The art of the steak sandwich

I am the proud owner of several fantastic books about food. I hesitate to call them “cookbooks”, because each in their own way is so much more than just a collection of recipes. Two of my absolute favourites are Sydney Food by Bill Granger, and The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander. I’m a particular fan of Sydney Food, if only because of the photos of Sydney that I used to look at on cold winter days in London to cheer myself up. Both books include recipes for steak sandwiches that just about make me drool onto the page, and, combined with today’s lunch, have got me thinking about the whole issue.

This is all a roundabout way of talking about a topic dear to my heart: the steak sandwich. Oh, the steak sandwich, with its mythically hard-to-perfect proportions of grilled meat, vegetables, sauce, and bread.

The best steak sandwich I have ever had is, perhaps unsurprisingly, at Bill’s — Bill Granger’s restaurant in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Served on toasted sourdough, it had all the proportions right, featured a particularly tender and well-cooked (which is not, I might add, the same as well-done) steak, and was so well put together on the plate that it was easy to cut through without having to divide the sandwich up into its component parts.

The worst steak sandwhich I have ever had was provided to me at Tilley’s in Canberra today. It was practically stone-cold, tiny, poorly-assembled, and in every respect unimpressive. The caramelised onions had had, I think, balsamic vinegar added to them to speed up the caramelising process—not of itself a bad idea, except in this case where so much had been added that it was like eating caramelised vinegar. The steak was OK, but, as I mentioned, cold, just like the rest of the sandwich.

If Bill’s can provide me with steak-sandwich nirvana for just over $20, why should Tilley’s make such a hash of it for $16? Perhaps the answer lies in the large sign out the front of Tilley’s: Experienced cook required. Apply within.