New international sandwich concepts are arriving thick and fast in London, now surely the sandwich capital of the world. Nellie Nichols chases up one of the recent arrivals – the Argentinian Lomito, at the recently opened Moo Grill in Spitalfields.
What an insular sandwich bubble I’ve been living in. I thought I had come across the lot, partaken in the lion’s share of most of them and could identify the rest.
Rotis from India, melts, wraps and subs from the Americas, piadinas from Italy, baguettes from France – you name it and I think I’ve tried it in one form or another. Sandwiches are, after all, one of the first things I seek out when I arrive on a foreign shore. But then I’ve never been to Argentina.
I’ve decided London is developing a hugely relevant underground sandwich scene to shake us all out of our wedges. Not all of it is good, and some concepts deliver many an ingredient too far, but all of them are showing us that the world is reaching out to London in some sandwich guise to show us a sprinkle of indigenous charm.
Recent Top 10 Sandwich lists in many publications such as The London Evening Standard, Time Out and Young and Foodish are mentioning the likes of Banhm11’s Vietnamese baguette stall at Broadway Market; Katsu Sando’s, Japan’s answer to a breadcrumbed fried chicken sandwich at Tsuru in the City; Jewish/Caribbean hybrid Jerk chicken bagels at Mr Bagel in hippest Dalston, and the authentic Palestinian style falafel wraps at Mr Falafel in Shepherds Bush Market.
The fascination for me in all of these is in their instantaneous preparation; warm ingredients dripping with deliciousness and not a chilled cabinet as far as the eye can see. These sandwiches are invariably made to order, thrown together in the organised chaos borne of the pressure of the queue, eaten in a trice by the hungry passing customer.
And now I’ve come across London to sample one of the newest and most talked about of these new arrivals. All the way from Argentina comes their national treasure, the Lomito, brought here by the recently opened Moo Grill in Spitalfields.
Now this is no ordinary sandwich but one that offers its consumer choice and lots of flexibility. A lunchtime staple, comfort food doubling up as what has to be the perfect hangover cure or stomach liner before a lads night out, a traditional steak sandwich in the extreme. Its classic version is the ‘Simple’ one, thin slices of Argentinean rump steak, tomato, lettuce, homemade garlic mayo and a generous drizzle of Chimichurri – the most delicious sauce made from all manner of things including parsley, olive oil, vinegar and pepper.
Taking a week to mature to its full flavour, this is the piquant soulmate of all Argentinean steaks. But I’m going for the full Monty; not for the faint hearted, the ‘Completo’ version is made with all the aforementioned ingredients crammed in with additional slices of ham, grated mozzarella cheese and, of all things, a fried egg. Not the fried egg as we know it, but an egg cracked on the hot grill and then lovingly teased and mixed and chased around it, so it finally resembles a mosaic of crispiness. The final version is a DIY one – change the main ingredient from beef to either chicken or aubergine, or just custom make your own.
This sandwich is such a cult in Argentinean parts it has its own Facebook page and a U Tube video to boot showing how one should be made, all to the sound of genuine Cumbian Latin American music and I urge you to watch it, because it is without doubt utterly brilliant and will brighten up the dullest day (www.therealargentina.com).
“This sandwich is such a cult in Argentinean parts it has its own Facebook page and a U Tube video to boot showing how one should be made ”
I have to say it’s fast becoming one of my all time favourite U Tube videos. My best bit is the application of salt which would be enough to give my favourite UK salt police their very own heart attack just watching it being administered with such culinary gay abandon.
So here I am entering the somewhat dark cavernous interior of the Moo Grill. On the doorstep are two extremely small potted olive trees. In the fullness of time and with a lot of encouragement they may one day become trees, but realistically are likely to fall sadly short of ever being the intended source of the olives I later see balancing on the end of cocktail sticks holding my lunch together.
Inside is light years from the food to go café and coffee shop I was expecting. Wooden tables and chairs and a bar form what seems, without doubt, a bone fide restaurant and upstairs there is an even bigger seating area.
At the bar drinking coffee are the smiling faces of Jose and Alberto, the owners, and Jose’s brother Juan Paul. On the wall is a photograph of them with Gordon Ramsey, happy memories of when, merely a year ago their other restaurant, Santa Maria Del Sur in Queenstown Road won third place in The F Word.
Gordon loved their Argentinean steaks and in no time they felt encouraged enough to move onto their next venture: Moo Grill. They all brim with enthusiasm and each time the door opens familiar faces are recognised and greetings, food orders and hugs are exchanged.
In amongst all this I sit at the counter filled with trepidation. No matter how often I have asked for a small Lomito I somehow think I am clutching at Argentinean straws as all I get in response are even bigger reassuring smiles.
I always feel duty bound to give finishing whatever food has been put in front of me my best shot, but in this case I realise in advance this is simply a ridiculous notion.
The enthusiastic preparation of my lunch is now very much underway in the kitchen amidst a flurry of shouting and activity, and the Lomito I am told will be hotly pursued by some Empanadas (imagine, if you can, an Argentinean Cornish pastie – I know but it’s true they do have one) and a Carlitos, their very own version of a toasted sandwich.
The sheer enormity of my Lomito when it arrives is hard to visually comprehend. A vast and mountainous ciabatta beast cut in half, each piece anchored by a retro tooth pick and green olive, piled high with slices of steak, ham, fried egg, melted cheese, tomato, homemade garlic mayo and Chimichurri sauce. It then struck me that this would be perfect as one on the top ten list of last suppers on earth if one ever had to order one.
So I’m in there with open jaws as wide as I can make them go without doing myself harm. This would certainly not be a sandwich to ever eat on a date; there is simply no way of eating it with even a shred of finesse and I am realistically resigned before I start to a chin dripping experience.
“I’m in there with open jaws as wide as I can make them go without doing myself harm…”
Then I am met by the most surprisingly delicious shattering of ciabatta in all my born days. My expectation whenever I have to eat a sandwich made on ciabatta is invariably accompanied by a heavy heart. It’s the thought of all that teeth wrenching chewiness. But here I am overwhelmed by the lightest, springiest, pillow soft interior, encased in the thinnest crunchiest crust imaginable and the overall experience of this sandwich is, well, just fantastic.
Now there is no way I’d eat one everyday and the calories wouldn’t be advisable on anyone’s hips and waistline either, but I can see where they are coming from. From a girl’s perspective they need to get a smaller loaf to tap into the female market but when all is said and done there is no doubt its got lengthy legs as a concept in the UK.
I’m hugely impressed with the oven baked beef Empanadas, they are little and cute and very moreish and I can see the different flavours having huge appeal. The ones I try are a far lighter eat than their distant Cornish relatives and don’t sit in the stomach like a lead weight you wish you hadn’t eaten.
I manage to make inroads into the toasted sandwich, remarkably transformed with the addition of the Chimichurri sauce but simply can’t believe Jose’s serious suggestion of then following it with some of their ever popular breakfast pancakes and famous butterscotch sauce. More than anything I want to be able to walk to Liverpool Station with some dignity left, rather than crawl clutching my stomach.
I haven’t tried the vast array of cakes, milk shakes and other goodies but the menu is wide in its choice without being too unrealistic – they’ve tried to think of everything, but if I was them I’d just concentrate on the main event.
I’d love these boys to open another store quickly with a proper commercial focus on take away. With a heated pass a la McDonalds of waiting wrapped lomitos they would achieve a faster transaction time and that, coupled together with the facility to order in advance that they have on their website, would get the volume through they set out to capture. Then Lomitos just might rise up to become one of the popular of hot sandwiches in town. Perhaps without the toothpicks and olives.
The Moo Grill, 4 Cobb Street, London, E1 7LB.
Tel: 020 7377 9276