Foxcroft and Ginger
Exceptionally executed food is worth paying for and, most importantly, worth returning for. London sandwich bar Foxcroft and Ginger brings a very big smile to Nellie Nichols’ face “that only truly great food brings”
I had no idea the original purpose of the pommel horse, when it was invented centuries ago, was for soldiers to practice mounting and dismounting – even Alexander the Great had one.
God knows when it suddenly became artistic gym apparatus. We had one at school which I remember spending many happy hours leaping over, which was the much cosier and warmer alternative to hours spend on the lacrosse fields of Regents Park in the rain.
Of course I must have been considerably more athletic in those days – I can’t imagine swinging about on it now for love or money, without doing myself a permanent injury.
I don’t think I’ve seen once since, so it came as a bit of a surprise to find not one but two in the downstairs seating area of Foxcroft and Ginger in Berwick Street in Soho. When I walked down there to wait for Quintin Foxcroft, the owner, I think I realised I’m over the industrial look of mismatched furniture and grungy exposed walls that lie in wait for me, even though they seem to be very in vogue at the moment.
I’m struggling to understand if this is just a constant excuse for not decorating properly in the first place and then having the added bonus of saving on lampshades; ceilings duly adorned with a spaghetti of hanging wires and bare lightbulbs, seating provided by awful odd chairs and tables. And then everyone is expected to drink out of mismatched china to boot. But when you go to the lengths Quintin later tells me he has done, to not only locate two antique pommel horses, but also a full size ancient British flag that covers one wall, I admit in this case it is probably genuinely intentional.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Foxcroft and Ginger, the second branch of which is in Shoreditch in the world’s first pop up mall, Box Park.
I thought the whole point of a pop up was it popped up and then disappeared, but this one is obviously slightly more permanent with a life expectancy of five years. Sixty shipping containers have been stripped and refitted to create unique low cost, low risk ‘box shops’, to create a ‘retail revolution’.
A brilliant concept and one, no doubt, that will give a lot of sleepless nights if it catches on to the agents, who are trying to off load the growing number of expensive empty rentals in London’s West End.
Foxcroft and Ginger in Soho is in Berwick Street, home of the infamous market. On the day I visited there was barely a sign a market has ever been there, the street freer of the rotting cabbages and stray oranges that rolled around in the kerbs the last time I was here, and little sign of the traders vying to sell their metal bowls full of miserable and withered peppers.
I gather there have been hopeful whispers of pedestrianising it as part of the cleaner Soho campaign. It’s what the decent shop holders are hoping for and what will make quite a commercial difference to businesses such as Foxcroft and Ginger.
But what is interesting is that despite the slight backwater it resides in, this is a thriving cult of a sandwich shop that has already made a substantial mark with its food. What’s even more remarkable is that Quintin tells me he is a self-taught baker and all the bread used in his shops is his own. Not happy with the inconsistency and lack of quality and high prices charged by many of the London bakers he decided to learn to do it himself. His sourdough starter, he tells me with some pride, is now nine months old. If it had been me I would have gone for finding a well- established live starter of many years and continued with that, but Quintin tells me he wants to do everything himself.
As I taste some of his bread he tells me how he’s not quite happy with the crust and how he will improve the crumb. In my opinion I think it’s delicious, but this is clearly a work in progress to be respected.
His team of five in the kitchen include a pastry chef who constantly produces a changing repertoire of cakes: cardamom, Victoria sponges and their best selling banana bread, and next up I’m tasting one of his brownies and an apple and custard muffin.
It turns out to be anything but an ordinary apple and custard muffin; I’m biting into nuggets of apple just below the surface that sit above an oozing centre of custard below
It turns out to be anything but an ordinary apple and custard muffin; I’m biting into nuggets of apple just below the surface that sit above an oozing centre of custard below, and this reminds me that being wonderfully surprised by food as you eat it is without doubt one of the best pleasures in life.
I’ve never been a massive fan of French Toast but Quintin wants me to try Foxcroft’s iconic all-day version. This is potential fresh air in the world of breakfast menus, dominated entirely it seems at this present moment in London by porridge and yoghurt pots. But it’s conjuring up in my mind greasy fried bread, somewhere along the line, dipped in watery egg, altogether very regrettable once eaten.
What is put before me is something else. Two fat slices of Quintin’s homemade white loaf, dipped and cooked to a crisp in his special egg custard, literally oozing with feisty cheddar, wonderful béchamel sauce and slices of delicious ham, all drizzled over with a honey mustard and bravely costed at £4.75. It is without question simply sensational and can confidently command that price. This is a dish that is simple and straightforward – so often so wrong, but here executed perfectly.
Foxcroft’s sandwiches are now lined up like soldiers along the counter ready for lunch, fillings spilling out at both sides, presenting that all too rare and very difficult conundrum of which one to choose. I have the chicken breast with aubergine, mozzarella, cumin and yoghurt with rocket toasted. There is a braised mushroom with fresh cherry tomatoes and haloumi, a chorizo with sweet potato puree and feta, a Toulouse sausage and red onion jam. Quintin makes his own sausages and is currently experimenting with curing his own chorizo. His sandwiches come on wooden boards with a tiny pile of sea salt and pepper. His sea salt is hand harvested in Brittany and tastes fabulously of the sea. I think I am in love with this food.
I know plenty of places in London who are charging top dollar for their completely average and unmemorable sandwiches; misguided and overcomplicated recipes that under deliver but over tax the wallet.
I was beginning to believe it truly wasn’t possible to charge the £5.00 mark for an honestly delicious sandwich and grow a healthy lunchtime trade in these challenging times, when every pound is held on to for as long as humanly possible.
Foxcroft and Ginger are proving that exceptionally executed food is worth paying for and most importantly worth returning for. As I leave I turn down Berwick Street, carrying my special present of a bag of that hand harvested Brittany salt, the most special salt I have ever had. I shall be using it very carefully to make it last as long as possible. And there is a very big smile on my face that only truly great food brings.
Foxcroft & Ginger: * * * *
* Poor, not my cup of tea
* * 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