Sandwiches A La Mode

Plush, posh, refined and smart, Napket has thrown away the rule book with its premium sandwich bar design, offering wide ranges of gourmet food in chic, black interiors. This is the Sex in the City of takeaway experiences, says Nellie Nichols.

Style is a fascinating thing: secretly we think we’ve all got it, but to be truthful not all of us do. You’re either born with tonnes of it or none at all. It’s a real all or nothing attribute. Personally I don’t think for a moment you can develop it out of thin air. It’s a unique blend of excellent taste coupled with an incredible eye for the stunningly appropriate, all of which happen to be totally instinctive. Like getting dressed in the morning, there will be those of you who will put on clashing colours or those ridiculous socks you got for Christmas; some of you will look just sensationally attractive and others will look, well, not quite so.

Style in food outlets is another thing altogether. Invariably the design of a store often leans towards functionality – well, there’s not a huge amount you can do with display fridges is there really, and in any case, start-up funds are usually gobbled up by rent and refurbishing, equipment and staffing. Then there’s the choice of items such as plastic packaging and cutlery, which is, to be honest, limited for any small independent until a decent volume dictates otherwise.

It has to be said you can usually only cut your cloth once. When those doors open and your customers hopefully charge in your image is cast like a hook to a salmon. Of course it can and often does evolve. After several years as King of the High Street Pret successfully morphed many of its stores from the ‘washing machine’ look to that of a sublimely more comfortable café – but that’s not to say the initial metallic look didn’t fulfil the design criteria at the time – in the eighties it was absolutely up there: cutting edge and innovative.

Nowadays though I would argue, in these slightly more challenging times style and design are more important than ever. Our day-to-day needs all the help it can get and if that means truly being able to enjoy your surroundings when you buy your lunch, I’m there. I’d far rather stand in a queue and be visually entertained than stare at the dullest of unfortunate and unappealing white walls. So if it’s out there I have every intention of finding it – a food on the go outlet with great design and style and good food to match. Perhaps this just might be asking too much?

So now I’m running in high heels up Swallow Street from Piccadilly (never a good idea really). I’m never late having been taught as a child to always be punctilious. Traffic or not (quiet Augusts will always get the better of me in the form of road works) here I am in Vigo Street behind Regents Street in London’s West End to meet a Frenchman who, with his partner, I am about to find out, do style by the shovelful.

Christopher Moro and John Evrard opened Napket (strap line ‘Snob Food’) in February last year in the Kings Road following on from a successful chain of restaurants in the South of France.

The name Napket comes from merging ‘Napkin’ and ‘Market’ which give you a clue to the type of food and way it is served. When I first visited it I’d never seen anything remotely similar to its black chic interior with communal transparent tables offering I Pod sockets, and photographs of stunning girls wearing even more stunning dresses covering the walls. At the time it was hailed as ‘a dramatic reinvention of the urban café’, and that ‘if fashion could be captured in an edible form it would be Napket’, certainly attracted huge attention. Its design by Peter Van Hooreweghe had achieved something that was unique, blending influences from the modern to baroque. Murano glass chandeliers and dark wood flooring reclaimed from a church, created something totally new that was partly café partly boutique. Brook Street in the West End opened six months later and Vigo Street in May this year.

It’s easy to believe as you approach Napket in Vigo Street that you have crossed not just Piccadilly but also the Channel and ended up on a street in Paris. Chic black tables and chairs line the entrance. Here the black interior is lightened with rich wood clad fridges, contrasting with black velvet gold framed baroque sofas in the faux library.

Stunningly dramatic vintage chandeliers sourced from Italy hang from the highest of ceilings, mixed with banks of spotlights. The salad bar, cleverly visible from the street, is an eclectic mix of brickwork and black tiles. A true market feel is achieved by innovatively sloping refrigerated wooden crates filled with salad leaves; mountainous piles of rocket, spinach, mesclun and frisee.

Make no mistake this is no ordinary salad bar; here excitement sits snugly side by side with the everyday predictable; tuna teriyaki and shrimp tempura next to ham and pastrami, “Make no mistake, this is no ordinary salad bar; here excitement sits snugly side by side with the everyday predictable; tuna teriyaki and shrimp tempura next to ham and pastrami, grilled artichokes beside the humble cucumber ” September 2008 13 grilled artichokes beside the humble cucumber. Very beautiful aluminium oil cans dispense dressings; this isn’t just lunch, this is the Sex in the City of takeaway experiences.

I just love the website (I want the dress and the shoes) and the on line magazine, I adore the design but things are on the up yet again when I realise that Napket’s food is highly unlikely to disappoint me when they have two reputable French chefs on board who bake all their own breads, make all they own desserts and even their own granola.

I learnt a long time ago how much merit there is in keeping things simple and therefore limiting the overall offering. This has the obvious and very reassuring benefit of minimising waste.

Napket however is bravely bucking this trend by offering a very wide choice indeed from the black label gourmet selection of pre-prepared salads, sandwiches and desserts to the white “diffusion” label of the more affordable items. It’s so invigorating – it seems to have the desired effect of making you want to return because like some delicious deli there is so much to tempt you back.

There are baguettes, ciabattas, fougasse, focaccias – my favourite had to be the bresaola ciabatta (£4.20) with its beautiful wrapping of thick cellophane and rustically simple corrugated board made with goats cheese, rocket, olive oil and lemon juice, but then I really love the doll like focaccia fingers (£1.30) of ham and emmental, parma ham and mozzarella, pesto and tomato.

I was far less keen on the chicken Caesar wrap chiefly because the wrap was only pretending to be one and actually had far more in common with its cousin the pancake, proving to me that talented French bakers should, in my book, stick to what they do best: baking excellent bread.

I think it’s very brave to fill a fridge with both big and small tubs of a variety of salads ranging from delicious bulgur wheat, pumpkin seeds and mint to three rice pomegranate, almonds and raisins, alongside their impressive salad bar, but this is, as I have said, a store based on opulence. Why else would you find a choice of twelve, yes I did say twelve, different branded bottled waters. Here the decision of which water to buy is as much a fashion statement as a need to buy it to drink it. I will always buy the Voss from Norway whenever I see it because the bottle is so cool and beautiful, so, yes, the theory works on me.

The same wooden crates fill another fridge with fruit – whole boxes brimming with perfectly fresh apples and kiwi. There are spectacular big clear pots of immaculate cherries and the strawberries are impressively all an identical size. Desserts are extravagantly enticing, from a chocolate mousse made with three different coloured chocolate to the rather decadent rose and coconut blancmange. This food is far from shy but still remains understated; nothing is obvious, you need to seek out the little surprises like some rather marvellous Easter egg hunt.

Does it work? I think so because apart from having great interest and choice in its innovative menu, it is also highly entertaining. No minute detail has been overlooked, which includes the commissioned black plastic cutlery, a bespoke design similar to Regency silver and oh joy, it’s the first plastic cutlery I’ve ever come across that doesn’t bend or snap when you cut with it and it actually works.

Even more amusingly, visitors should they need to go to the smallest room, will encounter even black loo paper. The coffee is Illy, the tea is Mariage Freres and there is a wide selection of dairy smoothies and Frapkets as well as freshly squeezed juices with and without herbal boosters; unique to Napket is their cannabis iced tea, a natural product from Switzerland.

I just love this concept altogether, it’s a unique and welcome breath of fresh air in our City full of lunchtime predictability and clearly it’s proving hugely popular too. Three more branches are scheduled to open later this year, not to mention expansion in Kuwait where it opens its first store in September. So in essence, plush, posh, refined and smart – there is absolutely no question about it, this place has style, and the food’s definitely up there too.

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