In Britain, Greggs is gospel. Saying you like Greggs is as unremarkable as declaring you breathe oxygen or drink water. Who cares that the menu is so beige it barely covers two shades on the Dulux colour chart? With 1.5 million sausage roll sales every week, Greggs is as much a part of being British as complaining about the weather or being annoyed by Brexit. This is why, with a heavy heart, I have to make a confession. Despite being both born in London and allegedly interested in eating, I had, in almost 27 years on planet earth, never eaten a Greggs. Cue boos.
Even though friends and family have long extolled the virtues of the fabled steak bake, I had never managed to drag myself through the famous bright blue doorway. There was always something else I’d rather eat, or somewhere else I’d rather be. As peers enjoyed their first Greggs flings, I was left with my puff-pastry cherry frustratingly unpopped. As time went on, it became harder to admit the truth. When those around me would wax lyrical about the merits of sausage rolls, I would smile and nod to hide my shame and try to seem normal. Eventually, I had to face facts: I was a nearly 30-year-old Greggs virgin, who’d never known the loving embrace of a bacon and cheese melt. Something had to change.
Armed with a shopping list of fan favourites, as suggested by the rest of the Twisted team, I stiffened the sinews, strode out of the office, and sniffed out the first Greggs I could find. Like Frodo before he set out to save Middle Earth, I had no idea of the excitement, drama and life-changing adventure that was about to unfold. I was just an innocent hobbit with an appetite. I could never have guessed what was coming.
In order to get the bonafide Greggs experience, I opted for four certified classics: the famous sausage roll; the vegan version that stole so many headlines earlier this year; the sausage, bean and cheese melt; and a steak bake. Early signs were promising. The quartet looked like neatly latticed abstract pottery pieces, only more delicious. Like the noob I am, I tried to put my medley in the oven, before a more seasoned Greggs fan stopped me in my tracks, barking that it must be eaten “lukewarm”. I obliged.
Like a cautious guest at an unadventurous picnic, I kicked things off with a sausage roll. Initial impressions weren’t great. An errant piece of puff splintered from the main column, leaving the snack looking like a peeling bedroom wall on Homes Under the Hammer. I handled it delicately, as a misplaced finger lead to an immediate torrent of flakey dandruff that would give the makers of Head and Shoulders a heart attack. As soon as I put it in my mouth, however, all issues were forgotten.
The pastry was crisp and buttery, without the slightest hint of a soggy bottom. Paul Hollywood would be hard pressed to find fault. The sausage, despite having the colour of a minced snail, was genuinely delicious - a million times better than most of the cheap meat tubes I’ve been occasionally forced to eat out of financial necessity. The vegan variant was just as tasty, with a curiously compulsive plant-based filling. Factor in that it only costs a quid, and it’s easy to see why some people would like to see the Greggs sausage roll stitched into the Union Jack.
It wasn’t all good news. The Steak Bake was warm, stodgy, but also weirdly insubstantial, and had a flavour that could best be described as “brown”. The sausage, bean and cheese melt was genuinely horrible and made me slightly sick for about 10 minutes. It tasted like someone had farted into a piece of rough puff and managed to bake it before all the gas escaped. That being said, the sausage rolls sealed it. The bean melts might taste like guff, but a good Greggs is properly yummy.
There are lots of baffling things about Britain. No other country has such a soft spot for things that are, on the surface at least, slightly shit. Is Greggs going to win any awards for pioneering pastry? Are any ex-employees going to wow the world on the Great British Bake Off? Possibly not. But, in a world where most sandwiches cost upwards of a fiver and good food normally means a massive price tag, a genuinely delicious sausage roll for £1 is something to be celebrated. Greggs, you were worth the wait.