I’ll be frank. EAT is a chain I have historically bypassed for no real reason – usually in favour of other chains, such as Pret A Manger and the West Cornwall Pasty Company. This is perhaps due to the food from the other chains being more favourably disposed towards outdoor consumption, although given the frankly cruddy weather we tend to experience in Britain, this doesn’t really seem fair. Nonetheless, as it is, I have visited EAT a grand total of twice, so how far you choose to trust my view is up to you. I would, however, return on the basis of these two visits.
It is true that as mentioned EAT’s foods are not greatly conceived for consumption outdoors, or on the move. Firstly, their most famous dishes – pies and soups – are messy to eat, and are thus best eaten while firmly seated, and secondly, one tends to eat these foods when it is cold or miserable outside, so one is unlikely to want to eat them outdoors or on the move anyway. However, should this be your aim, EAT’s products are not unsuitable for the (rare) sunny days we do get: as well as toasties (which are portable), they also make sandwiches, baguettes and wraps, using everything from classic fillings such as the BLT, to slightly wackier combinations such as BBQ Bahn Mi or Moroccan Falafel. While perhaps vegetarian options are lacking (there is a disproportionate number of options for carnivores by comparison), appetising choices do exist (even if at times they are slightly pedestrian) and EAT is also sensitive to dieters, pointing out low-fat options both on the website and in store. Salads and sushi are also available for health-conscious diners.
So far I have only sampled EAT’s pies, which, although unsuitable for on-the-go eating, do come in cardboard boxes which fold out to create a convenient non-spill recyclable plate and provide an affordable and filling meal. It’s clear from the eating that high-quality ingredients are used: intense flavours come from the ale and slow-cooking techniques in their steak and ale pie, and pastry is robust without tasting or feeling gluey or like cardboard. However, this “top quality ingredients” claim stops there: I’d appreciate knowing more from EAT about the provenance of the ingredients (e.g. are they free-range?), as they don’t go into any more detail than this at present, although as all the milk used in their hot drinks is organic, it wouldn’t surprise me if they take a similar level of care with their other ingredients.
As well as the standard range of teas, coffees and hot chocolates, various coolers, chillers, sodas and waters are available, including from high-end brands like San Pellegrino. Again, there’s something for everyone and you’d have to try very hard to find fault.
EAT also offers a range of desserts (from cookies and cakes to fruit salads and frozen yoghurts) and even serve breakfast, providing a tempting range of breakfast bagels and butties as well as muffins, cereals, yoghurts and pastries. Like what is arguably one of the chain’s main rivals, Pret A Manger, it ensures a healthier option is always available. On top of this, nutritional information for every product is listed on their website: I now know that thanks to the Steak and Ale Pie I ate, I consumed a whopping 913 calories, which also took me way over my RDA of saturated fat. Guess I’ll be plumping for a salad, sandwich or wrap next time then. Good job I didn’t have a dessert on top of that!
EAT even caters for the very busy in a way that other chains arguably don’t, by offering a delivery service: for a minimum order charge of £25, you can have your breakfast or lunch delivered to your desk…although I’m not sure that we need encouraging to eat more takeaways, no matter how healthy they may be.
Ultimately I have found that EAT is a serious contender to the other big boys on the lunchtime circuit, not just another chain to walk past with a glazed, faraway look in my eye. Even if next time I’ll be checking out the nutritional info before I go there, it’s really positive to have a chain that encourages us to make informed choices. Next time? I’ll have the Mozzarella and Chargrilled Peppers Multiseed Baguette, which at 514 calories comes in way lower than last time’s pie of deliciousness.
A full list of EAT’s locations can be found here.