The passing pedestrians on Blandford Street in Marylebone, an affluent area of central London, were all asking themselves various forms of the same question: What is that man doing taking photos of a pastrami sandwich left out on the pavement?
Wrong question, I thought. If you spotted a beautiful pastrami lying on the London pavement in its brown paper wrapper, open but uneaten, you’d want to take a photo of it, too. I’ve heard of pastrami on rye, pastrami on club roll, pastrami on pumpernickel, pastrami on white, pastrami on a bagel. But pastrami on asphalt? This was exactly the sort of phenomenon the late visionary Steve Jobs had in mind when he fitted the iPhone 4s with a superior camera.
To me the better question would have been: how the heck did that sandwich get there? I can answer that, if you will permit me to back up 25 minutes to where this all started…
The sky in London town was grey and I was hungry. In other words, an autumn day pretty much like any other. Just before 1pm I arrived at The Deli West One, a new New York-styled kosher deli. I scanned the menu posted behind the sandwich counter and decided that a home-cured kosher salt beef sandwich would do nicely. (Salt beef is the British counterpart to New York corned beef). But just to be on the safe side I also ordered a quarter-pound beef hot dog with sauerkraut as a side course. As for the home-cured pastrami also on offer, that would have to wait for a return visit.
Sadly the salt beef sandwich (£8.50) I consumed on the premises was somewhat smallish, as you can see from the photo below. The meat, though nicely rimmed with fat, was a tad tough and dry and the rye was limp, with no oomph in the middle and little chew-and-tear in the crust.
The hot dog (£5) was plump and meaty, with the right quotient of garlic and what tasted like paprika. Its casing, natural or not, might have been crunchier, allowing for a juicy snap with every bite, but that’s maybe expecting too much from a kosher frankfurter in Britain. I would gladly walk a London mile for the Deli West One hot dog, as I might, truth be told, for its slim salt beef sandwich. I would not, however, run a mile for either.
Upon exiting I caught a glimpse of a cracked-peppercorn-encrusted pastrami brisket under the carver’s knife. It looked good. It looked very good. I pulled out my camera.
– No you don’t, indicated the man behind the counter, wearing his baseball cap backwards and his New York accent forwards.
– But it’s for my blog, I protested.
– Sorry, if you need photos you can take them off our website www.thedelilondon.com
I’ll show him, I told myself. I stormed out of the deli in a huff, but not before ordering a takeaway pastrami sandwich (£8.50). Once on the street I found a wind-swept patch of pavement, laid out the sandwich and began snapping away.
This is how a beautiful home-cured, hand-carved pastrami sandwich ends up on the London sidewalk, under the foodtographer’s lens.
So how was the sandwich? Fabulous! More flavour per molecule of meat than any Jewish deli sandwich I’d ever tried in the UK. True, the thinly sliced pastrami could have been a little more tender and melty moist to the chew. The rye bread was squishy, as before. But the Deli West One pastrami lying on the Blandford Street at 1:20pm on 7 November 2011 Kingdom represented a whole new dimension in, well, street food. As I bent down towards the ground and devoured that sandwich the passing pedestrians asked themselves more questions:
– Would he walk a mile for that sandwich? No.
– Would he run a mile for it? No.
– He (that is to say, me) would hail a cab.