Game changing sandwiches
Dublin is in the midst of a sandwich revolution, so head northside and sink your teeth into a Reuben
“Is that the queue? For takeaway?” the man in the blue raincoat asks a woman holding a coffee. It is, she tells him. “Jaysus,” he says turning around and heading back out into the rain. I’m inclined to agree with his eye-rolling incredulity. Can a sandwich really be worth that much effort? It’s standing room only in the 147 Deli on Dublin’s Parnell Street.
I loathe sandwich bars. Congealing coleslaw and a whiff of eggs make them as life-enhancing as peering at Google maps with rain dripping down the back of your neck. Then there are the queues, a lunchtime crowd shuffling chain-gang style to have their choice of bread buttered, filled and sliced by someone wearing plastic gloves.
But Dublin’s having a sandwich revolution and its heartland is north of the river, with Brother Hubbard on Capel Street and nearby Oxmantown putting quality food into cardboard lunch containers. And now those lucky northsiders have the 147 Deli.
The 147 stands out in a sea of Asian restaurants on this stretch of Parnell Street. Its ethnicity is more New York than Phnom Penh. They’re selling the kind of sandwich that Joey from Friends ate with one arm curled protectively around it 20 years ago. It’s taken that long for the Irish cheese and hang sanger to throw off its burnt cellophane wrapper and catch up.
The cafe is a long, deep room with one wall painted black and then covered with a reverse white image of John Rocque’s 1756 map of Dublin. So you can sit at a bar bench with your knees in Dublin Castle and try to figure out what’s changed along the north quays in the intervening centuries. Dublin design firm Fabrik is responsible for the look of the place, which combines sunny yellow chairs, a polished concrete floor, plain timber tables and benches and a nifty logo of a blue utensil rail.
The beard count is high and I’m pushing up the average age several notches. At least one of the wait staff is too busy, or too cool, to smile at the customers, although everyone else seems friendly. My sandwich is deposited in front of me on wax paper on a plastic tray with a cardboard cup of salad alongside it. I’m sharpening an imaginary pencil to mark it all down as style over substance and then I taste a spear of sprouting broccoli and I’m sold. It’s been mixed with some good mange tout – both vegetables charred and then dressed with soy. Also in the salad pot are tomato chunks balsamic-ed to taste better, finely-diced red onion and basil. But it’s the sandwich that solves the mystery of the queue.
It’s a Reuben, with corned beef, sauerkraut and sliced gherkin. A squeezy bottle of pink “Russian dressing” has been squirted over the bread, the ingredients assembled and then the whole lot popped into a Merrychef, a furnace-like oven and microwave gizmo that turns a cold, tasty sandwich into a hot, potentially-addictive one. The strangest thing is that it smells exactly like a burger. Close your eyes and you could be in Mickey D’s with that gherkin tang cutting the waft of warm meat and bread. Except this bread is a nutty rye, the beef is pink and thinly sliced rather than a depressing ground meat patty and the sauerkraut gives more bite and flavour than iceberg lettuce. And this sandwich tastes as good on the last bite as it does on the first.
The other brilliant thing is that this satisfying lunch of sandwich and salad cost €7.50. A perfect coffee, with just enough bite but none of the grimace-face bitterness of deep-hipster brews, brings lunch to €10.15.
There’s a well-worn copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty on a shelf in the busy kitchen. And later on the Facebook page I can see why this fast food is so good. They house-smoke their fish and meat, pick wild garlic by the bin-liner load and tweak their menus until they hit the sweetest spot in the flavour spectrum. We need a new word to describe the sandwiches here, now that “gourmet” is slapped onto service station sandwiches. Rocque’s map was originally called “An exact survey of the city of Dublin”. In an updated version, 147 Deli should be marked with the legend: “Here be great sandwiches.” And the queue? Bring a book (or ask if you can thumb through Plenty). Trust me. It’s worth the wait.
147 Deli, 147 Parnell Street, Dublin 1, tel: 01-8728481
Facilities: Unisex with great wall art
Music: Loud funk and pop
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Good
THE VERDICT: 8/10 A new dawn for the Dublin sandwich