The problem is you, not the sandwiches

Sorry, has this man actually ever been to London or New York?

At present we are offered a ‘choice’ between an oligopoly of three or four chains, all spending so much money on advertising and formulaic minimalist interiors, that they haven’t got enough left over to spend on a filling, so have to make up for this with mayonnaise. The main alternatives are those italian sandwich bars, which are scarcely any more appetising.

Yet if real, vigorous competition were to arrive – a new cafe selling better food, for a decent price – would anyone notice? If it was in the toytown world of Borough Market, maybe, but elsewhere people would be either too distracted to spot it or then too busy to remember it. The problem in such situations, as the left liked to complain about markets, is inadequate information and rationality. Whereas the discerning New Yorker would discover such a place, tell their friends, and carry on eating there until an even better option had arisen, the Londoner dolefully heads off to Pret for another ‘Bacon Mayo Supermayo’.

I mean, seriously. London’s Italian cafĂ©s are pretty good; our chains aren’t at all bad (Eat, Leon and Pret are better than most of the food, chain or non-chain, that gets served anywhere, even if you eat the no-mayo sandwiches, which is a lot of them); and most of New York’s delis are absolutely bloody awful…

Is there a word, beyond ‘lying’, for this kind of claim – that a sandwich served by a company is inherently worse than a sandwich served by a worker, that a small grocery shop provides a better range and better service than a supermarket, that Fawlty Towers is better than a Malmaison, and so on? It’s analogous to the pastoralist belief that 12 hours a day of back-breaking manual labour on a starvation diet followed by death at 40 is better than an oh so unnatural modern lifestyle – and very nearly as silly.

Update: although I stand by my views on London sandwiches in general, the tuna melt I had this lunchtime from Bagel Factory is one of the most inedible things I’ve ever been served – I had to throw it away after a single bite. And I’ve happily eaten chicken feet and fish eyes…

2 thoughts on “The problem is you, not the sandwiches

  1. Hmmm. As a worker in the public secter in…er…Swindon…the choice is somewhat limited.

    McDonalds and Burger King being the main competitors.

    There are a few non-interesting sandwich bars catering for mono-culture too.

    There are two cheerful exception to this, however.

    "Swindon's No 1 Tramcar" offers crispy bacon in Delice de France baguettes. The lady dispensing these usually ask's " do you want butter on that ?"

    I decline gracefully and go for the unadorned item.

    Secondly, "The Blues Bar" is a straightforward Cafe. Clean, ordinary and decent, it offers Swindon's hard-pressed punters a fair shout at retreating into a steamy and 50's-style sojourn. One of the waitresses has an accent to adore. She is 50 ish and has a Spanish Look.

    What more could a man want whilst trying to prevent Gordon Brown and Dave destroying Britain with silliness?


  2. I can relate to that…

    I now work in central London, with sandwich shops galore, ranging from the traditional chains to the Italians via the unspeakable bagel shop through to the work canteen /and/ work sandwich bar.

    But before that I worked in a miserable suburban street, where the options included:

    1) a café which sold sandwiches that tasted of cigarette ash, run by a large middle-aged Eastern European couple who resembled Serbian war criminals

    2) a café run by an insane Italian lady with dyed orange hair, who kept ranting about how much she hated the immigrants. Terrible food (except for the hangover bacon rolls), but nice coffee.

    3) one of the six kebab and fried chicken shops within a 100 metre radius of the office

    4) nearly-edible sandwiches delivered by a succession of stoned Antipodeans on bikes

    5) the pub near the office, which managed to combined being perpetually near-empty with vaguely menacing chav-den vibes. And didn't serve food.

    6) the pub down the road, which managed to combined being perpetually near-empty with vaguely menacing chav-den vibes. And served unspeakably awful food.

    We usually ended up going for 6, or 5 on a bad day. No wonder we seldom got any work done…

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