This article is taken from the February 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
If you were to try to guess what an antique dealer’s preferred meal or snack might be you would perhaps imagine that it would be something quite posh or culinarily complex, but the reality is that the humble bacon sandwich has cheered the soul of so many of my brethren that it stands out as Ambrosia amid porridge.
Back in the 1980s, when Bond Street and St James’s were still heaving with dealers, there was a tiny kiosk in Avery Row which only functioned between 6.30 am and 11.30. Two large sweaty men in white t-shirts squeezed into a tiny narrow shop: one man buttered bread and applied brown or red sauce, the other stood over a tiny griddle frying bacon.
It was a micro-factory. At any given moment the Chairman of Sotheby’s might be standing beside a motley collection of delivery men and craftsmen (in those days Bond Street also teemed with tiny restoration studios), as the intoxicating aroma of fatty bacon compressed between slices of flabby white bread wafted down the street.
The queues were long but many a deal was done standing in that throng of humanity — networking, hiring and negotiating all flourished in the buzz of expectation. That little bacon ATM is long gone.
Another great sandwich moment forms an integral part of the legendary annual swap shop in Stow-on-the-Wold. Vans start gathering early. I get there around 8am and often there are already 15 or so lined up. It is early September so it is light and not cold, but there is a chill in the air as you open your van doors and unload onto the grass behind. Folk are a bit bleary-eyed from their early start.
Everyone walks up and down peering closely but not giving anything away, like cats stalking prey. Up and down we walk, relentlessly eyeing the aisle of goods and vans. At 9am or so, word gets out from the clubhouse that the sandwiches are ready.
Everyone tries to slope away discreetly, but within a trice the smell of bacon fills the air, the catalyst for business to begin.
The Europeans have never really understood the joy of slightly floppy grilled pig belly
Perhaps the most perfect bacon sandwich was one I had on a train heading up to view a house sale in Yorkshire with my first boss. He was an unreconstructed smoker and the non-smoking carriage was a torture for him. To begin with, he skipped off the train at every station to smoke and then return to his seat reeking of tobacco. After an hour or so, we were offered breakfast and they had an offer on a bottle of Champagne and breakfast for two for £20 each. He could not resist, so along it came.
I’d chosen a bacon sandwich and he had a towering array of everything. When our glasses were duly filled and the bottle left on the table, he settled down — temporarily distracted from cigarettes.
These were the last days of silver service on trains: we enjoyed a pristine thick white linen table cloth, heavy silver cutlery and robust white china plates, and my sandwich was presented with as much decorum as a dozen oysters. Everything had that dignified battered look which I both miss and revere. A terrific start to the day.
The Europeans have never really understood the joy of slightly floppy grilled pig belly. They are experts in cake and coffee, of course. They also embrace the croissant or sundry sugary pastries. They can love a doughnut or even the stiffening jolt of early morning spirits — but they just don’t get our love of bacon and poor bread.
In the South of France during the regular “déballages” at Beziers, Avignon and Montpellier, the English dealers, who wait like patient cows massing by the fence for the gates to open and the shopping festivities to commence, struggle to find the necessary porcine start to their day.
There is a whisper of hope in the “jamón” rolls that can be acquired, but it isn’t the same thing. It gives the indigenous trade an unfair advantage, but the English somehow cope.
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