Gerry’s Hot Sub Deli, London: ‘Take it very seriously indeed’ – restaurant review

<span>‘Lunch is messy. Prepare to wipe yourself down afterwards or even nip home for a shower’: Gerry’s Hot Sub Deli.</span><span>Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer</span>
‘Lunch is messy. Prepare to wipe yourself down afterwards or even nip home for a shower’: Gerry’s Hot Sub Deli.Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Gerry’s Hot Sub Deli, 50 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE. Sandwiches £8.25-£13.50, poutine £6.75-£10.70, dessert £4.25, wine £6.95 a glass, beer £3.95 a half pint

Happiness is a handful of lunch and dressing running down your forearms. Certainly, anything that demands to be eaten alongside a roll of kitchen paper deserves to be taken seriously. By these criteria, which I’ve just invented, but now cleave to like holy scripture, the food at Gerry’s Hot Subs on London’s Exmouth Market deserves to be taken very seriously indeed. Lunch there is messy. Prepare to wipe yourself down afterwards or even nip home for a shower. But my, it’s good. The fact is, everybody can make themselves a sandwich, but you don’t want just anybody to make one for you. The frame is so very tight: some form of bread as vehicle for everything else. It demands a compulsive interest in detail combined with a profound understanding of what will make for a single, multi-textured mouthful. Followed by another and another.

That person should be Andre Blais. He knows what he’s doing. Blais, who was born in Ottawa but grew up in Detroit, has the bold-type spiel of a born salesman and has already contributed much to the joy of London’s informal restaurants. He worked with his brother who helped launch Belgo, the mussels and chips place boasting waiters dressed like monks. When it opened in 1992 it was a revelation. It turned out that eating in a restaurant could be fun and not ruinous. Plus, monks! Blais took what he learned working there and, in 2002, opened Bodean’s, the American barbecue group, which again changed things: pork ribs, burnt ends and, best of all, their huge, sticky beef short ribs. Many now treat slagging off Bodean’s as sport. Don’t do that. Leave Bodean’s alone. It has also made a serious contribution.

Blais, meanwhile, has moved on and is now paying tribute to his father, Gerry, a native of Montreal and its culture of smoked-meat sandwiches at places like Schwartz’s, alongside the wider North American love for the submarine, aka the hoagie or torpedo. Think of it as one long eye-roll towards that high street chain whose bread products were judged by an Irish court to contain so much sugar they should be classed as cake. Writing about such an offering can be tricky, however: it’s the same object, on repeat. Here then, is what you need to know. These soft white or granary submarine rolls, priced between £8.25 and £13.50, are deep-filled and wrapping-compressed to stuff more in, and are the perfect mode of delivery for their contents. Two slices of bread only keep it together initially and then, like the best man at a wedding who is secretly in love with the bride, completely fall apart.

The berry-red strands of smoked brisket are big on flavour and manage to be both crunchy and soft all at once. The Philly cheesesteak is made with finely sliced rib-eye, which has not toughened up on the plancha, and has just the right amount of dribbly, salty provolone cheese as binding. A pleasing amount of amber fat is allowed in with the beef pastrami, the star ingredient of the Reuben sub. Turkey pastrami is also available.

The meat in a chicken club has been marinated in oregano and maple syrup before being charred, then crushed together with avocado and thick rashers of crisp, streaky bacon of the sort you dream of finding on your full English, but so rarely do. We appreciate the crispy onions and the sautéed red peppers and the crunchy sweet-sour pickles that turn up as appropriate. These subs have been stacked and layered, dressed and compressed and dressed again. Serious effort has gone into the Cubano, the roasted pork and cheese sandwich offered as a monthly special, which to deserve the name must be pressed and flattened until the crumb and the juices have merged lasciviously.

The noble craft of the sandwich has been seriously elevated in the UK recently, admittedly from sad, curling beginnings. The latest edition of the great food magazine Pit is even dedicated to the subject. It’s packed full of hilariously nerdy essays on the art of the tuna melt, the toastie, the pan bagnat and the rest. It is a celebration of the utilitarian joys of things in bread. I am accompanied today by Tim Anderson and Melissa Thompson, two food writers who both know a bit about smoked meats and brilliantly overfilled American sandwiches. Together we enjoy fretting over the details of the Gerry’s offering. Anderson mutters about the lack of caraway in the bread for the Reuben. He insists its flavour is a crucial element to a good one. He says stuff like that. Melissa, the smoking maven, nods approvingly at the brisket. We wonder whether the cheesesteak is as good as that served at Passyunk Avenue. (Let’s go with yes.) That’s the point: these subs are good enough to be debated.

There are other things. The hotdogs aren’t quite the best we’ve had, but are still very good, with a tense skin that leads to a dense beefiness. Have it with sauerkraut and Emmental and call it a Reuben. Or load it with pulled pork, bacon, cheese and grilled onions and call it outrageous. As the menu references Montreal there is, of course, poutine: chips under a swamp of starch-thickened gravy and proper squeaky cheese curds. It is everything poutine should be, which is to say the kind of carb-comfort made for you by that person who can’t really cook, but who loves you enough to stay up to feed you when you come home late very drunk. The £6.95 Caesar salad, however, is seriously good, in a city which regularly defames that worthy dish. There’s crunchy romaine, a dressing heavy with salted anchovy, and properly fried croutons roaring with garlic. You can have anything for dessert as long as it’s a hot chocolate brownie with a magma-like crust giving way to a peat bog of chocolate. There is sweetened whipped cream on the side.

Beyond the counter at the front, there’s a simple wood clad-dining room, with wipe-down tables and black-leather banquettes. Perhaps ask if afterwards you can have a lie down on one of those. Apparently, one came from a former Bodean’s and was a seat prized by Amy Winehouse. Gerry’s has not long been open, but around us the crowd ebbs and flows. They have found the place. If you don’t fancy queueing, at the front there’s a self-service “tap and go” cabinet filled with a changing roster of freshly made smoked-meat subs. It’s the automat London never knew it needed.

News bites

Chef Tony Rodd, who back in January announced the closure of his Blackheath restaurant Copper and Ink, is back at the stoves. He is cooking at Pomus, a restaurant and wine bar that has recently opened in a Margate shopping precinct. The restaurant, the first solo venture from Ryan Jacovides, formerly of the Jamie Oliver Group, has 40 seats, plus a basement tasting room. Rodd’s menu includes ginger and lemongrass pork belly, grilled white asparagus with coconut, black garlic and pistachio, and a rhubarb tart with almond and vanilla (

At last, London is to get a restaurant with a dedicated espresso martini menu. Piraña, which will open on St James’s Street later this summer, will offer a menu of ‘Nikkei’ or Japanese and Peruvian fusion dishes. The espresso martini choices include chocolate orange, tiramisu and mezcal versions.

And finally, chef Bryn Williams has announced he has sold the much-loved Odette’s in London’s Primrose Hill, which he joined in 2006 and bought in 2008. His last service at the restaurant, which first opened in 1978, was last weekend. Williams recently announced that he will be opening a new restaurant at Theatre Clwyd in Mold, north Wales, as part of the theatre company’s ongoing redevelopment.

Email Jay at or follow him on X @jayrayner1