Ground level, 500 Bourke St (Lt Bourke St courtyard), Melbourne (map)
Monday - Friday, 7:30am-5pm
I've got a confession to make to you: I've never really liked sandwiches much.
EARL Canteen, the new cafe directly under MoVida Aqui, is changing that and rapidly making me a sandwich convert. Rather than charge $8 or $9 for crappy sandwiches using crappy ingredients, as is so often the case in CBD cafes, EARL's philosophy is to charge you slightly more (think $10-$15) but in exchange they'll make you one hell of a sandwich using restaurant-quality ingredients in combinations that make you go mmmmmmmm.
Let me add the disclaimer at this point that Simon O’Regan and Jackie Middleton, the couple behind EARL (as in, the Earl of Sandwich, geddit?), are friends of mine met through food blogging circles (Jackie's blog Eating with Jack was one of the food blogs that first inspired me to start Melbourne Gastronome three years ago). Both have impeccable industry credentials: in addition to food blogging, Jackie has years of experience as a food stylist and restaurant manager, and Simon was a sommelier and manager at Rockpool. For months we've been charting EARL's progress on Twitter, and we're all very excited for them now that it's finally open.
So, the food on offer. For $13.50 you can get the EARL lunchbox of the day, containing a sandwich, a salad and something sweet. The day I ordered the lunchbox, the sandwich was a two pork bánh mì (with both bacon AND pork belly, crunchy vegetables and a dressing of lime, fish sauce and chilli), plus a marinated vegetable salad and a rhubarb friand. That's... a pretty damn impressive lunch.
I've been back several times before writing this up because I wanted to try a few more sandwiches from the regular menu. This is the (admittedly similar to the bánh mì special) lime and palm sugar poached Glenloth chicken, crunchy salad, coriander, fresh sliced chilli and nuoc nam on baguette ($12). At EARL they don't shy away from putting a fair whack of fresh chilli into their food. Respect.
The "REAL Steak Sandwich" is made with juicy grilled skirt steak, caramelised onion, provolone, beetroot, tomato, cos and mustard on focaccia ($13.50). Don't let the proportions in this photo fool you: it's actually a very generously sized sandwich, it's just that the steak knife they give you to cut it up is like a goddamn machete.
I had the steak sandwich on Wednesday when I was lunching there with the lovely Kate from Eating Melbourne. On that occasion she ordered the sandwich that has been causing the most commotion on the Twittersphere, the pork belly sandwich. I took a bite of hers and realised I simply MUST return to EARL the following day to get one for myself.
Everything you've heard about the awesomeness of the EARL pork belly sandwich is true. It's an insanely decadent combination of crisp skin Otway pork belly (with crackling!), apple, cabbage and fennel coleslaw and wilted silverbeet in a baguette ($13.50). As Mat rather hilariously wrote on Cooking with Goths, "It reminds me of the Sunday roast I wish my parents had the ability to cook." GET TO EARL TO TRY THIS SANDWICH, FOLKS.
Oh, and those potatoes in the photo above? Roasted with duck fat. A side serve costs you $4.50. Anyone who has read Jackie's blog or followed her on Twitter will know what a self-professed food nerd she is: luckily for us, this translates into her stocking EARL with only the very best ingredients. They're using Dench for baguette and focaccia, and La Madre for ciabatta and fruit bread.
There are plenty of other sandwiches on offer. Some of the vegetarian options include one with autumnal mushrooms and truffle paste, another with ratatouille and soft soft fiore di burrata (my current cheese obsession).
There's also one with duck confit and caramelised figs, one with kimchi and bacon (named Bacon Rage as a cheeky wink to all of us who suffered from #momofukurage during the food and wine festival) and one with Moondarra wagyu meatballs in sugo with deliciously tangy pickled zucchini (I sampled that last one at the EARL launch party).
Salad serves cost $6.50/$9.50 and they come with bread on the side. Of the salads, I've got my eye on that one with cabbage, pomegranate and parmesan.
For a brief time, EARL was stocking macarons by Duncan (as regular blog readers know, I'm craaaaazy for macarons, so I'll write about them in a separate post). Other sweet morsels that are on offer at EARL are friands ($3 each) baked fresh every morning: passionfruit & pear and roasted grape are the ones I like.
I sneaked in there one morning with housemate DJ and friends for one of our fortnightly CBD Bourgeois Breakfasts, where we had cinnamon crumpets that had been made fresh before our eyes. They were served with a degustation of condiments: butter, chai and plum jam, lemon curd and apple butter. Highly recommended.
The coffee at EARL is Coffee Supreme. It lives up to its name.
The best part for me? Now that my work secondment stint up at the Paris end of the CBD is coming to an end, I'll be working only a block away from EARL!