London’s Best Salt Beef Sandwiches
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words & Photography: Chris Pople
Jewish food in London has a history and distinct culture all of its own, central to which is the brining, over a number of days, of large cuts of brisket (that is meat from the breast or lower chest of the cow) and the presentation of the result inside a freshly baked bagel (or beigel) or caraway-studded rye bread, accompanied by nostril-flaring mustard and chopped dill pickle.
Salt beef – good salt beef – hits all the pleasure points of fat, salt and deep beefy flavour, but not all salt beef, nor the venues selling it, are equal. Here are our picks of the best in town…
B & K Salt Beef Bar
Owned by the same people as Tongue and Brisket, and with the same expertise in the brining of quality Irish beef, B & K keeps their own little slice of the London suburbs happy with generous portions and relatively low prices.
In fact, Bambos Georgiou (the B of B & K) was the founder carver of none other than the Brass Rail in Selfridge’s, meaning a large chunk of the London salt beef scene is something approaching a family affair.
They also sell cans of Shandy Bass, which will delight readers of a (cough) certain age.
B & K Salt Beef Bar, 11 Lanson House, Whitchurch Lane, HA8 6NL
If anywhere in London deserves the label ‘institution’, it’s this perennially popular spot at the top of Brick Lane, which has been serving fresh bagels filled with generous mounds of soft salt beef, 24-hours a day, since the ’70s.
Don’t go confusing it with the ‘orange sign’ Beigel Shop right next door, which may have been open a hundred years longer than its neighbour but hardly compares in quality. It’s the white sign you want.
Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB
Tongue and Brisket, Leather Lane
Offering the full range of Jewish-deli delicacies, from chopped liver and fish balls to chicken matzo ball soup, these guys do a roaring lunchtime trade for very good reason – the salt beef, sourced directly from abattoirs in Ireland and cured in-house, is amongst the very best in town, and you can’t go far wrong with anything else they do, either.
And yes, as the name suggests, they do serve tongue alongside the more usual brisket.
Tongue and Brisket, Holborn and Soho, see website for locations
The Brass Rail, Selfridge’s Food Hall
Clearly, these guys have been doing something right these last 50 years; the Brass Rail opened in this same spot in 1966 and is still going strong today.
It’s not the cheapest place to indulge your salt beef fix – the Reuben, with an admittedly generous filling of the good stuff, is an eye-opening £15 – but their turnover means you’re very unlikely to be handed dry beef or stale bread, and their coffee is good too.
The Brass Rail, Selfridge’s, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB
The only certified kosher restaurant in the centre of London, Reubens have been doing their thing since the 1970s and have built up a dedicated following for their excellent salt beef – in fact, regulars say it’s the best in town.
The rest of the menu can be a bit up and down, but they have a decent bash at Jewish staples like gefilte fish and chicken soup, and the lokshen pudding is good.
Reubens, 79 Baker Street, W1U 6RG
There’s no denying a lot of South Londoners’ noses were put out of joint at the news that these Druid Street Market stars were set to up sticks to Hoxton. Haven’t they got enough good stuff in East London already? Where are the salt beef options in Battersea in Camberwell? Do they not need pastrami in Peckham?
Still, move they did and Monty’s now occupies a beautiful retro space in N1, where they sell their house-cured salt beef and homemade bagels to lucky Hoxtonites. For a real slice of authentic New York deli, try the New York Egg Cream, a strange fizzy milkshake made with chocolate sauce.
Monty’s Deli, 227-229 Hoxton Street, N1 5LG
The Salt Beef Bar
In a functional, unpretentious part of town is the functional, unpretentious Salt Beef Bar, doing exactly what it says on the tin. Owned by Greek Cypriots but boasting an authentically Jewish menu of potato latkes, chopped liver and the like, it’s nonetheless the salt beef that keeps the local crowds happy, nice and fatty and cut into large, soft slices.
It may not be a reason to visit Finchley Road in itself, but if you happen to be in the area, you can certainly do worse.
The Salt Beef Bar, 2 Monkville Avenue, NW11 0AL