Can you forgive me? For I appear to have fallen for the very first name on my list, I can’t pretend I don’t already love it, see the title of this post. Seduced by 3 sisters in a three pronged attack; offered gourmet sandwiches and wine by the first, perfectly made coffee and pasteis de nata by the second and then lured to the third with the promise of pulled pork…honestlty who can blame me??
Fernandez and Wells is a name that had continued to crop up when trying to get a list together of places I wanted to visit for my little quest. And with Christmas finally behind me and just about feeling ready to start eating again I found that it had managed to squeeze itself on to the top spot, so eager was I to try it.
I headed to the Lexington Street branch first a couple of weekends ago with high expectations and a noisy stomach. I found a very plain, unassuming shop front but stepping inside was greeted with the most tempting display of sandwiches I’ve ever set eyes upon. Bottles of wine adorned the wooden counter, great legs of hams hung in the window and blackboards were chalked up with daily specials. The space is not large but is well utilised, it was full when I went, with customers settled wherever seats were available, enjoying small platters, sandwiches and sipping wine. This all combined to create a rather laid back, rustic, mediterranean vibe.
But returning to the business of my lunch, I found myself somewhat overwhelmed with so many good looking choices and stood perplexed for several minutes weighing up my options. I finally selected a bocadillo filled with rare topside of beef and horseradish for £5.50, but being the cheese fiend that I am and having spied a rather tasty cheeseboard behind the counter, couldn’t resist asking if I could have a little cheese added. Completely unperturbed by my request, a manchego was suggested and good slices of it added to my baguette at no extra charge. Having realised I’d stumbled into the wrong branch – as nice at it might have been to linger over a glass of red (they don’t serve coffee here at all) - I’m also highly unlikely to make the long walk home and more inclinged to linger a little longer than planned - my lunch was wrapped up against the cold and I was sent around the corner to their branch on Beak Street.
And so I trotted around the corner, clutching my sandwich like a prize and discovered the second branch which looked exactly the same as the first. On entering however, the difference is clear, this is a coffee shop through and through, with hardcore coffee machines in the centre, a similar selection of sandwiches displayed along the counter but also a tempting range of cakes and sweet treats. As in the first, the service is faultless, my lunch fare unwrapped for me and placed on a plate, seasoned and my coffee made while I loitered, hoping for a space to become available. Before long someone leaves and I nab myself a spot at the wooden bench along the back wall; I’m guessing prime seats are those at the front of the shop, the large windows lending themselves perfectly to a period of people watching, but I do love a corner and am quite content to sit at the back, feeling a little childlike sat on my plastic stool.
My bocadillo is delicious, generous quantities of thinly sliced rare beef, well seasoned and sandwiched by this incredible french style baguette, perfectly crusty and crisp but at the same time has the most morish chewy quality. The coffee doesn’t dissapoint either and I enjoy it enough to stay for a second, I almost order a Pasteis de Natas but feeling a bit of a pigm - maybe I shouldn’t have had that extra cheese - deny myself.
I could have left it there and been more than satisfied, but the temptation - let’s call it research - to try the third branch was just too much, and I’d heard they do a cracking pulled pork and apple sandwich…
So last weekend I deferred no. 2 on my list and went back to the St Anne’s Court Fernandez, located down a narrow street, this has the same look as the others but a sliding glass door. I’m dissapointed to be told that the pork rolls are only served on weekdays, and you can see this place is geared up for the hungry worker bees, pared back to the max. This has the same utilitarian feel as the other branches with it’s white washed brick walls, wooden benches and stools but is really little more than a corridor with seating along one side. It has a retro, canteen like vibe to it and I notice some lovely touches like the alcove with real tap water and chunky glass beakers (all branches have plenty of tap water readily available). I was lucky to find somewhere to perch but I can imagine during the week, the long queue of hungry punters are in and out as quick as can be with their flat white and pork bun ‘to go’, this is not really somewhere to linger.
But linger I did, hungry as I was for some sustainance. The super sweet, trendy, bearded guy behind the counter reminded me of my brother, apologised for the lack of choice and recomended the chorizo ciabatta. Now I can readily admit to having slight OCD when it comes to my sandwiches and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered one that I haven’t completely re-arranged before eating – it has to be just so. So, fantastic as the chorizo looked, I found myself slightly dubious about ordering, as it looked as though I was going to be served a whole sausage in a ciabatta roll (I know this is essentially what I’m ordering here but bear with me!). I needn’t have worried, oh no, Fernandez and Wells are as skilled at their sandwich making as they are with their coffee and customer service, and I was thrilled to watch my sandwich being constructed before my eyes, chorizo sliced in half and grilled before being arranged, evenly, just the way I would do myself, on a bed of roasted pepper and rocket, seasoned and warmed through again before serving, the attention to detail is perfection, these are no ordinary cafes and I’m in heaven!
The chorizo is fat, rich and juicy needing just the foil of sweetness from the roasted red pepper, the soft ciabatta soaks up the sweet juices, yeilding to it’s filling just enough to deliver a perfect sarnie. I’m impressed, I also want another coffee and this time find myself utterly unable to resist the lure of those portugese tarts that I’ve been dreaming about all week, the guy even gives me a smile and a nod as I order. Oh my word, these are seriously good; deceptively rustic looking, the feather light, delicate and crispy pastry holds the most luxurious, silky rich, but light vanillery custard. I could have spent literally all afternoon eating them.
I hate to gush but I just love everything about Fernandez and Wells, each shop offers a slightly different take on their concept, but everything they do, they do superbly well. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant, the ingredients are top notch and well sourced, the staff are the friendliest I’ve come across, seriously you are made to feel like nothing is too much effort and naught here is wasted on superfluousness.
I do now have a problem, having fallen hook, line and sinker for the place, I want to keep going back, I keep trying to make excuses to return, I want to try that pulled pork, the salami and manchego baguette looked pretty good too. I’m already fantasising about becoming a regular at the Beak Street branch; popping in for my usual, the staff knowing my name….
But I’m resolutely going to continue with my mission, trying different options across London, I can’t have come across the best already can I? Maybe I’m just not critical enough… I need your help. Where is your favourite spot for lunch? Am I missing somewhere amazing and unique, please let me know your suggestions and recomendations! In the mean time I might just have to pop back for another portugese tart and coffee…..