Our food expert Tammy Facey pays a trip to city centre deli Anderson & Hill, where she sees a new face in familiar surroundings.
In Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade nothing screams artisan, and free, like delicatessen Anderson and Hill. Named after the owners, the independent shop well and truly provides for the discerning (antipasti-loving) palette. Hailed as a food-lovers sweet shop, A&H is a smorgasbord for your senses, so breathe in the scent of strong cheese, cured meats, and delight in the less-familiar goodies of this deli.
A&H stock mostly Italian, Spanish and some French produce. You’ll find San Pellegrino drinks in the fridge, chutneys, jams, and spice rubs on the shelves, along with a humdrum of other foods they sell because it’s ‘very good’. For example the organic Palestinian cold-pressed olive oil is a winner, as is the purse friendly dried yeast (95p) and squid ink.
Dried pasta – fettuccine, is also available, along with freshly flown in Spanish ravioli behind the counter. The more exotic eats include processed and packaged Spanish seafood: octopus, squid, scallops, and razor clams. Their ales are local, as are the majority of their cheeses. That said, they sell a toffee-like Norweigan cheese too.
They have a range of dried meats, like veal, salami, pastrami and smoked hams, but the Jesus among his disciples is the Iberico d berlotta Jamon pata negra. Hailed as the caviar of the dried meats, A&H’s stuff is from the award-winning Spanish producer’s Beher. Jamon (pronounced ‘ham-on’), is the finest dry cured ham you’ll find, and to think it’s in the city centre at a not-so-unreasonable price makes me want to squeal.
Lunchtime is their busiest period, and when you’ll see sandwich, after sandwich order. But considering they’re a city centre delicatessen they only use ciabatta bread – it soaks up the oils and sauces beautifully; the mustard, oil, and other dressings ooze between the hungry knots and stretches of gluten, satisfying the ravenous bread, eager to be filled.
Three months ago the friendly shop-keeper Gary Anderson decided to pack up his deli-food duties, and hand over the business to a new face: Will Johns. Now, Will knows that every item has a story, from the flown in Italian gnocchi, to the German green peppercorn crusted salami, but is he a good replacement? Obviously I went to find out.
A trained chef, he expertly slices spreads and smiles like the charming shop keeper he (now) is. On a first name basis with every customer, Will has come into his own. Some customers ask about Gary, but Will’s charm, speed and ability to chat confidently as he serves is only a little alluring.
Although the sandwiches on the blackboard behind and above the counter are stated, if you’d like pickles or a different cheese between your slices of bread, cool. Asking every customer if they’d “like a bag” with their sandwich, it’s clear the customer comes first. As Will puts it “The customer can have whatever they want”. Nice.
They’re definitely independent – the only one of its kind in the city centre, and they boast a reputation for the best sandwiches in town. There’s no need to worry about new face Will; behind the till his competent hands will keep your tummy happy.
Speaking from experience, the fudge cookies are divine, the tomato puree is perfectly tart, and the salads are surprisingly filling. I’m not sure if it was the diced pancetta, or ratio of walnuts to cheese in my salad, but I’m hooked, and Anderson and Hill have a new customer, who has a penchant for smoked garlic, honeyed macadamias, pressed oil and sweet vinegar.