One of the first things my husband (hereby to be known as Bear) and I noticed about Birmingham is the stupidly high number of Subways lining each street. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy I good sandwich but seeing more than 8 in one day was a bit much. This gave me a thought: when was the last time anyone really reviewed Subway, really looked at the seating available if you were to want it, thought about the service and cleanliness of the place? If I was at a cafe or restaurant these would catch my attention, so why not Subway?
But we couldn’t be that boring, so we decided to find a similar baguette-selling establishment, and compare the two. Therefore, we have the question who will win out: the chain or the independent?
The Chain: Subway
One sunny day (although the only one so far), we took a wander by the park and arrived at Subway for a sandwich each. We went in chose and here is what we thought. Walking in the place wasn’t dirty but it was hardly welcoming either, nor were the employees. I understand that working in the food industry is hard work and that a lot of people will treat them badly. But when someone smiles at you and attempts to be polite and nice, it is somewhat expected that it will be returned.
Bear’s Sandwich: A footlong Chicken Temptation on Hearty Italian bread, with Southwest sauce, cucumber, lettuce and onion.
The subway ‘experience’ did seem to lack something; it was just another order from just another member of the public, or two. It felt as though no real effort was made.
However, the sandwich was good: it had the crunch of the salad (that actually tasted fresh), a softness yet firm bread taste and texture, and it had a good meaty bite to it that actually felt like it was a proper hunk of sandwich.
It’s downside, however, was the taste of chicken (for a chicken temptation sandwich) wasn’t actually there. So although the sensation of big chunk of meat, crispy salad and adequate bread existed, the main point of the sandwich… the chicken was missing.
Yes, there is a slab of breaded meat that resembles a piece of chicken breast, but the taste was not there. Maybe the microwaving or toasting killed it past the point of “warming it up”, or maybe the south west sauce was too strong.
- Bite: 3.5/5
- Texture: 3/5
- FLAVOUR: 2/5
- Experience: 3/5
- Cost: 3/5
- Overall: 2/5
My Sandwich: A 6 inch, Steak & Cheese on Hearty Italian bread, with honey & mustard sauce, with cucumber, lettuce and green peppers.
The bread was delicious. The salad crisp and cool. The sauce tasty and the right level of spice and sweetness. The steak & cheese on the other hand were rather disappointing. For something that is called a Steak & Cheese sandwich, I expected the two main flavours to be the steak and cheese, but neither of them was that prevalent. It was let down as the cheese was hardly recognised, and the steak was more like cold kebab meat minus the spice. I can’t say it looked that appetising when being taken from the tub either. The worked on and computer-edited advertising image may have shown slices of delicious beef, but what I received was more like flakes. In general, I feel like the meat was a let down in what would otherwise have been a good sandwich.
Overall Rating: 2/5
After we had received our sandwiches, alongside a cookie and a drink each (total cost: £11:49), we sat down at the small table next to the door. It wasn’t the prettiest view as a large offer sign was stuck in the window, but a little sun came down to warm our lunch. It was nice to sit and chat but not necessarily due to anything Subways had done to help us enjoy our meal. It felt almost as if we weren’t really expected to sit with our sandwich, it was very much more of a buy and walk atmosphere and style. In some ways I understand this, but for those who do choose to stay it would be nice to welcome and host.
The reason I haven’t name and shamed the location is because as a chain the idea is the same product, service and style wherever you are in the country. If Subway do somehow end up reading this review, I would love for them to just try harder across the board.
The Independent: The Victoria Square Cafe
A second sunny day came (a miracle) and we found this little place on Pinfold Street, just off Victoria Square, and decided it would be a great comparison to the Subway chain. This wasn’t some up market eatery which would show too much bias against Subway, this was a cafe. It served jacket potatoes, a full english breakfast, and wonderfully a large selection of baguettes. Despite it being a little rough around the edges, the cafe was nicely lit and had some nice pictures on the wall. It had also got into the spirit of the jubilee and the Olympics with flags and banners hung on the walls. The owner (I’m assuming) was welcoming and waited patiently to decide and give him our order. He asked whether we wanted salad with our baguette, then offered us a newspaper at our table. It was a choice between the Sun and the Star.. but you can’t get everything.
This experience was a little different: not standing and waiting for the sandwich to be made immediately in front of us, instead paying up front before having the sandwiches served to the table, was a more relaxed affair in comparison to the somewhat “fast-food” of the Subway chain.
The food being chosen from a menu (compared with meats, etc in Subway), with a little decision on salad, left me not really knowing what to expect. It was made in full view, but at a distance, and there was communication between the two servers that tackled our order (which was nice). Each tackled a sandwich, and before we could get to page 5 of The Sun it had arrived.
As you can see from the pictures, it doesn’t have what some could call the grandeur of Subway’s foot-longs, but instead a misleadingly small soft baguette. I say misleading as it was a lot more filling than expected and had a great taste, which I’ll go into shortly.
The chicken was indeed cooked in spicy Mexican flavours, that alongside the salsa that topped it, were prominent and good flavours. As I made my way through the sandwich the salad also came through and was crunchy, fresh and tasty. I make the same point about all food: for me, every time, it has to be about, flavour, flavour, flavour. The sandwich may look nice and it may have a good crunch (but a tiny cucumber sandwich could achieve that), but if it doesn’t have bucket loads of flavours then you’ve lost my interest already. Obviously there can be too much flavour if your palette is bombarded and can’t make heads nor tails of it, but the Mexican Special had a good amount of spice and herbs.
As you could see with the nice chunks of real chicken in there too, it did indeed have a good bite to it.
- Bite: 4/5
- Texture: 3/5
- FLAVOUR: 4/5
- Experience: 3/5
- Cost: 4/5
- Overall: 3/5
First thing I noticed: the huge amount of brie in my baguette. I was not complaining. That was fantastic! I am all too used to cafe and restaurants providing a light scraping of cheese and here I had a good centimetre of thickness running the whole way through. The cranberry sauce with it is a classic combination and was sweet and a little tart which bounced off the creamy cheese very nicely indeed. The salad within was also cool and crisp and green, and the bread was soft and warm. I was very happy with my sandwich. Can you tell?
Overall Rating: 4/5
We received our sandwiches and drinks and sat peacefully at a table to eat with a drink in hand (total: £8.20). It was calm, a couple of other people came in, ordered and sat, and it was nice. A simple cafe with simple pleasures. Getting up to leave we thanked the owner, he thanked us for coming and waved us on our way. Simple niceties.
Conclusion: INDEPENDENT WINS!
For a better price, sandwich and experience: swap out Subway for somewhere local, and if you’re in Birmingham, try the Victoria Square Cafe!