Rain falls and the cars hiss by the window on a grey and gloomy afternoon.
The bike, the chairs and the tables out the front of Chiefly East are wet through from persistent precipitation. Inside, however, is dry, cosy and warm. The smell of hot coffee and freshly grilled toasties fills the air and invites you in. Hungry people talk and eat, eat and talk at mismatched wooden tables and benches that are neatly scattered between exposed brick walls and white scrawled black chalk boards.
Thom Yorke, David Byrne, Peter Hayes, and David Bowie sing overhead. It's nice in here.
"We are Chiefly East and we make great sandwiches with the best local and seasonal produce we can find," declares Chiefly East owner and real life sandwich artist, Ali Downer (who didn't even study at Subway). "I'm from Glasgow and I met my wife, Gem, in Edinburgh way back in 2002 when she was travelling..."
Ali and Gem opened Chiefly East late last year (2018). Ali is a chef and Gem is a baker. Ali used to cater at concerts and events around Scotland, and Gem bakes the greatest breads ever, Ali says. Ali proclaims that a pastrami sandwich from Katz Delicatessen on New York's Lower East Side was the highlight of a three-week tour of the United States.
"I have always been a sandwich fanatic," Ali says. "I remember visiting Katz and being obsessed with the pastrami sandwich. It became the highlight of a three-week tour of the US... We also had a great deli beside our flat in the east end of Glasgow, called Celinos. Their sandwiches are the absolute best; great ingredients made with pride and passion."
Inspired by possibly the best sandwiches either side of the Atlantic, Ali emigrated with Gem to Australia in 2017 with plans to shake up the sandwich scene. Since Chiefly East opened, Ali and Gem's goal has been to reinstate the sandwich as the bastion of delicious convenience, which, arguably, has not been seen since the days of John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.
"I feel like the sandwich should hold its head high in its rightful place at the top of the foodie tower," Ali asserts.
Well, if their baguettes, melts and toasties are anything to go by, Chiefly East is well on its way to becoming the new citadel of the sandwich in Newcastle. Gem's freshly baked baguettes are as crispy as Ali's toasties are crunchy. Their cheese is as gooey as their salads are fresh. Indeed, Chiefly East hoagies are a flavour and texture lover's dream.
A real standout is the Coronation Chicken. A true to form moreish lunchtime meal made of white, fleshy chunks of poached fowl, slathered in fresh yoghurt and warming Indian spices, topped by some cool cucumber slices, toasted almonds and a sprinkle of candied sultanas. Also, from the baguette menu is the vegetarian wonder, Vahn Mi, featuring mushroom, pate, and pickled veg, peanuts and lime slaw. Just picture yourself munching your way through that, all crispy and crunchy and what not. And, if you're not doing carbs for some reason, these fillings will work just as well as a bowl full of salad on their own.
From the Hot Grilled Sandwiches menu, my money is on the patriarchy smashing Croque Madame with double smoked ham soaked in a bechamel sauce, melted Grana Padano and Comte cheese, with a runny golden egg for good measure. The Take Me Taleggio is pretty bloody good too. Toasted golden and stacked two high spiked with an olive and literally oozing with Taleggio cheese, mushrooms, cabbage and parmesan slaw. Wonderful, wonderful.
Custom builds are available too, and all sandwiches come with a side of salted crisps on a super cute series of mismatched concession store plates. The bottomless coffee is a lovely touch too, particularly on a grey and gloomy day while you sit and watch the rain and the cars pass by the window.
"I love that we can make an exceptional dish and present it as a sandwich... I feel like it's a great way to eat an awesome lunch, without spending a fortune," says Ali.
So do I. And, I daresay, so will you.
- What: Chiefly East, 177 King St, Newcastle.
- Contact: facebook.com/chieflysandwiches
- Owners: Ali and Gem Downer
- Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 9am-5pm,
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $40 incl. bottomless coffee
- Wheelchair Access: Yes