It’s never a good idea to punish readers, vilify or berate them, nor intentionally mislead them. So prepare yourself for a shock. There’s no such thing as “Boulangerie de Gregoire”. This review is about Greggs.
Objectively as possible, Greggs sell inexpensive baked goods, sandwiches, pastries and a selection of hot and cold beverages. They started life in 1939 t’up nurf. Newcastle upon Tyne to be exact, before spreading into Glasgow and Leeds, Manchester, London and Kent. They were a more traditional bakery chain before semi-reinventing themselves as a ‘food on the go’ kinda gaff in the 2010s. Along the way, rather like Wetherspoons, they seem to be the brunt of jokes about modern culture from snobs. The self-important, elitist arbiters of taste who sneer at the very thought of something unashamedly glorious as a doughnut. That is why, dear reader, I had to mislead you with the poncy title. Hope you forgive me, it was an ad hominem subterfuge to lure in the snoots. Question is, would you ever want to eat with someone who is so puritanically allergic to fat anyway?
Another example of alleged snobbery? My father’s reaction to this escapade was like something out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. He saw me putting my coat on:
Father: You goin’ to the high street?
Me: Yes, I fancied a Greggs.
Father: You . . . fancied. . a . . .a. . .
Me: Yes, a Greggs, father, yes?
Father: Oh. I see.
He then stoically rose his upper lip and peered over his priceless collection of Churchill biographies, wondering where he went wrong while I la-di-da’d off to deludedly venture forth into what I thought was Ye Olde Bakery, est. 1358. Location, Quaintsville.
“. . . rolls are oily, lightly flaky layers in the best possible way on the outside. With a slightly browned crust on top. . .
Writers love the contrarian whip, and it’s always tempting to find a new angle on a well travelled path. It does seem remis to cover so much food that’s commercially available and never touch the popular, more common places on the basis that they don’t need the coverage. So I think it’s time for a bit of a guilty pleasure. Let’s face facts, you’re not coming here for a salad. You’re not coming here for a skirmish of pallets around the quality of organic meats. You’re here for pastry. Pie. Buns. Bakes. Rolls. Icing. Fat. Sugar. The good stuff. You’re here because you want your daily carbs worth. With 2 kit kats and an large tea with extra meth while you’re there, please dears. Here’s my loyalty card.
The smell of the places are amazing. (There’s also reports that the smell of cooking bread increases serotonin in the brain.) All that dough rising, all that stuff coming out fresh from the oven. Lamentably we’re going to have to ignore all the cakes and sweets because Greggs really do sell a lot of stuff. To narrow it all down I’m reviewing a few select savouries and highlights.
The colour scheme I’ve never particularly warmed to, grey with a white font writing on a blue block? It’s just a little “meh” for me. You could argue that it’s designed to maximise it’s utility, but I dunno. . .shouldn’t a pastry house come across a little warmer? If you didn’t know what a Gregg’s was, and had to guess by the front of house, would you be able to tell it sold delicious hot pastries inside? Service is quickfire, but initially we’d like to draw your attention to something weird. When you go up to the counter and ask for what you want, the staff at my local feel a compulsion to prompt when relevant, “it’s not warm!” Aye, but you still need to sell it, don’t you? Rumours are that purposefully letting products go cold is simply a way of avoiding the pasty tax.
The house special signature is the sausage roll. Which Greggs go through
a fucking unbelievable 2 million a week. The pastry rules so damn much. My own two rolls are oily, lightly flaky layers in the best possible way on the outside. With a slightly browned crust on top. Inside the meat has lots of salt in it, and that is the taste that hangs in the mouth the most. Gloss-brine. It’s also gooey and slightly moist. When the pork makes contact with the mouth (oo-er), I can’t help but feel how smooth it is. Like I’m eating pureed, ultra-processed meat. They don’t call sausages lips ‘n’ arseholes for nothin’. Can’t help but feel it’s a little succulent too. All in all, this isn’t a “sausage roll” as it is a “cholesterol wellington.” A quick look on their website tells me that these two little beauts are 62% of one’s daily fat intake, 130% of one’s saturates and around 30% of overall calories. To paraphrase a Stewart Lee routine, that’s just getting your money’s worth.
The three cheese and pepperoni pizza bake has a weird biscuit like dough to it. But this is perfect food for a hangover, or for the wanton desire of regret. The three cheeses; Larry, Curly and Moe, solidify and kinda are just there. Fat to go with the meat and the slightly acidic tomato sauce. That sauce isn’t bad, really. Meshes well with the pepperoni. Could do with a sprinkling of mixed herbs though. Fun fact: I have a friend that carried one for later’s in her handbag at uni.
The cheese and onion bake is, um, hard to describe. The cheese is creamy, and I can’t find the onion anywhere but it’s there in the taste. Fighting it out with that creamy filling. The taste is acrid, doughy and lots more flakes than crusts of the sausage roll or the steak bake. It’s a little vinegary too. That acid does work, but not too well against that big flab of cream cheese. The ratio is off.
” . . .That rich-earthy umami gravy taste [. . .] is. so. satisfying. The innards stay all together nice and thick inside the pastry as you bite into it. . . “
The sausage, bean and cheese thing is a weird sludgy Frankenstein-creature of mush. Three things just annexed together, portmanteau’d together in a pastry straight jacket. And somehow incredibly alluring. The beans do dominate the flavour a little. If a professional chef tried such a thing it would fail. However Greggs make it work. And the world is better for it. Perhaps some pepper though?
Throwing their hat into the great meal deal ring, Greggs sell their own sandwich and club range. I tried the tandoori chicken baguette, which tastes more or less like a coronation chicken filling, with a few over-refrigerated sprigs of rocket. And you’d have to be a real idiot to think this chicken has been tandoori’d. Is anyone coming to Greggs with the presumed expertise of spicy stone baked chicken? Anyways, the chicken and bacon sub was cut from the same cloth as a Pret a Manger’s version. You’ll like it if you like it. The bread is tuff, though. Stuff.
The normal meat steak bake ought to be sold as a steak and onion, such was the prominence of the taste. Not that I’m complaining, because it’s delicious. However, the real marvel is the vegan steak bake. Tis a mysterious wonder to behold. It tastes exactly like regular meat, maybe, to be picky, it’s a little bit more mushroomy than beefy. That earthy umami gravy taste that’s used a lot in beef substitutes. But it is. so. satisfying. The innards stay all together nice and thick inside the pastry as you bite into it. Many a moment has been lost staring into the rich gooey innards of a Greggs vegan steak bake like Hamlet peering pensively at Yorick’s skull. Contemplating its nature and the mysterious impermanence of an elusive recipe. ‘What are you? Why are you?‘ I whisper at it in secret, hushed, intimate tones. It never replies. It’s about the size of your fist and lasts about 12 seconds. It’s gorgeous. The vegan sausage roll is a coalition-collaboration between Greggs and Quorn. It is less inspiring though; a mesh of shredded carrot and onion and pea on the inside, but still wrapped up in a gorgeous crisp pastry. Apparently the vegan sausage roll was a source of controversy and a twitter storm. I dunno if it lived up to the hype of it. It’s not bad but really nothing to get yer knickers in a twist about.
Greggs really do seem to inspire loyalty. If I were to presume why I’d say it’s because they are purveyors of food of the common person. Champions of unashamed food. It has a consistency about it, whichever branch you go it’s the same. And homely too. Now, I don’t want to make too much of a thing about class but Greggs really doesn’t discriminate. There is a chirpy, salt of the earth kind of attitude about the place. The price range is extremely accessible. I’m never really that fussed about prices, but it needs to be said that Greggs are incredibly affordable. That definitely helps the appeal.
It also really doesn’t help my waistline. There’s fun for all the family. And it’s better than that Percy Ingle bollocks.
There’s been a push for Greggs to go into healthier eating, soups and salads and whatnot. Well for once, can we not? Please, don’t. Greggs deliver so well on their pastries and buns and bakes! Why reinvent the wheel?! Why fix what isn’t broken?! Why rock the boat?! No one is saying you should eat here everyday. Sometimes you just want a bit of pastry and go hang the calories. Sometimes you want a nice, warm, filling bake and a comforting regular place to go. The kind of place that’s always here in perpetuity. You turn up. You holler the order. The person on the till hollers what you ordered to the person on oven duty. One pastry for another, for ever and ever. Perpetual pastries, if you will. It goes on. So yes, Greggs. Brilliant. Long live Boulangerie de Grégoire.