I think I awoke covered in Special Brew. At least I hope it was. I feel like I’ve had a small golf ball embedded in my skull for the last 24 hours. I need food. Sustenance will solve all. It was with this in mind that I decided to brave the streets of North London one alarmingly beautiful spring morning, and set off to Finsbury Park in search of sandwiches and redemption.
I make a beeline to Max’s sandwich shop: a place where hangovers die and joy is created. I open the door and am greeted by a man who appears overjoyed – annoyingly so in my fragile state.
“This is about eating sandwiches and getting pissed!” shouts Max Halley, the fiery bon viveur who has practically reinvented the humble sarnie.
“I just love sarnies. Everyone likes sandwiches. All over the planet nearly every nation has some form of sandwich,” he says, clasping a thick mug of filter coffee. He is sitting by one of the small, simple wooden tables in his Stroud Green Road ‘Sandwich Shop’, which he’s owned for the last two-and-a-half years.
Fresh out of uni, Halley did what any other depressed and confused graduate would do and took an office job in publishing. He hated it.
He then quit his job and worked in the kitchens of his friend’s hotel in Hereford, where he learned the basics of cooking. After a year, he moved back to London, earning his stripes at LeCoq, Salt Yard, Brindisa and Arbutus, before setting up his own place. Originally just him and a friend, he’s now hired more staff and opens his shop seven days a week, four nights a week.
But these aren’t a few slices of putrid ham wedged between two papery sheets of white bread. A menu of four sandwiches, each unique in their own right, ranging from his acclaimed ‘Ham, Egg and Chip sandwich’ to his new ‘Korean sarnie’. Served up with his signature Mac N’ Cheese balls (£1.50 each) and crushed spuds with harissa yoghurt (£4.50), this is not your standard builders cafe.
The sandwiches (around £8.50) are the product of Halley’s creative experiments in the kitchen. From the wild mint in ‘The Bhaji Smuggler’ to ‘The Piccalilli’, each sarnie has its own story, whether it’s the product of a drunken night out or a rummage around in a store cupboard. The bread is his own, and the produce sourced from the very best suppliers.
We quickly get onto the topic of his most famous Ham, Egg and Chip sandwich, a culinary creation that he first showcased on Vice, garnering 390,000 views on Youtube.
“The ham is braised the night before. The shoestring fries are made in the afternoon. The piccalilli has been fermenting away in its little pot looking after itself. You’ve made the mayo before. All you have to do is make the bread earlier in the day. All I need to do to put together what is supposed to be a complicated dish in a fast food time frame.”
He insists that I try his latest creation, ‘The Korean’, which is a combination of slowly braised beef, kimchi and fried sweet potato noodles. This is a sandwich like no other. I bite and dribble the sweet meat juice down my chin as Max laughs.
— Max’s Sandwich Shop (@lunchluncheon) March 18, 2017
This is the essence of Halley’s food. It’s quick, it’s fun and by god, like the man himself, you remember it.
This is his place: from the menu, to the music and the furniture. It oozes nonchalance, which is clearly reflected in the man it’s named after.
What about the future? I ask. Another shop? Shoreditch maybe? Halley is honest in his response.
“Fuck off! I’d rather be here sculling a beer than be slightly embarrassed about seeing my face on a fucking saucepan range in Tesco. I’m ambitious for fun.” With that, a sharp cry comes from the kitchen.
“Max, it’s 12! Campari and orange juice time!”