Office workers rush in and out of Quilombero, a new Argentinian Italian restaurant in East London's redeveloped East India Dock, to grab their morning brew. But I'm fixated on head chef Gabriel Pryce, who is carefully placing ingredients for one of the restaurant's breakfast sandwiches on the kitchen counter.
Thick loaves of rosemary focaccia. Beautifully fatty slices of mortadella sausage. Eggs. American cheese (yep, the plastic, individually wrapped stuff you usually find melted on supermarket burger patties).
As Pryce cuts a generous square of focaccia, he tells me: "A nice lady from the council came by the other day and asked if I wanted to take part in their healthy eating competition. All I would have to do is submit a sandwich recipe … "
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I don't think this particular combination of ingredients would score green on the nutritional traffic light front. But with Quilombero's breakfast beast, that's not really the point.
Pryce used to head up the kitchen at Rita's, a bar and restaurant he founded with bartender Missy Flynn and business partner Deano Jo. Long known as the best place to get fried chicken and cocktails in Hackney, the much-missed eatery closed earlier this year.
"Quilombero is about doing something slightly experimental but also just having fun," explains Pryce, who opened Quilombero with Flynn shortly after Rita's ended. "After having a high-pressure, full-on restaurant for three years, this is a temporary project. It's not about being super serious but cooking delicious and approachable food that marries Italy and Argentina."
Focaccia placed on the grill and smothered in salsa verde, I find out that the cuisines of northern Europe and South America aren't as worlds apart as they sound. And the decision to dabble in both was inspired by the space we're standing in now.
"We weren't sure that the extraction fan worked, so we thought about building a kitchen outside with a wood-fired oven. That got us thinking about people like Francis Mallmann, who's this Argentinian Patagonian fire master," says Pryce. "Then we were travelling around Italy and ended up in Genoa when we realised the place had a link with Argentina."
He continues: "Many Italians migrated to the South American country in the late 19th century. There's a language that developed in Argentina called Lunfardo, which is a combination of Italian and South American slang. And Quilombero means 'trouble maker' in Lunfardo."
So, where do the breakfast baps come in?
Pryce laughs. "I just have this affection for the breakfast sandwich," he says. "Since I started working professionally as a chef, I don't eat breakfast any more. The last time I ate breakfast was when I lived and went to college in the States. You get a sausage, egg, and cheese on the way to school. It's that easy grab and go breakfast."
He adds: "I also love that thing as a kid when you go past a train station with a McDonald's and you're like, 'Oh my God, I'm actually awake when they're still serving the breakfast sandwich.' It has a kind of mythical thing about it. Then you realise as an adult that they serve them until 10.30 AM and you should probably be awake then anyway."
At this point, Pryce removes an American cheese slice from its pack. And another. And another. And another.
"I'm obsessed with American cheese!" he says, seeing my jaw drop. "I love all kinds of cheese and I know a lot about cheese but the melt and texture of American cheese … it's not even the taste. It's what it does to a sandwich."
Separating a couple more slices, he adds: "'It's just like putting cream and butter and cheese into something without feeling bad about putting three things in. You just have to put in one."
As if my arteries weren't clogging up enough in anticipation, Pryce heaps mortadella on the grill.
"Mortadella is a baloney-style sausage. What they do when they make it is whip the meat so that all the fat is stretched out," says Pryce. "So, it has chunks of back fat in it like a salami, but it just also has fat perfectly dispersed through every single bit of it. When you grill it, it just kind of oozes this amazing melty fat."
Call the ambulance now.
Pryce starts layering up the sandwich and blowtorches the cheese to melt it ("We'd usually finish it off in the oven but it's full") while assuring me that not all of the food at Quilombero is like this blow-out brekkie sandwich. And besides, there are roast peppers in there too. Well, if I'm getting one of my five a day …
"Oh, and there's a fried egg to go in the sandwich as well. Because it's breakfast."
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Sandwich sliced and served, Pryce hands me a plate and says with a grin: "It's kinda dirty and kinda gross but it's delicious. It's everything you want in a sandwich."
You might have guessed that this is not food to be eaten daintily. But who the hell cares when you've crispy on the outside, soft on the inside focaccia crammed with all kinds of oozy, melty stuff between your fingers and thumbs?
Pryce is right when he says breakfast sandwiches are mythical things. You're not supposed to eat them every day, but when you're hungover AF or need to smash the day ahead, they're exactly what you need.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2016.