Panino Giusto is Milanese royalty, the king of the panino, or in other words the sandwich. But can this Italian institution famed for its quality ingredients and perfect pairings become a success in London’s already saturated lunch market?
This imported chain is already well established in Italy; the first restaurant opened its doors in Milan in 1979 and 34 years later there are over twenty venues throughout Italy, as well as four in Japan. The first site chosen for London opened in April and is tucked behind the Royal Exchange Building in the heart of the City.
Whilst many chains fall into the all-too-easy mistake of overly branded interiors, this is certainly not the case at Panino Giusto. Forget walls pasted with huge, cheesy images of the 'real' Italy; the fit-out here perfectly reflects the brands values of quality and craftsmanship. The building itself offers masses of architectural character, with huge arched windows, massive ceiling heights and an imposing corner position. Under these windows runs a dark green luxurious leather banquette, creating a casual and comfortable dining experience. A dark timber floor, walnut furniture and brass feature-lighting create a classically elegant environment. Having said all that, you may ask whether all this grandeur is necessary for a sandwich?
Well, with two large floors of dining open both day and night, the menu has actually been diversified beyond the panino to offer a small selection of main courses for those wanting something larger, or wheat free. It’s all about the superior sourcing of ingredients, and a brief description of its Italian home is often noted.
A country so famed for its wafer thin, meaty offerings, it's hardly surprising that starters are based around a variety of Italy's finest. The 'Italiano' (£8pp) is a great one for sharing, a selection of Parma and Praga ham, speck, bresaola, and last but certainly not least, mortadella flavoured with pistachio nuts. This large plate is served with their homemade French bread, own brand olive oil and deliciously sweet balsamic vinegar. The surprising favourite amongst these is the mortadella, a fatty pork sausage from the Bologna region. Given a rather bad rep in the form of the American 'baloney', this is the real Italian deal and absolutely delicious.
Every item on the panini menu follows the 'Rule of 7' - 70g of sliced meat, 70g of cheese and a vegetable partner or two, all sandwiched between 70g of homemade crunchy bread. It is therefore relatively easy to navigate your way around the extensive menu. The 'Emiliano' panini (£7.50) features the mortadella again, this time partnered with Parmesan shavings, balsamic vinegar and Bronte pistachio cream. The umami-saltiness of the Parmesan married with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar creates a heavenly combination for the lightly spiced sausage.
In order to establish whether Panino Giusto can stand up as an evening venue it's important to try a main course. The 'Mediterraneo' consists of four small steaks of smoked swordfish served alongside a salad of shaved fennel and balsamic vinegar drops. A simple but tasty plate of food. The only disappointment is the price point, which is rather high at £22.
For dessert, the classic 'affogato al caffe' is divine. Lavazzo espresso is poured over a light and smooth gelato, again showing that special ingredients make a straightforward dessert stand out.
The wine list is - naturally - wholly Italian, unless you are looking for champagne. As with the food, all wines are from specially selected vineyards, most of which are small, family-run businesses. There are also a number of organic wines for those that like that sort of thing.
The Last Word
It is no surprise that Panino Giusto's first London venture is located in the City. The sandwiches aren’t cheap (£5-£14) but you get what you pay for. It’s also easy to imagine an evening of grazing over plates of delicious meat with a fine glass of wine. If your wallet is big enough and you are willing to invest in great ingredients, then the panini here are no ordinary sandwich.