I feel that if John Keats was knocking around today, he would put down his nectarine and write his ode to grilled cheese sandwiches instead. One only need consider his lines: "Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – good God, how fine. It went down, soft pulpy, slushy, oozy – all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry." You only need substitute the word "strawberry" with "jarful of fondue" and he is describing everyone's favourite hot sandwich. He had good taste, did John.
As do the people at Melt Room, just opened on Noel Street in Soho, an establishment whose entire raison d'etre is gooey and cheesy. The place is like some beautiful hangover dream. It even opens at sore-head-friendly times: from 7am – prime hangover hour – to 9.30pm, the time when you are feeling a bit softheaded after one too many Jacobs Creeks in the Pig and Whistle.
The menu is the type of thing that probably deserves at least a sonnet writing about it, running as it does the full cheese gamut from your standard farmhouse-gouda mix to more aspirational numbers, such as its slow-and-low lamb shoulder with melted Swiss cheese, or a pastrami- Sparkenhoe Red Leicester number, which is topped with a little coronet of porcini mushrooms.
If you are wondering why I am expending so much air extolling the virtues of a takeout-cum-restaurant that effectively melts cheese, it's because that is my dream. I appreciate flair and technical ability and all those other things that make chefs great and food superlative, but I also like two pieces of bread with something melting in between. I like the feet-on-the-coffee-table informality of it all.
It's not just that, though. This is a food with so very many strings to its bow. Texturally, it is a delight, the buttered-crunch of the toasted bread, the oozing warm cheese making a little slick on your tongue; I can taste it now. It is also balanced, with a little carbohydrate and, well, quite a lot of fat. But really the thing that draws me, bottom lip aquiver, fork in hand, is that it is so very soothing: it is the angora jumper of food. It calls to me of cuddles and duvets and being with people who won't pull a funny face if you end up with a spaghetti-string of cheese falling from your mouth. It reminds me of being young and uncomplicated.
Uncomplicated doesn't mean rule-free, however. There are very few laws to their construction, but those there are ought to be chiselled on some sort of tablet somewhere. First, you must use two pieces of bread, or what you have made is cheese on toast, which is, frankly, rubbish. Next: you must use sliced bread, perhaps white, preferably cheap (though the people at Melt Room might disagree). High-end crusty bread has no place here, not least because it is likely to stop your cheese from melting properly. And last of all, you must choose your ingredients wisely – this game is about cheese, so add only things that can cuddle up to it in the pan, that enhance, not detract from, its beauty.
Do these things and you will have a sandwich whose embonpoint knocks the tedious nectarine right out of the ball park.