You might be tempted to describe HT Harris as old school, but you’d be wrong. The rule is that old school is better, but lunch is the exception. With Old School Hip Hop or an old-school kicking, the enterprise is sure to be carried out in the correct spirit, and with no corners cut. But when it comes to the meal that splits your working day, old school means unidentifiable flesh, embalmed in mayonnaise 24 hours earlier and entombed in a stale bap.
That just wouldn’t fly at the long-established deli on Great Titchfield Street. So how do you describe a place where modern-day lily gilding is avoided as zealously as astoundingly good food is prepared?
Traditional? From the fading sign to the faded interior, it harks back to a time when branding was for cattle. Homely? This Italian-family-run establishment is on to its third generation behind the counter. Outstanding? Whether it’s a behemoth of a salad or a breezeblock of a sandwich, both crafted fresh, the ingredients are of the highest quality and treated with enthusiasm and respect. One bite and you will curse every day you spent making do with Pret or M&S.
The truth is that HT Harris could be described as heaven for anyone who takes their lunch seriously, but ‘sandwich Valhalla’ is more apt. The portions are big enough to satisfy a Viking and, such is the range and quality on offer, it would take an eternity to grow tired of the feast.
Not that many of the loyal punters get round to varying their order: you’ve got the spicy-salami-and-mozzarella people, the roast-beef-and-Emmental people, the Parma-ham-and-sun-dried-tomato-people. Some stick with their huge salads, crowned with perfectly ripe avocado and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic, while others show up daily for a generous helping of homemade pasta. The portions would feed two, if only the taste didn’t inspire such gluttony.
Queues are likely to stretch out the door, and customers eagerly awaiting their orders throng while while fresh chicken escalopes and salt beef are brought up from the basement kitchen. The counter heaves under the weight of the deep red Bresaola, the mountain of salami, the boulder-like Mortadella.
Those who have discovered it keep coming back to HT Harris. It’s great value, a sandwich costs just £4.50, but the true secret of their success is the delicious, authentic food on offer. Isn’t that what gets us so excited about the street food of Whitecross Street and elsewhere? This unassuming deli, five minutes’ stumble from Oxford Circus, is far from old school, in spirit, it’s as modern as luncheonettes get.