Top 5 salt beef sandwiches in London

simmering salt beef brisketssalt beef pavement signsalt beef sandgherkins at Brass Rail salt beef barSalt beef, like New York-style corned beef, is a Jewish deli meat made from beef briskets cured in brine. The salt breaks down the tough brisket meat while letting its flavours emerge.  Salt beef ought not be an exercise in aerobic mastication, as some London purveyors would have you believe, nor should it be stringy and dry. (The residual salt is already enough to build a two-pint thirst.) In a proper sandwich the meat surrenders instantly to the chew, melting in the mouth and flooding it with flavor.

B&K brisketsWhen sourcing briskets that have already been cured, as most (but not all) London salt beef bars do, meat texture comes down to cooking, conditioning and carving. First, the cured briskets should be patiently simmered for several hours. Second, the meat should be kept hot, wet and tender in a hot bath or steamer to within minutes of the time it is trimmed and carved – preferably hand-carved. Prolonged exposure to heat lamps will demoisturize the beef as surely as it would your skin.

I also think it’s important to have a crusty rye bread with enough density and chew to support the meat, an opinion not shared by the salt beef bars who seem to prefer thin slices from fluffy ryes better suited to afternoon tea. When you hold a sandwich you can feel the contours of the fillings through the flimsy bread. This is layer-upon-layer of sweaty brisket we’re talking about, not a single neat row of thinly sliced cucumber.

click here for map of top 5 salt beef sandwiches in London

5. Selfridges Brass Rail

brass railselfridges carver
The department store location is upmarket and so is the price: At £7.50 it’s the lone sandwich in the London top 5 that can’t be had for under a fiver. All the same, I love the fact that even after the recent move and refurnishing the Brass Rail salt beef bar has retaining its authenticity. It’s a London institution. Knowing regulars jockey for position on the queue, sitting back as an untested carver allocates the scrappier bits to others and pushing forward as an old hand cuts into pristine parts of a juicy new brisket. (Novelist Howard Jacobson wrote brilliantly about this moral minefield in this opinion piece for the Independent). That no two servings are exactly the same might be a greater source of anxiety were it not for another given: a Selfridges salt beef is never worse than extremely good. Now, if they would only upgrade the limp rye bread…
Selfridges Ground Floor, 400 Oxford Street, W1

4. Tongue & Brisket

24-26 Leather Lane, EC1N 7SU (map)

3. Salt Beef Bar

salt beef bar frontsalt beef bar open facechris christopoulou jrNot one for uncertainty, Chris Christopoulou named his son Chris and raised him to take his place at the salt beef bar called The Salt Beef Bar. The unambiguous name of this eatery in North West London did not, however, deter a man in a tracksuit from popping in and asking about vegetarian options. Chris Christopoulou the Younger must have figured he was about to outdo his father and become the first in his family to sell a mustard and gherkin sandwich. But the Adidas bloke walked out and Chris resumed what he does best: carefully trimming the briskets and carving the sort of pristinely pink slices of salt beef that make carnivores giddy. If only the rye bread were not so lacking in substance.
2 Monkville Parade, Finchley Road, NW11

2. B&K Salt Beef Bar

b&k salt beef barB&K sand openYou don’t have to be Jewish to get the most out of this nonkosher deli, but it does help to know how to kibbitz. If John Georgiou, one of the Greek-Cypriot co-owners, is assembling your sandwich, be sure to stand close to the counter and tell him you think his brother Michael is more generous with the pristine house-cured salt beef. If Michael is wielding the carver’s knife and fork, advise him that John’s portions are a lot bigger. If you aren’t sure which brother is which, just make it known that nobody piles on the meat like Dina, John’s wife. Then, when one of the Georgious wraps up a sandwich too large to fit in anyone’s mouth whose name isn’t Lily Allen, ask for two extra slices of rye and have yourself two SBs for the price of one from one of the last salt beef bars left in London that brines its own briskets.
11 Lanson House, HA8

1. Montys Deli

Arch 76, Druid Street, SE1 2HQ (map)

About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish

Comments

  1. Jo Jordan says:

    Now you are talking!

    Funny – rare to see salt beef here – abundant in NZ where ham/pork was scarce

    Great English delicacy – must be in Mrs Beeton- but served like a pot roast.

  2. Chris Pople says:

    They all look fantastic – and a lovely bit of research there. But have you tried the salt beef beigel from Brick Lane?

  3. Dan says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Chris. The most recent of my visits to the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane was in March and I found its salt beef to be as rubbery as ever. I would agree, however, that the beigel is preferable as a sandwich bread to the limp rye breads.

  4. Gastro1 says:

    Great piece will have to try De Gustibus even though I don’t actually like any of their bread very much.

    Guess top 5 or 10 bakeries in London needs to be covered soon !

  5. Dan says:

    @Gastro1 Look forward to hearing about your De Gustibus salt beef experience. As for top 5/10 bakeries, that would be a daunting project.

  6. Breaks my heart that not a single Jewish establishment is in there. Not saying you’re wrong, just a sad sign of the times. Nonetheless I had a pretty good one at Reuben’s recently, but I appreciate it might not be the finest.

    Have you been to Bloom’s in Golders Green? Admittedly my meal with Jay Rayner was a shocker but prior to that, the salt beef had been pretty good.

    You’ve given me the impetus to pickle my own beef. I’ve been meaning to do it for sometime but now I’m going to give it a go. We need to reclaim the crown!

  7. Dan says:

    Me too, Anthony. I did try Bloom’s and Reuben’s but their salt beefs were clearly inferior, their sandwiches were thinner and the prices were much higher even when allowing for the extra cost of certified kosher meat.

  8. Great post, love salt beef – shallll have to try Nosh, et al.

    Shame about the limp rye, so disappointing :( good bread shouldn’t be difficult to make or at least procure. Agree with Gastro1 perhaps a review of the top bakeries in London is due?

  9. Bron says:

    Lovely piece but was surprised not to see Gaby’s at Leicester Square on the list. Will definitely try Nosh next time I’m passing.

  10. Dan says:

    Top bakeries in London might be too ambitious, Signe. Maybe we could start with rye.

  11. Dan says:

    Do try Nosh Bar, Bron, and let me know what you think.

  12. Gastro1 says:

    At the moment I’m struggling to find a better bakery than Baker & Spice for Croissants , Pain au Choc , Sourdough , Campagne , Baguette , Wholemeal , Hazelnut and Raisin but no Rye http://www.bakerandspice.uk.com/categories.aspx?c=61

  13. Bron says:

    Not a huge range but St John bakery makes sublime bread. Rye, sourdough, soda bread, raisin bread, and white and brown. Blissfully good.

  14. Still prefer Hobbs, Borough market, for consistent quality as well as presentation. And they do pork (with stuffing and crackle), turkey (dressing), roast beef as well as salt beef which is served from Dickensian platters.

    It`s only a kiosk mind but what a kiosk and they`ll serve half a sandwich is you ask nicely.

    Sandra
    London Street Market Walks

  15. Donna Gelb says:

    So glad to see Selfridges Brass Rail is on here! My parents used to take us for salt beef and shopping on Saturdays in the ’60s. We expat New Yorkers didn’t know of any other salt beef source back then.

  16. Mario Seradi says:

    The obsession with low fat food has ruined the salt beef sandwich as all the fat is removed.Phil Rabins & Nosh Bar circa 50s/70s was how it should be.Farmers now raise beef to have minimum fat levels & the result is dry tasteless beef.Where can I get a brisket like it should be

  17. Mik Sakkarin says:

    A big thumbs up for the BK bar, over half a pound of melt-in-the-mouth salt beef!

    http://www.carta.co.uk/beebstuff/saltbeefsarnie25.jpg

  18. Dan says:

    Mik – Thanks for your comment and discriminating thumbs: I too am a big fan of B & K. Your photo of the salt beef does not, however, make it look melty. Did you somehow remove the sheen of glistening fatty juices in photoshop?

  19. Tony Peck says:

    I grew up in north london, and spend many hours peddling up Stamford Hill to get my bosses Salt Beef sandwiches, ludkas etc. – Relief was freewheeling down!
    I have spent the the last 2 years trying out so the called salt beef they sell now.
    Last time we tried B&K – dry too lean – tasted it had been cooked and warmed up – horrible.
    Last night I tried Delisserie in Temple Fortune – sorry Latkes were reasonable but the salt beef was like New York Pastrami far too lean and dry!
    Where next please!

  20. Andy Peat says:

    I’m surprised scotts of covent garden isn’t mentioned. I suggest you give them a go, I hunt them out every time I’m in london. Their salt beef sandwich on rye is the best I’ve ever tasted. (served with large pickle to boot)

  21. Andrew horton says:

    Every Tuesday, when my once-a-week colleague John comes to work, we go to The Coach and Horses on Wellington Street, Covent Garden. They do a lovely salt beef sandwich – and if you are interested they do a pretty damn nice roast beef sandwich too. Lots of meat, choice of bread and some pickle on the side. And cheap too.

  22. Martin says:

    I would not recommend Gaby’s for the top 5.
    i’ve had plenty of Salt Beef sandwiches from there its true, I’ll probably still have a few more. (But this is mainly because I wander past there from time to time.)
    Like any other Salt Beef joint in it would appear that their Salt Beef is “famous” (not sure why everybodies salt beef is famous, it just appears to be that way.)
    However, almost every time I have been there I remind myself why I should just walk on by the moment they put my sandwich in the microwave.
    Microwaved salt beef is wrong, doing the microwaving after the beef is on the bread is even wronger!
    Keep Gaby’s off the list until they throw away the microwave!

  23. Liam Westley says:

    I rate the salt beef sandwedges sold at The Wenlock Arms near Old Street, but you do have to get there early before they run out, especially on the quiz night on Thursday.

  24. garry says:

    best uncooked salt beef brisket.

  25. Genti says:

    I have try shops that sell Salt Beef but DEGUSTIBUS it`s much better as it comes with the bread of your choice ,
    Fantastic Sandwich.

  26. Martin Huntman says:

    I am English and live in Spain on a recent visit to London I had a salt beef sandwich in Churchill Hotel W1. it was the worst and most expensive I have ever eaten very dry over done and the bread terrible.

  27. Will Yates says:

    If you have not tried them – get down to Amigos on the corner of Red Lion St. & Eagle St. (Holborn)

    There Salt Beef on Rye with mustard & pickles inspired me to brine & cook my own brisket salt beef.

    Get there early – around 11am; they sell out by 2pm I’d say

    https://p.twimg.com/AjhAYdXCMAARVcQ.png:large

  28. Simon says:

    I discovered B&K via an american book “Save The Deli” which said it was one of the best in the world. I think this is true. Well worth making the long treck to Edgware to visit.

  29. Anthony says:

    Have you tried the salt beef yet at West one Deli very nice!

  30. Daniel Young says:

    Anthony – I have, both last November, soon after Deli West One opened, and again this month. It’s much improved and now belongs on this list.

  31. David says:

    Was just reading this as I adore Salt Beef and was shocked to see Harry Morgan’s was not on this list? I have been going there with my family for years and the Salt Beef is just superb. Your no 1 choice B&K I went to years ago and wouldnt go back it just looked dirty to me and Selfridges which I have been to recently serves beef that is so rubbery you could bounce it off the wall. I suggest an update….. what about Mishkins…lots more Salt Beef going on in London than the above…

  32. Daniel Young says:

    David – I’ve tried Harry Morgan’s salt beef twice at two separate locations and don’t rate it highly. Please note that most salt beef bars in London, including Mishkins, use the same supplier for pre-brined briskets, Hensons. Their recipes are therefore identical. My preference is for those who brine their own, though I acknowledge that places like Selfridges Brass Rail and Brick Lane Beigel Bake are cultural institutions.

  33. June Pickering says:

    The other week I had a fix of salt beef at Selfridge’s. I’ve been there quite a few times and have enjoyed the salt beef, although it’s always too thickly cut for the likes of East Coast, America me. This recent time, the beef was horrible – dried out and rubbery. I will go back again and hope this was just an aberration.

  34. Hi there Im starting a new pop up salt beef stand on Whitton Road on Twickenham International match days starting on 10th November.
    I’m posting as I am curious what do people think makes the best salt beef bagel and i thought if your reading this article your a salt beef fan already.
    Whats the best mustard? Hot English, French or maybe even horseradish instead? Whats the best pickle cucumbers.
    Would you like an onion bagel instead of the traditional plain bagel.
    Where do think supplies the best bagels in London.
    All responses gratefully received.
    Would you like to attend blind taste testings?
    Thanks
    SBBB

  35. Daniel says:

    I can’t believe you haven’t included Mishkins of Covent Garden on this list. Their home made salt beef and pastrami are amazing, not to mention one of the best Reubens I’ve ever eaten and super crispy onion rings. Worth a visit if you haven’t been.

  36. Daniel Young says:

    Daniel – The salt beef I tried at Mishkin’s (see my post) was not homemade. It was sourced from Hensons Food Service. If Mishkin’s policy has changed and they are now brining their own briskets salt beef and pastrami than no one would be more pleased than me. Let me know if that is in fact the case.

  37. Ivan Lester says:

    You think you have tasted salt beef until you come and taste mine.Not salty, but pink and
    creamy served on a beigle or rye bread with wonderful gherkin and good English mustard you can find us at Broadway Market in Hackney on a Saturday,in Exmouth Market in Islington Thursday and Friday and in the famous Borough Market Monday,Tuesday and Wednesday. Look forward to seeing you there

  38. Daniel Young says:

    Ivan – I’ve had your salt beef at Broadway Market and didn’t think much of it. Sorry.

  39. Philip says:

    Great feature. Out of Birley’s and Gaby’s, as much as I love Gaby’s and it would get the emotional vote, for pure taste, quality, consistency and according to your criteria, my money is on Birley’s. I for one am a big fan, and managed to convert many colleagues over two years in the wharf.

  40. peter says:

    best saltbeef .blooms whitechapel
    met frank and sammy d in the 60″s
    i was a kid but out all night. closed
    around 11 they brought out the
    leftovers lutkes and saltbeef believe
    me best in theworld

  41. Katana says:

    WHO would walk into a place called Salt Beef Bar and ask for “the vegetarian options”? SMH – some people just need to stay home ….

  42. Lived in New York for 5 years and tasted lots of salt beef at jewish delis . Now living back in London i have tried many different markets including brick lane and Broadway market and i can honestly that Oliver’s Hot Salt Beef in Hoxton market on saturday is by far the best i have eaten. Well worth a visit!

  43. Daniel says:

    Hi Vivienne, I stopped by Oliver’s only this weekend and observed they were carving Henson’s salt beef, which you can find all over London, rather than brining their own brisket. As a result I am somewhat skeptical of your assertion.

  44. Mikey Davies says:

    I visited the Salt Beef Bar for lunch today, thoroughly enjoyed both the salt beef sandwich and latkes. The simplicity of the whole experience was refreshing

  45. Ali says:

    Looking forward to trying these new places! I must recommend the salt beef at Rive Gauche on 20-21 Warren Street- I used to have it so often I was banned and limited to once a week.

    Although it doesn’t tick the ‘compact chic’ of East London, RG has been welcoming customers for the last 30 years.

  46. Kaycee says:

    I ate salt beef at Reuben’s a month ago,and it was brilliant. Melted in my mouth,and I want more. Have to try some of the top 5 next time…and see how they compare.

  47. Daniel says:

    Kaycee – I’m pleased to hear this, as the three salt beef sandwiches I sampled at Reuben’s over the last few years were far from melty. I guess I’ll have to go back and give them a fourth try.

  48. Mac’s diner opened as an American diner in the centre of Twickenham back in October 2013 and has a salt beef sandwich on the menu, we serve it on a toasted rye bread from the local polish bakery, creamy American cheese, very thinly sliced gherkins and American mustard. It’s great to hear about so many salt beef sandwich lovers, we will keep doing our best to bring salt beef to the people of Twickenham.

  49. Daniel says:

    Sounds great, Anita. Must try Mac’s. Do you make your own salt beef or do you source it, possibly from Henson’s?

  50. Shmeckle says:

    Sir, have you tried Silvermans in Temple Fortune ? Would be interested to hear your views on what I thought was a particularly good sandwich
    Best regards

  51. Daniel says:

    Thanks for the tip. I will try to stop by to Silvermans Sunday salt beef bar. I must say the photo on a salt beef sandwich on their website does not look promising.

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