500 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9600 1995
I’m probably the only food-blogger who has yet to post a review of EARL Canteen. I’ve lost count of the number of bloggers who have raved on about this gourmet sandwich bar which opened with much fanfare a few months ago. While I’ve been to EARL several times in the last two months, I decided that I was not going to do my write-up until I had tried what bloggers have dubbed ‘the sex sandwich,’ the sandwich that has caused hundreds of punters to place phone orders for and write poems about, and caused walls to shake and the earth to quake. And today I FINALLY had it.
Situated just outside NAB, EARL Canteen is one of a few decent eateries that have recently popped up in the foodie wasteland end of the city (coincidentally, this area also happens to be the legal district). NAB’s share price may have gone to shite but when you have the option of going to places such as MoVida Aqui or Terraza, or EARL Canteen for lunch, who cares? I’ll try not to waffle on for too long as EARL Canteen has been written about over and over by 99% of Melbourne’s food bloggers and sounding like a broken record isn’t cool at all. We know that EARL is established by prominent Melbourne foodies, Jackie (of Eating with Jack fame) and her partner, Simon. We know that the cafe is named so to pay tribute to the Earl of Sandwich. We know that EARL ‘keeps it real’ by using only the best and freshest ingredients to make their $10-15 sandwich worth every cent. And we know that the canteen’s ‘utilitarian-chic’ decor gives it a warm yet no-nonsense atmosphere.
We also know that the EARL lunchbox is arguably better value than Cafe Vue’s famous lunch box. $13.50 got me a box with a wagyu corned beef and pickled zucchini sandwich with a side of spinach, pumpkin and chickpea salad and a passion fruit friand. Who knew that pickled zucchinis could taste this good and pairing it with wagyu corned beef was nothing short of genius.
On my next visit to EARL, I vowed to get myself one of those aforementioned ‘sex sandwiches’: the pork belly sandwich. On the day, I made the mistake of rocking up past 1:30pm and found myself being told that the pork belly sandwiches had sold out “quite some time ago.” SEXSANDWICHRAGE! Swallowing my disappointment, I ended up getting the REAL steak sandwich to take away ($13.50). It was a balanced mix of juicy grilled skirt steak, caramelised onion, provolone, beetroot, tomato, cos lettuce, mustard and a hint of aioli. It was a far cry from those greasy steak sandwiches from your local fish and chip shop that often come to you with the bread utterly soaked through and the contents dripping out.
Sure both sandwiches were great, but NOTHING could compare to THE pork belly sandwich ($13.50). Take several thick chunks of Otway pork belly, shreds of green apple, fennel and cabbage and wilted silverbeet all wrapped up in a Dench’s baguette. I honestly cannot say why I liked this sandwich so bloody much. It could be the pork belly skin that was so crispy that you forgot that you were actually eating fat. It could be the tender chunks of young pork meat that, when eaten with the skin, created an amazing contrastual experience. Or it could be the sourness of the apples, the bitterness of the cabbage and the creamy mayo that tied all ingredients together to provide one loin-quivering experience.
Not only are EARL’s sandwiches freakin’ fantastic, their coffees aren’t bad either. Using beans courtesy of Coffee Supreme, their long blacks are muscular yet surprisingly delicate at the same time.
Meanwhile, their skinny lattes paled in comparison. Props for the excellent frothing, but its taste was so subtle that it was leaning towards ‘weak.’ It was a good thing I had a passionfruit macaron filled with chocolate to go with my coffee this morning though ($2.50 for the macaron). For a short time, Duncan of Syrup and Tang supplied Melbourne’s #1 macarons to EARL Canteen. Sadly, I never got the chance to try them but hey, I’m happy to settle for Melbourne’s #2 macarons (his words) anytime!
Perfect for a pick-me-up in the late afternoon. Pictured here with Nescafe: coffee and rose macarons. They may have cracked in transit but they were still perfect in my eyes. They were tiny and delicate, yet surprisingly still punchy and full of flavour. Beautiful.
You can probably get two six-inch rolls from Subway for the price of one sandwich from EARL but (and not to diss Subway or anything – OH HAI NICHOLAS!) the quality of ingredients and overall taste of an EARL sandwich could roll a Subway sandwich in a blunt and smoke it. I could easily go to one of William Street’s nondescript cafes and purchase a soggy pre-made sandwich for $10, or I could fork out a little bit extra and get a freshly-made sandwich complete with efficient and friendly serve to boot. I know which option I’ll be going for.