Elaine Sawyer and her son, chef Josh Sawyer, take comfort food to new heights at their “proper sandwich shop,” Wich is Wich. The shop is essentially homage to the diversity of the sandwich. With global flavours, exotic ingredients and textural contrasts they become edible works of art. Like the artisanal grilled-cheese shops, the gourmet sandwich shop has become a culinary subgenre that is booming in urban centres.
Elaine Sawyer is familiar to Londoners as a former morning radio co-host, who was successfully paired with Rich Greven on Q97.5, for many years. Elaine’s road to the on-air booth was circuitous. She worked in radio and television marketing, eventually ending up at CKSL, where she and Greven became good friends. After a format change, Greven moved to Q, and the station embarked on a search for a co-host. That is when Elaine got the call. For years the high-profile duo could be found at local community functions from charity fundraisers to cook-offs.
Josh was employed for many years as a chef in upmarket West Coast restaurants, and aboard the Attessa IV, while working for billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Dennis Washington. Josh cooked for Washington and a roster of celebrity guests which included Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Leonardo DiCaprio and Quincy Jones. If someone wanted to eat late night, Josh was on call 24/7. — They often wanted one of his sandwiches.
Executive Chef Thomas Waite, (proprietor of the boutique catering company, In Home Chef), and sous chef Andrew West are also on hand in the kitchen. The team is known for its take on classic comfort food, specifically updated riffs on gourmet versions with global ingredients and an eye to health consciousness.
Last July Elaine leased the former Cakewalkers space across from the Covent Garden Market. At the time the space was a bare-bones shell, which needed to be developed and adapted for restaurant operations. Several organizations provided help to Elaine to expedite the development of the premises, in particular Ethan Ling in the Business Liaison office, Jason Silcox in the Building Division, Cory Tung at Middlesex London Health Unit, along with the Fire Department.
Elaine also gives credit to her neighbour, Downtown London. The organization helps downtown businesses take advantage of all available incentives, promotes downtown businesses and handles a variety of other functions that support their members.
A smart urban exterior features a large window, which gives Wich is Wich a close-up view of the Covent Garden Market. It’s pretty much a sit-down restaurant, with plenty of seating and friendly hospitable servers, but with a casual ambiance and a curated soundtrack of predominantly laid back rhythm and blues. There is a bit of an urban-industrial aesthetic with modern touches, reclaimed brick walls, a playful mix of retro chairs, window seating and a communal table designed by Chris at McKaskell Haindl Design Build.
The prepping and assembling takes place in full view of customers, (behind a glass partition), showcasing the creative ways ingredients are being paired by the chefs and facilitating interaction with the customers.
Impeccably proportioned sandwiches made with fresh baguettes include such classics as chicken w’anh m, (their take on the Vietnamese classic bánh mì), which is given a twist when prepared with marinated chicken thigh, pickled crunchy vegetables, cucumber, cilantro, sweet chili condiment; Moroccan-inspired Marrakech chicken prepared with certified Halal thigh, ras el hanout, tzatziki, Shiraz salad, lemon tahini, lettuce and pickles; The Italian-inspired Bella is prepared with sopresetta, porchetta, green olive aioli, crunchy marinated vegetables, lettuce, tomato and provolone cheese; The South American influenced Carnitas are made with pork shoulder, tomatillo jus, pineapple salsa fresco, salad greens and ww’acamole (Wich is Wich’s take on guacamole).
The melt-in-your-mouth porchetta is savoury, fatty and moist and prepared from locally-sourced pork shoulder, with crackling, herby mustard seed vinaigrette and arugula, and served on a bianco roll. There is a charcuterie board for sharing, the Wich Board, with quality butchery meats, pickles, artisan cheeses,`Lito’s beer mustard and other accoutrements.
The kale and wheat berry salad is decadent with its marinated raisins, red pepper, carrot, beet, sunflower seeds, and a knock-out honey-ginger dressing. Also on offer are homemade soups, a kids’ menu (Nutella and Banana sandwich), cane sugar sodas, Ontario craft beers (Black Swan, Forked River, Mill Street and Wellington) and red and white wine by the glass. The Bananas Foster is so over-the-top good it could become a calling card for the sandwich shop.
The stylish 40–45 seat shop offers dine in, grab & go, and catering services. Customers are able to email their orders for pick up. The shop features curb-side takeout as an option.
Wich is Wich
125 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market)
Monday–Saturday 11 A.M.–7 P.M.
(Open later during Budweiser Garden events)
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large