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27 July 2009

The Bull & Last

Thomas Friedman's Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention has been discredited, but I feel that the academic field of peace studies has a lot to learn from my contribution

I've never claimed to be a social scientist (although I am by training, but let's ignore that) so I want to revise my thesis and argue that in fact toasted cheese sandwiches are the answer to peace.  A great cheese sandwich is the apotheosis of a great civilisation. Think about what goes into it: the right bread; cheese that melts to the correct extent; cooking time - do you want bubbling or burnt cheese? and finally, condiments if any.

And I think that The Bull & Last's cheddar and spring onion toastie might just be what the world is after.  You might feel a cheese sandwich is a bit prosaic for the high-brow Silverbrow, but good places get the basics very right.

What I got was two not-quite doorsteps of toasted granary, between which was oozing cheese and onion.  Admittedly it turned up on a rather fussy wooden board that wasn't big enough to stop oniony cheese streaming onto the table, but the sandwich itself was delicious.  Maybe I'm not sufficiently inventive, but I'd never thought about combining spring onion in a toasted sandwich.  It's far from the craziest combo, nonetheless, not one I'd considered for a toasty.  And it works so well.  So well.  And the sweet pepperiness of the sandwich was nicely offset by the not-too-sweet onion pickle.

Now, although I say getting the simple things right is the sign of a great restaurant, they do sometimes get things wrong: my green beans with garlic were overcooked, tasteless and a oily.  But I'll ignore that because at the same time as delivering my very spicy tomato juice, the very sweet waitress also put on my table a jug of water WITH ICE and bread and butter.  Very cold water, bread and butter are all things that make me a happy diner.    

Oh and good ice-cream only makes things better.  I had wanted one of the cartons of chocolate ice-cream but was told I wasn't allowed them as they are for take-away only.  I had to stay on-menu.  I found this slightly odd as I was there mid-week and there was barely anyone else around, they weren't about to run out of take-away pots.  Nonetheless, I was convinced to try the Ferrero Rocher ice-cream when I was assured by the bar man that it wasn't ice-cream made from Ferrrero Rocher, but ice-cream flavours that constituted the chocolate ball (chocolate, gianduia, hazelnut nibs) and it was very good.  Someone in their kitchen is a dab hand with frozen custard.

What was supposed to be a quick working turned into a thoroughly enjoyable meal that promises a lot for bigger, better experiences.  At long last North London has a gastropub it can be proud of.

UPDATE: I had dinner here last week and it was just as good an experience as my cheese sandwich lunch.  I implore you to try the anchovy beignets if they're on the menu.  Large anchovies, deep fried in a perfectly crunchy, unsoggy batter, served with the best tartare sauce I can remember eating - a reminder that sauces should be more than an afterthought to pep-up dull ingredients.

Google Maps

The Bull & Last, 168 Highgate Road, London, NW5 1QS, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7267 3641

What others think

Giles Coren - I’ve been back and back and back. Ten, maybe 12 visits.
Dos Hermanos - The Bull and Last is an absolutely terrific gaff.
Gourmet Chick - The. Best. Chips. In. London.


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Couldn't agree more, and, here in Scotland, a sandwich is known as a "piece".... surely more than mere coincidence?
My recipe's pinched from a student flatmate who only ever cooked one thing, this- white bread lightly toasted, topped with thick slices of cheddar then grilled until just melted. Next the simple stroke of genius with which, for me, it transends all other toasted cheese pieces- loads of freshly ground black pepper. Wash it down with black coffee. Sublime. Peace.

Thanks Wine Splodge, my sister in law introduced me to the wonders of toasted cheese and marmite, this is pretty special as well.

Very much enjoyed the account of the sandwich. They are so massively under-rated. Sounds like they got things spot on.

Jon, it was very good. Perhaps one for the sandwichist??

Ermm... Very much so. Let me have a think about what the theme could be.

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