EAT: Sauntering Vaguely Browniewards

Brownie Basics

EAT is a sandwich chain that’s very similar to Pret A Manger (similar enough in fact that Wikipedia specifically calls them on it). EAT doesn’t just have any chocolate brownie, oh no, it has a Belgian chocolate brownie. It, uh… it looks vaguely familiar.

I realise that my photos (so far) don’t have much of a sense of scale. This brownie is sitting on top of a pocket notebook. The front of the notebook is hidden, to protect the innocent.

Brownie Backstory

I nearly didn’t acquire this brownie, but then I needed to pop out in the afternoon to buy a bottle of water, because apparently I’m the sort of person who will buy a plastic bottle once a month and use it until it’s destroyed and then recycle it, but I am not the sort of person who organises himself enough to spend like a tenner on a metal bottle of water that will last a lifetime. I had to go out in the rain to get it as well, which definitely did not affect my review in any way!

I like EAT (which stylises itself as “EAT.” on all its packaging and advertising, but I think that joke will wear thin quite quickly in this post so I’m going to just write EAT when the name comes up). I like EAT mostly for the food. Delicious sandwiches! Even more delicious wraps! Pretty good hot pots! Decent pies: for such a staple of British cuisine, it’s odd how hard it can be to get a decent pie in many British chains, so I’m especially inclined to be forgiving here. The coffee is basically acceptable. I generally stay away from the desserts and cakes when I go there for lunch, because EAT is not the cheapest place, so unless I have a real craving I stay away from the sweet stuff.

But now I have a vested interest in eating brownies from all different places (thanks everyone!) More importantly I have a ticking clock on this brownie: recently, Pret A Manger announced that they were buying EAT. When I first heard this I assumed it was just a straightforward acquisition for expansion purposes, possibly with an element of “Even Wikipedia thinks we’re the same, we may as well just be the same.” However it turns out that there’s more to it than that, and in fact Pret is mostly acquiring EAT so that it can turn as many of their stores as possible into “Veggie Pret” shops. Now I support this in principle, and I definitely think that more vegetarian food and more vegetarian options is a good thing (there are currently four “Veggie Prets” and they’re all in London, whereas EAT has something like 90 branches in the UK, so the maths is pretty straightforward). Nonetheless I feel like it is a bit of a shame. EAT is a good food chain, and on balance I think I prefer it to Pret A Manger, and now it’s all going to go away.

Although… you could be forgiven for looking at this brownie and thinking that I bought it in the future when Pret A Manger already owns EAT. It looks the same as the Pret brownie I talked about in my first post, and as far as I can tell it’s exactly the same size. In an effort to draw a dividing line between the two, I resorted to looking up the ingredients online for a comparison and to reassure myself that the recipes are actually different! It turns out that the Pret brownie has slightly more sugar, less saturated fat, twice as much protein and a fifth of the salt, so… there you go. (Side note: unsurprisingly, no possible version of the Google search “eat chocolate brownies” got me the results I wanted here.)

Now that I’m satisfied that this brownie, despite appearances, is actually its own distinct brownie (and I haven’t ended up retreading my footsteps in my very third post), let’s move on to the scores!

Brownie Points

Taste: This doesn’t taste bad, but after the specific mention of “Belgian chocolate” in the name, I was hoping for a proper rich chocolatey flavour. Instead, there’s something very slightly ‘off’ about it, with an almost artificially sickly aftertaste. Not bad, but not living up to expectations. 6/10

Texture: For whatever it’s worth this is one area where the brownie successfully seems identical to Pret. The texture is goooooood. 8/10

Presentation: Also just like Pret, it’s a very standard looking brownie that comes in a plastic wrapping with a bunch of cardboard inside, with no real justification. It can have the same penalisation for wastage that Pret got. 2/5

Value: This is tricky, you know? There’s no way round the fact that this brownie cost me £1.70, so it is more expensive than the Pret brownie. Sure, 1p is the smallest possible difference, but how can I say this brownie is better value when it literally costs more and doesn’t taste as good? 4/10

Fudge Factor: I considered being petty here because of the difficult experience I had in trying to pay for this brownie. I considered throwing points at this brownie because I like EAT and wish it wasn’t going to turn into Veggie Pret very soon. In the end, I don’t think I can give this brownie any extra points to fudge the score. 0/5

Overall Score: 20

Should I Buy And Eat This Brownie?

EAT, I want to love you more than I do. I want the mash and gravy with your pies to be just a bit better. I want your hot pots to be like 50% bigger for the amount they cost. I want your coffee to somehow suddenly become incredible so I can say things like “Well if you want food and coffee, it’s probably the best for both on balance!” And I want to be the kind of person who could alternate all his meals between your ham & egg bloomers and your sausage, scrambled egg and Emmental wraps, for the rest of his life, without dying of heart failure or scurvy.

Sadly, you can’t always get what you want, and though I want this brownie to be better, it’s not. It’s not bad. But Pret A Manger exists, and makes a brownie that is in some ways better, in some ways the same, and in no way worse. I cannot conceive of a realistic circumstance where you should buy this brownie instead of the Pret brownie: there is really no reason for it to exist.

And soon, EAT won’t exist either.

Closing Thought

Do I actually even like EAT that much? It’s not a silly question. See, when I was doing my PhD there were two sandwichy-bistro-café-type places next to each other on Tottenham Court Road. One was called LOAF and one was called EAT. I think I assumed they were both independent at first (I was still quite new to London at this point). As part of a general attempt to widen my lunch habits, I went to LOAF one lunch time and ordered a jacket potato with tuna and cheese, but they accidentally made me one with beans instead of tuna. When I pointed this out they apologised profusely, rushed off to make me the one I ordered, and the manager came out herself to apologise and offered me a free hot drink to make up for it!

Honestly, this is the value of good customer service – that simple act was enough to buy my loyalty for the rest of the year, pretty much. I’m not saying I never went anywhere else for lunch but I definitely went to LOAF at least once a week, often more if my PhD was going particularly badly and I needed a nice lunch to power me through an afternoon (this was most weeks). Their coffee was excellent. I ate basically everything off the menu at least once, with my particular favourites being: the bangers and mash; the chicken and ricotta toastie; and the tuna and cheese jacket potato, which is still the best jacket potato I’ve ever had (uh oh, more food #opinions, but seriously it had like a whole block of grated cheddar on it). I’d probably have been a lot less poor back then if I’d gone less often, in retrospect, but it wasn’t actually that expensive a lunch place as they go. Especially for central London!

The first time I ever went was February (so I particularly appreciated the free hot drink). The last time was December of the same year, the day before I went home for the Christmas holidays, and I didn’t get out of the lab for lunch until about 3pm, found the doors locked, the staff cleaning up inside, and a sign in the door saying “We are closed! Thank you and Merry Christmas!” Turns out they didn’t mean ‘closed for Christmas’, because when I came back in the New Year it was now a Carluccio’s instead, and in retrospect that was the first sign that that was going to be the worst year of my life.

Anyway, EAT was next door, similarly themed and named, and I wonder if some of my affection for LOAF transferred over unconsciously.

I just really liked LOAF, okay?


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