I'm not afraid to admit that I love Pret a Manger sandwiches. In the old days, when I worked in a rather fusty publishing house opposite the British Museum, Pret was the exciting newbie of the High Street sandwich shops. The only other ones were the little continental delis and cafes where sandwiches were made to order, or rather uninspiring places like Benjie's or Greggs. Pret had interesting fillings, "secret sauce", friendly staff, and great combos like Brie, tomato & fresh basil, or their famous - and still excellent - avocado salad wrap (also with secret sauce!). When I was pregnant I craved, and regularly succumbed to, the All Day Breakfast: sausage, bacon, egg & tomato wedged between two slices of chewy multigrain bread. It assuaged my dreadful cravings for carbs, but was notoriously difficult to eat tidily, and more often than not, I would be disturbed, mouth full of messy sandwich, by my boss who would hurriedly and apologetically back out of the corridor which passed for my "office" while I finished my lunch.
Pret's sarnies remain delicious. My current favourite is Italian prosciutto, with tomato, basil and cheese on "Artisan baguette", which is just posh Pret-speak for a multi-seed wholemeal baguette. Like the All Day Breakfast, this is not an easy sandwich to eat, especially on the District Line on my way home from my weekly stint keeping an old man happy in Kensington. I quite often find myself tugging at stringy ropes of fat from the ham, and today an enormous slice of cheese fell out onto my silk blouse. I tried to hide behind my book but then the secret sauce threatened to slip out too, taking a slice of tomato with it....
Munching valiantly, I remembered a story my friend Helen told me about the infamous 'Steakwich' at the King's Head pub. She had been invited out by some rather serious neighbours, to thank her for offering various advice and support to them as new parents (she did not, however, advise them to read The Contented Little Baby Book - they brought that, and all the attendant horror of it, upon themselves). While they ordered sensible things like lasagne, she could not resist the Steakwich, a fat slice of grilled sirloin steak, with trimmings, inside a crispy baguette. While the neighbours talked, Helen tackled the sandwich. One bite and she found herself with a huge flap of steak hanging from her lips like a large, brown tongue. It seemed impossible to eat this overblown sandwich politely, and in the end, with horseradish and mustard dripping down her chin, she just launched into it with gusto.
It's all right when this sort of thing happens in the privacy of your own home because you can happily tear hunks of meat off with all the abandon of a hungry wolf, but in public....? It makes you realise that some food just shouldn't be eaten in public, or, indeed, in polite company. Helen warned me off serving any kind of spaghetti with sauce to a man I was trying to seduce, because it would just be too messy and unromantic, so he got fish paella instead, which could be niftily forked off the plate one-handed (he had seconds AND thirds, which endeared him to me even more because he clearly enjoyed food, more importantly, MY food!). But I regret never cooking him my lemon linguine: he looked like the kind of person who could eat spaghetti expertly, and, more importantly, neatly.... And lemon linguine is sexy and romantic, and just the kind of simple-yet-sophisticated food to serve to a lover.