Oh, the humble, humble sandwich. In some cultures, a food so ubiquitous that The Guardian
will run a 6,600-word piece on it having 'invaded every area of our lives
'. Football isn’t coming home, but the sandwich is a permanent resident of the UK.
Its status over here in Beijing, however, isn’t quite as integral to the smooth functioning of society, and pickings can feel a little slimmer. Dedicated sandwich outlets are few and far between, so our hopes were high when we saw Hotpress emerge early this year, as one of the new outlets at Sanlitun’s Pacific Century Place.
Opened by Leo Liu – formerly part of the F&B team at The Opposite House, and well versed in sandwich lore from time spent in Ireland – Hotpress is essentially a plain white box with a few gold trimmings, just three tables, and a pleasant window bench. The space itself is nothing to write home about, but it speaks more to a delightful simplicity in the concept.
You are, after all, here for a sandwich, and whether taken out or in, they confidently hit the mark. On our visit, we try three from a refreshingly limited menu of nine – the grilled chicken, bacon and avocado ciabatta (60RMB), tuna and egg on toasted wholegrain (40RMB) and a ham and cheese pressed rye toastie (35RMB, small; 50RMB large; pictured, main).
Grilled chicken, bacon and avocado ciabatta.
The first is packed with plentiful and perfectly grilled chicken, sufficient avocado and a welcome addition of homemade pickles; the layer of bacon adds to the taste, though a crispier rasher may have added more textural variety.
In a city where, from 7-Eleven to countless cafés, the tuna fish is largely destined to be mashed into a mayo-swathed melt, the slices of peppered and near-rare fillet here are a treat. Well-portioned slivers of egg, sundried tomatoes and rocket tuck into a soft wholegrain sub alongside it; the wasabi mayo can dominate the taste, though perhaps that’s just wasabi being wasabi, and we’re into it.
The true triumph is the well-considered cheese toasties on rye – we opted for the ham, though a subtly Indian-spiced beef version is also available, as well as the ‘three cheese with cheese’, served with a homemade onion jam. Our hammy sammy is not overly packed, but cheesy enough to really hit the spot, with three cheeses (a mix of cheddars and harder one), and a light spreading of an awesome apple jam adding a nice bite; the small portion is a more than reasonable serving, and, all up, it’s excellently priced.
Tuna and egg on toasted wholegrain.
Also excellently priced are the two salad bowls, at a mere 28RMB, and loaded with grilled chicken and avocado, or beetroot and goat’s cheese – commodities that usually command a weighty premium in Beijing.
Elsewhere, fruity yoghurt and granola pots (25RMB) are on hand for the carb-averse, while drinks include Australian alcohol-free bevs Bundaberg (28RMB) and bottled cold-press coffee (28RMB), made by Leo himself. Notable by its absence is fresh coffee – the place is absolutely crying out for an espresso machine – though Leo tells us this is mainly due to his, as yet, lack of expertise in the area.
He doesn’t want to serve bad quality brews, and fair enough – when so many around town are pumping out bang-average joe for worrying prices, that commitment to quality is commendable. That he makes his sarnies with such care and integrity is certainly a credit to Hotpress, too.