but I am still savouring the yumminess of the Toronto and the loveliness of the Portobello.
Locals love this place and it is clearly a magnet for those from the Big Apple and beyond. They are popping in and asking for their favourites; most are on first name terms, they order a special request here and another there. Alex is happy to accommodate, after all, you can double your meat for £2.00 extra (all the local rowers do) add extra veg, cheese, bacon or avocado or have a whole pickle for £1.25 which seems a bargain now I’ve tried one.
(In addition to making my own olives from my olive tree in the garden, which now bears an amazing amount of fruit for a Fulham climate, I am going to try next making sour dill pickles).
There are salads, soups and combos and bagels for breakfast which all the locals flock to enjoy on a weekend. There are toasties which the children love and pastries and you can turn any sandwich into a salad at a drop of a hat. Alex and Val truly love to make their customers very happy. Complicated as it is, it really works and even though I do believe they should reduce the overall size of the menu they will I am sure do this in their own good time.
What I have to say is I leave with a smile on my face and a very cheery heart, because I love absolutely nothing more than to come across the little acorns of new potential chains growing up and around the big successful boys. There will, l I have no doubt, be many more Pickle & Rye’s because it is so very different and such a top drawer quality product. This is an eagle truly landed.
Pickle & Rye Star Rating: * * * *
* * A lot of potential but a lot of work to do
* * * Outstanding food and service
* * * * Remarkable
* * * * * I don’t believe it can get any better than this
Pickle & Rye website: www.pickleandrye.com