Max's Sandwich Shop 19 Crouch Hill, Finsbury Park, London N4 4AP
Max's Sandwich Shop: How I met an idol and made a twat out of myself pt.1
Back in 2013 when I was living in Brighton and treading financial water, I replied to an ad for a ‘sandwich maker’ as an attaché to a coffee shop operating out of a garage. I’d always been inordinately passionate about sarnies, mostly bolstered by my Mum remarking that I had a knack for them at a young age. But I also mixed ketchup and milk together around this same time just to ‘see what would happen’ so I clearly had my limits.
Anyway, I had this grand notion of reinventing the humble sandwich and trying to convince people to sack off their lunchtime Meal Ordeal and opt for one of my layered beasts, under the moniker ‘Salvation Sarnie’. I even invented something special- the Eggs Benedict Toastie, of which I’d sell out every Sunday. But it wasn’t enough and I soon was paying rent from my overdraft and so my stretch in London-on-Sea had come to an abrupt end and ultimately, it was for the best.
Three years later I’d find Max Halley via the often maligned ‘Munchies’ YouTube channel and would be raising my hands to his preachings, as if at church. Not only did his sandwich philosophy resonate to my very depths, but there was an instant affection for how genuine he seemed at every turn. ‘Sourdough can go fuck itself’ opined Max when talking about his search for the best sandwich-making bread- ‘a sandwich should give in when you go for it’. This ardent absolutism is the kind of assertiveness that only comes from years of research, from someone knowing exactly what they’re trying to realise.
“I’ve never seen you fan-boy so hard before” incises my Editor. But let’s be absolutely clear:
I know this.
Almost six years later to the day, I finally sank my teeth into his flagship reconfiguration of the pub classic, ‘The Ham, Egg & Chips’. Unfurling the wax paper, it’s a carbon copy of all I’d seen before now- an edible celebrity in its own right. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
The focaccia is golden across the top and not oozing with oil like so many before it- the crumb is tight without being dense, allowing for the structural integrity required to handle the generously applied layers. I can’t help but quote Max verbatim because it really is all he’d said it would be. The shredded ham hock reheated in its overnight stock imbues it with that ‘deep ham flavour’, the softened crunch and zing of piccalilli slicing right through that ‘fatty goodness’. A budding concern had been how the acidity of the malt vinegar mayo might contend with this but instead is self-regulated by the inherent soothing, balm-like qualities of (Hellmans or die) mayo itself.
The runny egg yolk reaffirms that it is nature's gravy- a golden drip catching rogue chippings of the shoestring fries in it like amber consumes and preserves prehistoric life. The white especially comprises the ‘soft’ element of the fillings, bridging a textural gap by evoking the piercing of a yolk with your sturdiest chip- a feeling second only to piercing a fresh pot of Nutella with a knife.
To the very end, as promised, the focaccia is right there with you. Behind me, Max is laying out his now well-honed defense of the bread to a sourdough enthusiast. It should be made clear that sourdough doesn’t need to go fuck itself all the time- Max concedes that for pâté, parfait etc. it’s sourdough all day long, but for sarnies housing his level of ambition, it is not.
“I love malt loaf and Soreen, thick with butter so that it makes a gum shield when you bite in and you can see your teeth marks in it...the same with a sandwich'' Max passionately explains, complete with vivid gesticulation. And, like a keener mistiming an interjection because I’m still scrambling through a Google search, “tandsmør!” I blurt in my worst Danish, mispronouncing it entirely.
Meaning ‘teeth butter’ it’s the exact thing he’s describing. Max points out that he is in fact half-Dane, and proceeds to squish his cheek with one hand and drag it down his face, bringing one side of his mouth with it, in disbelief of this apparent revelation I’ve bestowed.
I can’t quite believe I’m sitting in a sandwich shop in Crouch End having schoolboy participatory palpitations. My poor Editor/handler with whom I am romantically enthralled, who has braved the tube and overground to get us here- just to see a grown man go to bits over another- and she’s creasing. I’m a lucky man, by all accounts.
The second sarnie spoke directly to her, however- the ‘Silky Bechamel Lasagne Sandwich’ and although it might conjure images of an over-carbed lunge for individuality in other joints, but not here.
Firstly, it’s a mutton bolognese that has me hooked immediately, possessing a depth that you know can’t be achieved by cutting corners. You get the overwhelming impression that love and time have gone into it; a sentiment that courses through the whole Maxperience.
The unarguably silky bechamel is deployed throughout the middle layer, with all the binding qualities of mayo, with none of the muted tang- just warm silken creaminess. The ‘nduja mayonnaise spreads its picante sweetness, the staining oils creeping upwards through the crumb, like a litmus test.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, there are two things that stand out most- one is the deep-fried macaroni that is then crushed and glued into place on the compound mayo, and two, the fact the mirepoix has been singled out for pickling. It has me pedaling my feet in my chair. Playing a similar role to the piccalilli, it gives this holy trinity to which we owe so much, a place on the podium. The chicory and baby gem gives that fresh relief where the pickles leave off and being so robust in their form, they don’t instantly wilt under heat and remain crunchy throughout.
All the comfort of lasagna but with its heft dispersed across a divinely-proportioned surface area over several levels, which means that just like the Ham, Egg & Chips, the flavour profile is maintained so that the first bite is like the last.
It should be noted that it’s someone else putting these beauties together and that’s not by any means a dig- having a sarnie made for you by Max would of course be great, but as a testament to the skills of the person(s) in that kitchen, I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference. It’s just as I’d seen and heard of.
My love for Max and his mission is born from the admiration one has for seeing something being brought to life that they themselves were never able to do. It’s ‘one of them ones’ where you’re just glad that it’s happening- that it exists in the world and that you’re invited to take part. And I mean literally- he walks around talking to every customer, singing and engaging people on the street, enticing them to do themselves justice and try one of his creations. Somewhere between a town crier of yore, that mutual friend you rarely see but you get on like a house on fire every time there’s a wedding and Willy Wonka in the best, non-Operation-Yew-Tree-way possible
James who’s running the top deck as Max chirps us all (gladly) doesn’t feel like a stranger either- there’s this episode of‘Cheers’atmosphere, except where nobody knows your name because you’re awkward and make terrible first impressions.
As Max deciphers the whole ‘duck’ theme of which I’ve been so curious about for so long, I’m enticed to embrace the man farewell and, unsurprisingly, you can feel love emanating from his very core. The Maxperience is one of unbridled joy, affection and a shared consciousness over the love of a proper sarnie. A temple to all that is good in the world.