Sunday, April 12, 2009

Westfield Shopping Centre, Shepherds Bush

Westfield Shopping Centre opened in 2008 and is supposedly the largest city-centre mall in Europe. As well as the 265 retail units, the mall also boasts 50 food outlets. The numbers sound promising but how easy would it be to get myself some decent sausage and bread in this colosseum of consumerism?

Despite its size, the mall is actually quite easy to walk around as it's arranged like a figure of eight, with a couple of offshoots here and there. The choice of places to eat is varied, cosmopolitan and focussed around an area named The Balcony: This upmarket food court has had some good early publicity and rightly so, I think, as it does put the typical UK shopping centre food court to shame.

There isn't a Singapore Sam or KFC in sight. Instead you have places like innovative Vietnamese soup noodle bar Pho and risotto specialists Ooze. It would be difficult to find a greater concentration of good-to-adequate places to eat anywhere else in London.

After a scout around, I decided there were two places I needed to try, the first being Birley Sandwiches.

Birley is an established chain of sandwich shops based mainly in the City and Docklands. The Westfield outlet is the company's first foray into the wilds of West London. At this branch the menu is built around a rotisserie so roasts such as pork, beef and chicken feature heavily. Also on offer were large, pork sausages:

Had I not been on blogging duty, I would have gone for the roast pork and apple sauce sandwich as it looked great but the sausages looked promising too.

The server asks you for your choice of condiment right at the start, and I requested English mustard. Rather incompetently, the server then slathered both slices of bread (a crusty, bloomer type loaf) with a full layer of mustard - I guess you could call it American style. Unfortunately, once I got the sandwich to my table and took a bite, I realised that so much mustard had been used that the sandwich was almost inedible. Every bite was accompanied by a wave of sinus-destroying mustard gas and it was impossible to taste anything else. After discarding the bread, I was able to tell that the sausage was fairly good quality but on the dry side (probably due to being left out too long). The bread seemed fresh enough. More thoughtful condiments and a fresher sausage would have made a big difference.

1.5 out of 5. Potentially good but badly executed.

Almost directly opposite Birley was the second outlet I wanted to try: Croque Gascon.

This is a very different proposition to Birley Sandwiches. Croque Gason has some serious heritage as it's an offshoot of Michelin-starred restaurant Club Gascon

The menu is extremely inventive and ambitious for a shopping centre eatery but also cleverly designed so that the dishes can be made freshly and relatively quickly. No prizes for guessing what I ordered: The Gascon Hot Dog

Officially described as a 'pork sausage on plum mustard bread', the hot dog is made to order in what looks very much like a proper restaurant kitchen. There is a short wait whilst the sausage is heated up, the bread toasted and the sandwich assembled.

The sausage was fragrant, nicely browned and still hot. The bread was crisply toasted and tasty. Shards of gherkin added a little zing. All in all this was an exceptional sausage sandwich (and the contrast to Birley's couldn't be greater).

5 out of 5. Excellent.