Consultant Nellie Nichols rejoins Sandwich & Snack News as a regular contributor in this issue. In the first of her new series she visits Pickle & Rye’s brilliant new sandwich shop in Sheen Lane, London.
It’s lovely to be back with you again pen in hand so to speak … I feel I’ve been to the ends of the earth and back. I’ve also definitely visited one too many food factories in the process as I recently found myself staring at my own running bathroom tap wondering why it wouldn’t turn itself off.
I’ve done so many factory visits in 2013 that I’m beginning to feel weirdly under-dressed without multiple hairnets, wellies and a coat on. I’ve visited parts of England and Europe I didn’t know existed and quite a few I’ve always wanted to, but have never had the chance, covering miles and miles of land and sea.
Then after all that, as if I hadn’t chalked up enough ground beneath my feet, I headed off to Australia to visit their food capital Melbourne and the wilder shores of Tasmania for their annual food festival to meet with some of their key producers.
While I was there I attempted to eat my way around the globe, trying the very best and latest trends in every type of cuisine imaginable from South American, Asian, and Fusion to international; the new, the old, and the lateral best of them all.
Coming home post New Year I only craved three things: Shepherd’s Pie, Roast Chicken and some decent British sausages. Much as I love the experimentation in some of the things I’ve tasted I always come back to the same conclusion that authentic recipes and ingredients with honest lineage often taste best.
Which reminds me: just before I headed off I popped in to see the recently opened new Pickle & Rye sandwich shop in Sheen Lane. You may recall I had quite a soft spot for the original small American sandwich shop I wrote about a year ago that Val Miller and Alex Minor first opened in the same road in 2011.
Two years on and they have in a matter of months got married, secured the lease on this much coveted larger site literally opposite Mortlake station, redeveloped it and opened, taking Pickle & Rye from a site you could barely swing a cat in to one where having enough furniture to fill it was a challenge.
Coming out of the station, the café is the first place you see. I think it would be hard to miss if I’m honest, the new livery colour apparently being the bright green of a stylised pickled cucumber, their signature ingredient; definitely eye-catching but I’m glad I don’t live opposite.
From a commuter footfall perspective, this is the bull’s eye of all locations with not a competitor as far as I could see in any direction. A breakfast menu with good takeaway options and their own American feel is ready and waiting each morning, from three choices of Oatmeal (‘Elvis’ is with banana and peanut butter, other toppings include dried fruits, apple and cinnamon) to coffee with a bagel at £5.00, the most popular being bacon, egg and cheese.
Of course when I dropped in I had to try some slightly more hard core options: the Eggs Benedict with smoked ham and hollandaise sauce on an English Muffin would lend itself well to a lazy Sunday morning with the papers under your arm, as would the English Plate (sounding more like crockery rather than breakfast) made up of eggs, herb roasted tomatoes, smoked bacon, Cumberland sausage, balsamic roast mushrooms, home fries and toast).
I know I ate far too much of the New York Scramble of scrambled eggs, salt beef, home fries, cheddar and sourdough toast but, like one of the children in the story of Nurse Matilda who wouldn’t put her knife and fork down because it all tasted so delicious, I just had to keep going. My only saving grace … unlike the children’s bowls in the story, my plate did not continue to magically refill.
You see, Alex is a very good chef indeed and has this uncanny knack of turning humble home-fried potatoes and other such relatively simple recipes into something unbelievably moreish. So moreish you just can’t stop.
Of course if you ask how and why you’ll just be passed off with a fast and furious and delicious description of herbs and spices. The fact is, neither you nor I will ever be able to replicate it in just the same way and that’s the secret of a talented chef. I have no idea where on earth he finds the time to cook so many different meats for a start, but cook them he does and the meltingly flavoursome salt beef is a shining example of what extra value he is adding.
And I can’t stop there really, with new additions to the menu since my last visit and in no time I’m tucking into a Chicken Cobb sandwich made with home-roasted corn-fed chicken, smoked bacon, blue cheese, boiled egg, tomato, red onion, lettuce and mayo on three layers of toasted white. And as if scales have fallen from my eyes, I suddenly realise that over the years I’ve been eating endless poor relations of this truly great triple-decker classic sitting before me. At £5.95 I am, without a shadow of doubt, staring at the pinnacle of deliciousness and value.
Val is more than insistent that I try the Holiday Hangover sandwich, the December special and a sort of Thanksgiving tribute, so what can I do but wait in homage for the tower of home roast turkey with chorizo stuffing, hickory smoked ham, cranberry chutney, tomato, red onion, lollo rosso and mayo on white rye. The cranberry chutney recipe is so unique and delicious it now has a permanent place on their website. Could it be the addition of the ginger? The shallots? It’s just that Alex factor again.
And just to be really clever, not only for the New Year and the abstinence it brings, but as standard, each and every sandwich can be ‘saladised’, although the extra £1 is, I feel, possibly a step too far. After all, removing the bread and adding a few extra leaves in my mind is a genuine quid pro quo.
So along with everything else, these clever peeps have applied for and been granted what Americans charmingly call a ‘liquor license’ and with this clever addition are now holding
monthly (and soon to be more often) dinners for non-profit charity supper clubs, as well as seasonal Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
Their boundless energy is nothing short of commendable, remarkable and I’m envious. (Well I wish I had it in the bucketfuls they do). And then there is their dedication and charm: all mixed together with the Alex factor, this mixture is proving to be the perfect recipe for their growth and continuing future success. It’s not often I come across a sandwich business which is actually carving its path in such a focussed way.
Sure there are still too many dishes on the menu, still too many ingredients coming in the back door, too many recipes Alex is insisting on cooking from scratch, but I’ve said this before and you can only say it once. As they grow, neither Alex not Val can be in several places at once. A simple template has to be created for others to simply follow – without this they will leave continuity and consistency far behind. In the fullness of time no doubt keeping it simpler will pay.
So I’m not putting money on the next shop or the one after that. The odds would be far too short, and, most importantly, I believe that the integrity of this brand will be safeguarded for many years to come. The new Mr and Mrs Minor will see to that. Congratulations.
Pickle & Rye website: www.pickleandrye.com