Max’s doesn’t serve BLTs, tuna mayo or Ploughman’s – it’s far more creative than that
Sandwiches are everywhere, yet we rarely give them the proper due care and attention that they deserve. Clammy, flaccid supermarket sandwiches barely deserve the appellation, yet many of us not only eat them for lunch but for dinner too. Guiltily, I count myself among that number – especially when I’m furiously cranking out reviews of far superior sandwiches from banh mi (or Vietnamese baguettes, if you prefer) to burgers which are sandwiches in all but name.
As befitting its name, Max’s Sandwich Shop serves almost nothing but sandwiches for dinner (and sometimes lunch too) at around £10 a pop. That pricing might make penny pinchers clasp their purses in horror, but that seems like a fair price for table service and a rotating menu of doorstop sandwiches that can include anything from ham hock to guinea fowl.
Having said that, Max’s Sandwich Shop has clearly been built on a shoestring and isn’t a place to linger. Cutlery and crockery are kept to a minimum with sandwiches served wrapped in baking paper. There are approximately 20 covers with the pair of windowside perches exposed to draughts as well as gusty bursts of cold air from the rickety front door. Service can be a tad scatty.
All that tends to attract punters who’ve failed to realise that Nathan Barley was meant to be a mocking screed rather than an aspirational how-to lifestyle manual. But none of that should put you off. Service tends to be warm and welcoming and the sandwiches themselves are clearly labours of love.
Sandwiches at Max’s
The Original Gangster is a daft name for a fine beef sandwich. It’s not a salt beef bagel a la Brick Lane, but uses a pile of similarly sinewy, tender and moist shreds of shin/brisket-like cow. Its moistness was helped along by a light dabbing of mayo, while thin crunchy crisps contrasted neatly with the beefy tenderness. Sauerkraut and pickled onions brought a light sourness to the proceedings. Like all the sandwiches I tried, it all came in a squishy pillowy pair of carb loafers which stayed out of the way despite their volume. Each element was in of itself merely okay, but it’d be missing the point to over-analyse each one in isolation. Everything came together beautifully – the beefy tang of the meat seguing neatly into the fluffy bread, brittle crisps, dribbly mayo and sweated veg.
A sandwich filled with vegetable spring rolls, kimchi, sesame seeds, mayo and MSG sounds like the pumped contents of a badger’s stomach. It was an exceptionally delicious vegetarian sandwich though, the crunch of spring roll pastry, the slitheriness of the cabbage filling in those spring rolls, the sour tartness of crisp kimchi and the MSG-heightened moreishness of the Kewpie-esque mayo came together in an electrifying fashion. It was the sandwich filling equivalent of an Avengers team-up movie – an explosive spectacle with a calculated aesthetic and a crowd-pleasing result that’s more than sum of its parts.
Max’s take on a poultry Caesar salad sandwich could’ve gotten away with using chicken, but the meaty shreds of roasted guinea fowl used instead added a subtle earthiness to the proceedings. The main attractions of this sandwich were the hattrick combo of punchy garlic mayo, crunchy crutons and bittersweet chicory. A touch of anchovy in the mayo added some umami, but some extant anchovies might have been a worthwhile addition with their fleshy, salty, briney charms. Still, this oozing brusier of a sandwich was nonetheless a boldly flavoursome and texturally layered delight.
The Ham, Egg ‘N’ Chips may have the least wacky name of all the sandwiches at Max’s, but it’s by no means a quotidian affair. The heap of hock was moist, hearty and defiantly porky with a lust-inducing pinky red hue. The umami mayo was spot-on and shoestring fries finally have a reason to exist in providing a crunchy contrast to the tender hock. I do wish there had been more of the sharp and zesty piccalilli though, while the yolks in the fried eggs could’ve been runnier to add even more richness to the proceedings. Even so, every mouthful of this sandwich was a crunchy, moreish, crumb-dribbling delight.
Other dishes at Max’s Sandwich Shop
Surprisingly, the kimchi wasn’t an exact match for the fermented cabbage used in the spring roll and kimchi sandwich. While still packing a moderate heat, it wasn’t quite as sour and tart. Along with the absence of the sesame seeds (and the MSG), it just wasn’t quite as barnstorming. It was still a highly credible rendition of this Korean classic though.
A hearty helping of fried potato wedges – crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside – didn’t just rely on these qualities and their big-boned chunkiness for charm. A scattering of Bombay mix and a lightly fruity, zesty relish made this ‘side’ dish resemble a Nepalese-style aloo ko achaar, but not as viscerally crunchy, refreshing and sharp. It’s still preferable to the flash-fried frozen ‘chips’ you’d get in a lesser sandwich shop though.
A jalapeño mac and cheese ball was essentially Max’s take on arancini and similar to the lasagne balls once offered at the now closed Vico. The crisp, oil-free and fine-grained breadcrumb shell held a creamy dollop of chunky pasta curls – a far cry from the titchy macaroni you might be expecting. Even though the initial jalapeño heat was transient at best, this deep fried ball was titillating enough.
Southern-style fried chicken wings were crunchy and oil-free on the outside, moist and glistening white on the inside. The wings were mere conveyors for the garnishes, but the lime-derived zestiness of the otherwise lip-puckeringly tart pickled onions faded quickly leaving little reason for the presence of the refreshing yoghurt.
Max’s ice cream sandwich unsurprisingly resembled a Maxibon with the cool refreshing ice cream almost completely sheathed in a soft flapjack-ish biscuit coat. It won’t take the world of ice cream sandwiches by storm, but it would’ve been a competent dessert nonetheless if it hadn’t been for the sickly sweet treacle added to the mix. Ill-advised.
It might seem strange to have a sandwich for dinner; even more so for a kitchen to lavish this much care and attention on them. But it’s entirely in keeping with the tradition of a one-dish meal in an edible wrapper, from the Cornish pasty to the fish-and-chips supper. Each and every sandwich I tried was a bold mix of crunch and flavour, a delicious result greater than the sum of its individual parts. The real oddity isn’t why Max’s sandwiches are so goddamn delicious, but why we’re so willing to accept lesser, second-rate, subpar sandwiches the rest of the time. Once you’ve had a sarnie at Max’s, it becomes very hard indeed to ever go back to a Tesco meal deal. And that’s a good thing.
Name: Max’s Sandwich Shop
Address: 19 Crouch Hill, Stroud Green, Finsbury Park, London N4 4AP
Phone: 0207 263 8759
Opening Hours: Wednesday-Thursday 18.00-23.00; Friday 18.00-midnight; Saturday 11.00-midnight and Sunday 11.00-18.00. Closed Monday-Tuesday.
Reservations? not taken.
Average cost per sandwich: £10 approx.