The Great New Zealand Toastie Takeover competition saw toasties from 80 eateries across the country were judged on the same criteria, including presentation, effectiveness of preparation technique, eatability, taste, innovation and originality. The toasties had to be toasted between two slices of bread and able to be eaten by hand. They needed to contain cheese and McClure’s pickles, with all the other ingredients entirely up to the entrant’s imagination.
If you're reading this thinking "hmmm, actually I could do this. I make the best toastie! Maybe I should enter next year..." that is exactly what the 2020 winner Romeo Dowling-Mitchell of Hungry Hobos was thinking last year.
His Dunedin-famous toastie shop, Hungry Hobos, has been popular with the locals since it opened 2 and a half years ago, but it was only when food writer Annabelle White, came into the shop and raved to the chef about his toasties that the gears set in motion. The date to enter came around, and Romeo, being busy making excellent toasties, promptly forgot about it. But Annabelle hadn't, and got in contact with the organisers to make sure he was in the running.
He got on board, with the "Bat out of Hell" toastie. He was inspired by a much requested toastie from back in the day when pubs served them: the 'doorstop toastie', made of meatloaf and chutney. Romeo had been making his own nostalgic nod to the classic at Hungry Hobos, but his version used aged cheddar and his grandmother's meatloaf recipe.
From that starting point, his winning "Bat out of Hell" sandwich got the additions of gravy and mashed potato which he says are "familiar partners to a meatloaf". With the briny and Crisp addition of McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, the ingredients are sandwiched between herb-buttered ciabatta and toasted.
“I wanted to do something that was a bit different but still inside the realms of what you'd get at home," says Romeo "Something you'd throw together ambitiously with the leftovers from the night before. One of my strengths as a chef has always been seasoning and balancing flavours and textures really well so I was confident I could give the sandwich the x-factor that way, rather than going too adventurous.
Not too adventurous, but Head Judge Kerry Tyack says the combination is at once wholly expected and a total surprise: “the assessment team felt this ate like a toastie that hasn’t tried to be anything other than wholly unapologetically itself - simple, unctuous, familiar, comforting and delicious every bite of the way.
Simple, but with a few tricks to it: Romeo's Grandma's meatloaf recipe uses pureed onion instead of chopped, and he reckons if you're trying this at home, go for a denser meatloaf and make sure your mashed potato isn't too wet. The bread is designed to be crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. And of course, as per the competition rules, the toastie is designed to be eaten with your hands.
The "Bat out of Hell" toastie. Photo credit: Andy Thompson.
It's those things that took the sandwich from being excellent to being the best of the best, with the judge's notes calling the eating experience "joyous". Kerry says "there’s a familiarity that's bordering on nostalgic in the savoury perfectly seasoned meatloaf with light buttery mash and gravy, melted cheese and McClure’s pickles. It's real comfort food! It's also bold and brilliantly executed with every element prepared perfectly.”
It sounds mouthwateringly good, and this is the second year in a row that it's been a South Island toastie that has come out on top, so we're excited to see what will take the crown next year.
The Great New Zealand Toastie Takeover