After the roaring success of our pan-continental reviews of McDonald’s and Burger King with our friends at Lunch Quest: Hong Kong, they threw down a further two challenges for us to attempt. In honour of the Hong Kong bureau chiefs’ honeymoon, which started yesterday, today I popped along to popular sandwich-grab emporium, Pret a Manger, to meet the first challenge, head on.
Having grown from its first shop in London, 25 years ago, Pret is now developing in to a global business, spanning the UK, US and Hong Kong, with more than 250 outlets.
Pret conjures two distinct memories in my mind: firstly, enjoyable lunches in Glasgow, when I was spending a fair amount of time working there; and secondly, a particularly grim stopover in Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
Today, I was, at least in theory, picking up a few last items for Christmas, but that proved somewhat unsuccessful. Instead, I turned my attention to Hanover Street and the Pret shop. I managed to time it pretty successfully so the place wasn’t completely awash with people. I chose a roll, a prosciutto, parmesan and salad artisan roll, then proceeded to the counter to contemplate the soup options.Pret offers three soup options each week, and given that they advertise these on their website, I rather think they have the same soup in each branch. I think this means they must have a quality control expert going round all their stores sampling the soup. I wouldn’t mind that job.
Today’s options were: pea & ham (the soup of the week); carrot & coriander (simple); and Cajun black bean & bacon (hearty). I couldn’t other than go for the Southern-style soup, in honour of my Alabamian pal, now returned to her natural habitat for the holiday season.
Service was of the slick, fast-food chain variety, but I tell you what: it was first class. My attendant was helpful and polite, ladled out my soup very smartly, and pointed me in the direction of spoons and seasonings. When I had grabbed my spoon and turned to leave the place, the queue was now quite long, but I would imagine it was handled very smartly if all the staff were as able as the chap who served me.
Upon returning to my desk, I was confronted with Pret’s message-laden, upbeat packaging. This kind of relentless, smiley optimism doesn’t often play well with me, but it’s Christmas, so I’d hate to be accused of not getting into the spirit of the season.
First attention was paid to the soup. It was so thick and hearty that you could stand you spoon up in it. As for taste, it was very good. It was quite well-balanced, but lacked the really punchy flavour that I was expecting. The texture was superbly comforting though, so it was a good winter soup, ideal for the occasion.The roll was good, when the salty cheese and silky ham combining nicely with the fresh salad. I like good crusty bread, but this roll was just a little challenging on the chops. I find when you get the sensation that the bread is sand-papering your gums, the bread is just a little too rough.
Overall, I liked Pret. I think it offers consistent good quality, and manages to retain a sense of freshness while embracing some of the ideas of the larger chains. For the type of service they’re offering, I think they’ve got it nailed. It’s not cheap, though. £6.85 is a good wedge more than you’ll pay in local equivalent sandwich shops (Lime, for example, offers you exactly the same quality, if not a little better, for basically half the price), so it’s unlikely to be making regular appearances on my rota of sandwich spots.
The second pan-continental challenge that the Hong Kong bureau have made follows their little trip to Hong Kong’s Disneyland, with the suggestion being that we should hot-foot it to Disneyland Paris. When she returns from her Alabamian trip, I’m sure MJ will be delighted to hear that.
Blythe scores Pret a Manger:
3.5/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
3/5 for setting
giving an overall 13.5/20
I ate: Cajun black bean and bacon soup, prosciutto and parmesan artisan roll
I drank: nothing
I wore: silver earrings, as usual
Total bill: £6.85