IS this the dawning of the age of the Sandwich? A culinary step forward from the habit-forming Pret a Manger wraps whisked back to the office to eat at your desk or the limp white crustless triangles of afternoon tea?
Yet can our fancy for exotic sarnies such as Bahn-mi, Bao buns and Cubanos ever propel them into the world of destination dining?
We’ve now eaten all three in permanent venues beyond street food stalls and the jury’s out. Well, one jury, for BBC2 restaurant investment programme the Million Pound Menu, did the business, launching one contender, Mersey Cubano specialists Finca into a summer residency in the Artisan Cafe, Spinningfields.
It’s courtesy of its owner, Living Ventures’ CEO Jeremy Roberts, a judge on the hit show filmed in Manchester. He liked what he saw and ate. We did too a couple of years back when we tasted Finca’s Cuban food at a pop-up in Liverpool, where its creators started out.
How’s it gone since? In a week when Viet Shack, about to open a proper restaurant in the former Squid Ink on Great Ancoats, announced the baguette for their house Bahn-mi would be sourced from posh neighbours Pollen, we popped into check out Finca, whose own neighbours Neighbourhood boast a different profile.
The ground floor Cafe space is such a jolly space with service to match. The menu is not ambitious and why should it be? We respect that obsession to get a signature dish just right.
Their Cubano (£8), a glorified ham and cheese toastie, hardly puts a foot wrong. Maybe the glazed gammon is more obvious in the filling than the advertised mojo pork shoulder but cucumber pickle, gouda cheese and sharp mustard carry the day. Perfectly matched with a Cubanito cocktail, Havana’s feisty cousin of the Bloody Mary.
A £7.50 veggie version, substituting mojo asparagus and watercress for the pig, also worked really well with the Gouda reappearing in molten croquetas with spring onions (£5).
In contrast, another side, of Tostones (£5.50), deep-fried discs of plantain with avocado and mango salsa, held little textural or taste appeal. A 50p tub of banana relish we’ll also put down to experience. Arroz Frito, aka fried rice and black beans from a menu surprisingly plant-based, was underpowered despite the presence of pickled pineapple red mojo sauce and garlic aioli.
The overall impression was of a smart little operation, glad for the lift-off into a roof over their heads, but the residency is not open-ended. What next? A new series of Million Dollar Menu, with Fred Sirieix at the helm, is already seeking the next batch of ambitious young food entrepreneurs. Telly is insatiable.
It may not quite be Love Island, but today’s favourites face being dumped tomorrow. I hope the Cuban Sandwich isn’t a victim of fickle fate. I love them but can’t see myself being a regular at Finca. Not quite a one-trick pony but it’s a hard world out there; so many exotic sandwiches, so little time.
Finca, Avenue North, 18-22 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BZ.