There are so many things to snaffle on Upper Street Islington you could gorge on something different every day of the year. So why should the humble sausage stand out?
X Upper’s small glazed frontage gives way to exposed brick and reclaimed timber with industrial accents of concrete and steel. It’s the launch event and I’m attending with my good friend Julian who’s not averse to a sausage.
We sip drinks and get the background story from founder Mariam French. Whilst travelling in Europe, she enjoyed many of the sausages typical and particular to different regions, especially the Olma in Switzerland, a soft white beef and pork sausage made with milk which she loved.
It dawned on her that these delights are simply unavailable in the UK, so she formed a plan.
The team came together, James Tanner, from Tanner's in Plymouth (and who you may have seen on Ready Steady Cook and Saturday Kitchen) and chef Francesco di Marzio (of two Michelin-starred restaurant The Greenhouse).
They set about a serious amount of research, as they apparently "walked 152 km across 14 cities in Europe and trialled 513 sausages in their quest to find the best and highest quality sausages".
What a horrible job. We’re stood by the kitchen where sausages are sizzling and aromas are wafting. Julian is salivating.
Luckily, canape sized slices of sausage on bite-sized sourdough slices are quickly circulated. They don’t have all five hundred on the menu; only five made the chop.
The first we try is The Skinny Chick, a Lighter 7% fat chicken sausages with a spicy roasted red pepper rouille sauce.
It’s delicious. Ordinarily they will be served in their glorious entirety with their signature slaw and hunks of the sourdough on the side or sliced and stuffed inside sandwich style.
The Italian Romagna is next up; a herby Italian chicken & pork example with a tangy green sauce and a hot yellow pepper salsa. Then the Rioja Picante Chorizo. It’s fiery and juicy with a nutty mojo rojo sauce and mizuna leaves.
We’re munching through the menu but we need to sample the beers as well. Two craft beers from FourPure brewery are on tap here, a refreshing Pils lager and the ‘Easy Peeler’ a crisp citrus session IPA. We take one of each to refresh our palettes.
By now the friendly staff’s sausage delivery circulation is in perpetual motion and we juggle our beers and menus to make sure we grab all the varieties.
The good old English Cumberland has a lovely beetroot ketchup and horseradish mayonnaise as well as fresh dill and a sprinkle of lemon zest.
What haven’t we had? Ahh the merguez. We speak to Mariam again and she wants to treat us to a whole sausage to get the full experience. La Merguez Snob arrives reclining seductively on a bed of rocket with piquillo pepper yoghurt.
This is the only thing we’ve been missing tonight, that unctuous moment when you bite into a whole sausage and the tension of the skin bursts, giving way to succulent spiced meat and the powerful tastes within. You don’t get that with a burger.
They plan to open other outlets keeping the ‘X’ and using the new area name to keep a local feel. Why shouldn’t a gourmet sausage outlet be a hit? They are versatile, can be eaten at any time of the day and cater to almost everyone.
Although in this case not vegetarians or vegans as I notice there’s no option for them. I ask chef James why this is and he is acutely aware of the gap in their menu. “We have tried so many but not a single one was good enough, yet. We are still searching to find a worthy candidate.” With the wave of plant-based foods, they may not have to try another five hundred.
On top of the regular menu there are daily specials including Austrian Käsekrainer or a smoky Polish Kielbasa.
These last two ensure that myself and Julian are now so thoroughly sausage stuffed we feel (and probably look) like a pair of human sized bangers as we waddle to the door.
All of X Uppers sausage dishes are between £8 and £12.
You might get two dozen pale, fat finger supermarket sausages for that but this is a whole different quality, flavour and texture league.