Follow the Leader

Pret is side by side with EAT in the King’s Road in London, providing a perfect opportunity to compare and contrast. Nellie Nichols, ex-Pret herself, got out her scoring board to see how they measured up.

I’D like you to cast your mind back to your childhood, (bear with me on this one please) to the children’s game ‘Follow the Leader’. It can be played with any number of players and you’ll remember it goes like this. One person is chosen as the leader and the rest of the group must do everything the leader does. It is a good idea to alert the leader beforehand so that he or she can figure out a number of interesting and unusual things to do. Each player follows the other in a line close behind the leader. Leaders can skip, jump run or hop or take any other kind of steps. Almost any activities are fun to do this way.

Now we are grown up and there is lots of opportunity to play this fun game in the streets of London and other cities. Take any busy high street and look for a suitable leader. Then find lots of players nearby and hey presto, the game starts. (Sometimes the players get very close to the leader, often next door, which is very close indeed but handy for doing everything the leader does). There are lots of examples all over London to go and see but my favourite one I’ve been to look at recently is in the Kings Road where EAT have moved in next door to Pret.

Pret in the Kings Road has recently undergone a refit and now follows its new image of a more cosy low lit Café style interior. It’s a comfortable relaxing environment but its mood is in a darker contrast to the stark Monastic bare white walls of EAT next door. Walk into EAT and you are met with an almost spiritual feeling in the clean white simplicity and lines of the interior, (I almost expect to hear a CD of a heavenly choir singing soothingly in the background as the skylight at the back of the shop floods the surrounding tables with natural light).

Walk into Pret from the brilliant sunshine and the moments it takes your eyes to adjust to the light may cause you a trip over a pushchair. (Both these shops are a magnet for them, they come in droves with their nannies and mummies). Of course there are differences. EAT offers beautifully presented till products under tinted glass counters, wondrous hand made cupcakes in child-like colours, looking like they’ve just been dropped off by Nigella herself and made by her own fair hand; peppermint green and candy pink dripping with icing. They have a Mecca like following as I hear repeated again and again the words “and a cupcake”…. The Bananas are lined up like soldiers on top of the counter, everyone identical perfect ripeness. Three coffee sizes with coffee made by non automatic machines. A huge selection of cold drinks covering a very wide choice of fruits, teas and coffees. Hot Pies (far too much pastry not nearly enough filling).

So far, chalk and cheese it would seem, but stop there. Walk along the sandwich aisles and familiarity meets your gaze. Crayfish and Rocket (Pret’s original recipe), Egg Mayo and Cress, Tuna Mayo, Chicken Avocado and Basil (now that was my original from years ago), Sandwich of the Week, well Pret now do that but EAT have done it for longer, but then Pret launched it first years ago. It’s time to find the proof of the pudding. Everyone is always going to copy everyone else. What do they say?: plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery. I’m going to sit right down and see what I think. One vote for one sandwich. Fair and square.

I’m looking at two Egg and Cress sandwiches. The EAT one is the better looking by far. The egg yolk is the brightest of yellows and very attractive. It has a good egg flavour on good moist bread but is asking for black pepper. The Pret one has a very runny consistency is horrendously salty and the bread is very dry. EAT 1 – PRET 0.

Next up Crayfish and Rocket. The colours of this one make it hard to get wrong but visually it’s all about good distribution. The Eat version definitely looks far fuller and is packed to the gunnels with Crayfish and Rocket. It’s 20p cheaper but looks far greater size wise. Breaking into the boxes the Pret sandwich is made on very misshapen bread, the slices small and rounded. There is no question that the Pret crayfish have a far superior meatier and less artificial flavour and their mayo is creamier and tastier too. Size doesn’t 14 PROFILE Sandwich and Snack News October 2005 work here so EAT 1 – PRET 1.

On to Chicken and Avocado with Basil. I think that these ingredients need clear definition and shouldn’t look a mush. That’s almost guaranteed if the chicken and mayo are mixed together as the chicken breaks down. The EAT product looks messy. The Pret chicken is more flavoursome and tastes more natural and their avocado is in perfectly ripe chunky slices with a great new mix of salad leaves that’s totally different to anyone else’s and really delicious. The EAT sandwich has very little basil and the Pret bread is dry again….but overall this one goes to Pret making it EAT 1 – PRET 2.

Next is Tuna Mayo. If the tuna has not been over mixed you can see flakes of tuna. On brown bread this sandwich will always need all the visual help it can get. If the mix is creamy with a little onion it will make a good sandwich. The Eat version is made with low cal mayo which is making the mix a dry eat and its got far too much onion for me. The Pret one has crisp slices of cucumber giving a valuable texture. I think the Pret sandwich is a more balanced product so EAT 1 – PRET 3.

I think everyone should offer a Sandwich of the Week. It gives any range a little weekly uplift, as long as it’s always an interesting proposition and not just another variation of reworked ingredients. When I tried EAT’s it was a Thai Citrus Chicken with peppers and mixed leaves. A good lemony spicy flavour and an interesting alternative to the range. The chicken though was mixed up with mayo again, looking anaemic and pulpy. Pret’s product was Pastrami on Rye; the bread of one half was dry again and the tomatoes were very overripe and squishy. I’ve seen this one a lot before so this one’s going to EAT. So my total marks for what they’re worth are EAT 2 – PRET 3.

At the end of the day anyone can copy products and it’s hardly rocket science. Matching the magic of taste profile, quality of ingredients, freshness and perfect product make up certainly is. It’s an art. I’ve been told that EAT are now making their baguettes freshly on site everyday. Pret always make all their products freshly daily with simply the very best ingredients they can find. (The disappointing exception to this seems to be their bread but I’m sure they’re already working on that). Speaking from experience I can vouch for their huge attention to detail and the massive amount of development that goes into how each and every ingredient finally turn out, invariably with a very strong point of difference that makes it Pret.

Perhaps that’s why they are where they are today after so many years, still very much the leader worth following. How the prices compared:


Egg and Cress 1.30 1.15

Crayfish & Rocket 2.70 2.90

Chicken Avocado 2.70 2.70

Tuna Mayo 1.90 2.20

Sandwich of the Week 2.80 2.95

Download this article as a PDF HERE (2.9Mb)