SANDWICH OPTIONS IN Hong Kong used to be few and far between. There were the ready-made ones sold at Oliver's and Pret A Manger, or even 7-Eleven if nothing else was available, but they all suffered from the same problems - mediocre bread and not enough filling.
But recently the selection of sandwiches has exploded, particularly gourmet ones, with the opening of several new shops that cater to the lunchtime crowd.
The Italian way
Candice Suen, director of Bite Limited, the company behind frozen yoghurt chain Yo Mama and Canadian hamburger franchise Triple O's, has recently opened Panino Giusto. The shop at the IFC mall in Central offers an array of panini, stuffed with various sliced meats, fresh salad greens and cheese for under HK$100. It's part of the Panino Giusto chain of panini shops that opened in Milan in 1979 and has since expanded to Tokyo, Yokohama and London.
What makes these sandwiches delectable is the way they are prepared. The bread is toasted and then loaded up with ingredients using the "Rule of 7" - where 70 grams of freshly sliced meat and 70 grams of cheese, along with greens and sauces or oils, are placed in a 70 gram bread roll.
"We have a special way of toasting the bread, where all the bottoms go together and the tops together so that they get a proper toasting," explains Suen. "It's not like other places where all the ingredients are put together and then flattened on the grill. Here the bread is warm, but the other ingredients are not. Panino Giusto has its own formula so all our staff have to go through training in Milan."
The signature panini are listed under the 5 Lions section of the menu, with the tartufo fast becoming a favourite in Hong Kong because of the fragrant white truffle oil that is drizzled over the Langhirano 24-month cured ham, brie, tomato and rocket; closely followed by the Giusto, which has Praga smoked ham, mozzarella, tomato, anchovies and mustard.
The French way
La Rotisserie opened its third location last month, with the Wan Chai branch joining outlets in Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan. While La Rotissesrie specialises in roast chicken, co-founder Marie Ranc explains that the sandwiches are popular, especially around lunchtime.
"All our sandwiches are made à la minute," she says. "For example, for the roast chicken sandwich we toast the bread and then pan fry the shredded roast chicken meat in its own gravy to reheat it, and then we use home-made mayonnaise and a green salad with French dressing. Customers only need to wait two to three minutes."
However, not all the sandwiches are available in all three locations - perhaps as a way to encourage diners to try the different outlets. Ranc says their signature roast chicken sandwich is popular, followed by Le Parisien - ham, Emmental and mixed green salad served in a warm baguette - which is only available in the Sai Ying Pun shop. A variation of the classic croque monsieur, the croque poulet can only be found at the Wan Chai location.
The Chinese way
Giving a Chinese spin to sandwiches, Little Bao opened this month on Staunton Street in Mid-Levels. The menu warns "no bao cutting" as the Asian burgers are too small to share.
For now, chef May Chow is serving a limited menu of four burgers. "I took the concept of the gua bao from Taiwan. It's like a hamburger, but made it with Asian ingredients," says Chow, who was born in Hong Kong and educated in Boston. "For the pork belly one I braise the pork belly for 12 hours in lo sui [a soy-based master sauce], add home-made sesame dressing, a combination of hoisin and ketchup, then garnish with pickles and salad."
The fish tempura version is lighter. Chow buys fresh fish from the market, then deep fries the fillets in a tempura beer batter. It's coated with a glaze of tamarind, roasted garlic, scallions and Thai spices. Lemon grass-infused fennel and pickles are added, then it's topped with home-made tartar sauce.
Another savoury choice, which uses chicken thigh, has a spicy kick thanks to the Sichuan peppercorn glaze, while an Indonesian tempeh, shiitake and truffle paste sandwich is perfect for vegetarians. Even dessert comes in sandwich form - a deep-fried green tea ice cream one.
Shop 3077, Podium Level Three, IFC Mall, 8 Finance Street, Central, tel: 2564 7000
Manhattan Avenue, 255 Queen's Road Central (entrance on Hillier Street), Sheung Wan, tel: 2324 1898; 71 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, tel: 2857 0818; 19 Amoy Street, Wan Chai, tel: 2527 8777
66 Staunton Street, Central, tel: 2194 0202
LG/F, 1 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2880 5778; Shop 101A, Grand Millennium Plaza, 181 Queen's Road Central, Sheung Wan, tel: 2880 5996; Shining Heights, 83 Sycamore Street, Tai Kok Tsui, tel: 2523 2333
J Senses, 60 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2545 6777 (order hotline); The Plaza LKF, 21 D'Aguilar Street, Central
Le Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon
Shop 2045A, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2234 7422; Shop 315, 3/F Landmark, 16 Des Voeux Road, Central, tel: 2166 9088
39 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2559 0889
Shop 1A, 1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, tel: 2872 0811