There are many dangerous places on Earth. The North Face of the Eiger. The Mount Hua Shan hiking route. Syria, Somalia and, thanks to the recent weather, the Severn Valley are all pretty undesirable places at present. And we also have the Selfridges Food Hall, in London. A tragically tempting maze of rooms, concessions and counters which draw you in with colours, keep you there with the smells and where the flavours will have you part with your cash… all your cash. Remember the astronomically expensive pop tarts I mentioned a while back?
Casting aside bullion-priced super-sugary breakfast snacks, mini bottles of pink Moët at £18.95 a pop (great pun there) and those wanky brick-sized Snickers bars at twenty quid each, a corner of the food halls brings blessed sanity and relief in two distinct forms – main course and pudding. Pudding is Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and we know how awesome they are so let’s move back to main course – The Brass Rail salt beef bar.
Essentially an ‘L’-shaped counter, with a refreshingly articulate chef taking the orders as you come in and a drinks stand and payment terminal at the far end, The Brass Rail (complete with an actual Brass Rail, in case you’re worried about false advertising), looks pretty unassuming, particularly when set up next to the colourful, sugary food-porn that is Krispy Kreme, across the aisle.
It’s a bit of an institution apparently, if you do your homework. The main carver, Saj, has been at The Brass Rail for over years and salt beef aficionados are known to trek here (if you’re into salt beef, then it’s seen as one of the best delis in London) and even jockey for position to get the freshest cuts of salt beef and pastrami, when it’s straight out of the stove and onto the carving block.
I’m ignorant and/or follow my stomach so there was no such jockeying for me – I was straight in. The queue can get horrific on a normal weekday lunchtime (our moneyed friends in Mayfair like to come here with the same prevalence as Mike > Starbucks) but for me, a salt beef sandwich on Christmas Eve lunch is something of a tradition, though this year we went bigger.
In addition to the ‘standard’ salt beef sandwich which is essential a carved-up half cow between two pieces of bread with an optional gherkin perched on the side, The Brass Rail also does a cracking Reuben, along with other smaller sarnies and a few lighter bites. Our lunch hour at work is actually half an hour (godda luv hotels) so we were banking on no queue and the Christmas Eve storm to hold off (I had no umbrella to get myself from Park Lane to Oxford Street) Luckily it was two for two but hang on – the Reuben wasn’t on the menu.
I was in the middle of making a hurried phone call to Jamie, telling him that we would be resorting to Plan B after all (a trip to the Subway next door) when all of a sudden I was next in line to be served, and that’s when I saw the elusive sandwich on the specials board… for £fifteen… this better be worth it.
We lucked out with freshly carved meat (I had mine made up with salt beef, Jamie’s was with pastrami) and as the carver was asking us if we “understood it’s a double-decker sandwich” (erm, yes), he was already slapping on the swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and gherkin onto the tender rye bread. Turns out ordering two of these babies causes a small queue to become massive… and how dare a woman three people behind ‘tut’ at me?
Sandwiches wrapped and paid for, I ran back to the hotel just as the storm restarted, grabbed my colleagues and headed to the canteen. I grabbed some spuds and a coke and tucked in.
The Reuben is worth every penny of that fifteen quid. Every freakin’ penny. For a start, it’s bigger than Lady Gaga… and just as smothered in red meat. The fillings are generous, to say the least… and cooked exceptionally well. The smoked brisket just falls apart, making the sandwich biteable, rather than taking one mouthful and having all of the filing dragged away with it. Boo! Jamie’s pastime Reuben was just as good, apparently.
Without having too many other points of reference (I tend to only occasionally eat sandwiches, and usually they’re from Tesco), The Brass Rail will take some beating, but whereas the offerings will make your mouth water, the bill will have the same effect on your eyes. That is why this will remain an annual treat, well, that and also if I kept on getting lunch here, I would succumb to a new type of danger – becoming biologically similar to a cow.
Salt Beef sandwiches @ £ten, Reubens @£fifteen though you can order half portions if you’re a girl
At Selfridges on Oxford Street.