Friday 14 May 2010

EARL Canteen, or: how I learned to stop whining and love sandwiches

EARL Canteen
Ground level, 500 Bourke St (Lt Bourke St courtyard), Melbourne (map)
9600 1995
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.

EARL Canteen

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.

Lime poached chicken

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.

Steak sandwich

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.

Pork belly

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.

SweetsEARL salads

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.

Passionfruit and pear friand

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.

Cinnamon crumpet

The coffee at EARL is Coffee Supreme. It lives up to its name.

Caffe latte

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!

EARL Canteen


jules said...

great writeup - now I REALLY wish I lived in Melbourne.

Gem said...

As well as the yummy food there (I'm still to go back at least once before reviewing), I also have the pleasure of remembering it fondly as the place I first met you!

Glad the macarons get their own post. They so deserve it.

Want that banh mi! Bacon AND pork? Oh the artery-clogging goodness!

Kate said...

Yum. This place looks delicious! I've never been a huge lover of sandwiches either - but these look like what a sandwich should be! I shall have to try it out!


CC11 said...

wowsa this place sounds awesome!

Ruth said...

Wow, mind-meld: I was just thinking this EXACT thing this morning when walking past EARL -- I generally think sandwiches are shit (let alone PAYING for them) and am constantly annoying my workmates with rants about how frustrating it is that it's about all that is available in this corner of the city.

To make matters worse, I'm a vego, and all ANYONE makes for us is effing roasted vegetable foccacias (dear sandwich hands of Melbourne: WE EAT OTHER THINGS APART FROM BABY SPINACH AND EGGPLANT. MUSTARD! AVOCADO! CHUTNEY! ANYTHING ELSE!).

But I happily forked over $10 for the truffle mushroom and egg wrap at EARL without a second thought -- and how keen I was to do it again. An interesting and unique filling and seriously, seriously delicious.

I'm gutted to read about the macarons, though. That salted caramel was truly one of the best confectioneries I've ever had.

claire said...

Thanks Jules! You just gotta come and visit us more often, don't you?

Aww Gem, you're sweet. It can be "our place".

Hi Kate - "what a sandwich should be". I wholeheartedly agree. :)

Let me know when you check it out, Chanel11!

Hi Ruth, thanks for the thoughtful comments. Next time you're passing, you should try the one with ratatouille and burrata, the texture of the creamy burrata is really something else. And as for the macarons, I'll write about them soon!

Sticky Penguin said...

Oh my goodness. EARL looks amazing ! Why on earth aren't there places like this in Sydney? The sandwiches sound mouth-watering, but the thing that has really got me is the crumpets. Made freshly. With cinnamon. And lemon curd - I have never seen that in a cafe. This is definitely going on the list for the next trip south!

Natalie said...

Thanks for the review.
So hoping it opens at Paris end so i dont have to rush there.
And hopefully will open on weekend as well.......

Jackie Middleton said...

Wow Thanks Claire!
And Jules, Gem, Kate, Channel11, Ruth, Blue Penguin, Natalie, a big thanks too!
We are so pleased to be open and have such passionate foodie supporters, we love what we do and hope that comes through in our food and service. Please say hi when you come in, we love the online support we have.

EARL is a work in progress, we change the sandwiches regularly, in fact a new one next week already, so there is always something new to checkout.

I need to also share that when Claire dined with us yesterday, a table mentioned to Simon that they had read Claires tweets and thats why they were so excited to be eating with us... they were then even more excited that THE Melbourne Gastronome herself was at another table! :D


Johanna GGG said...

now I wish I worked in the city down earl way - it does look amazing and I hope it does well

just a comment - I couldn't find a link to the Earl website in your post - maybe I missed it but I have looked at their site before and thought I might revisit but will just go to google!

Ruth said...

OK, I knew burrata was some kind of cheese, but I just looked it up and: "The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream"


I had no idea such a magical thing even existed! I must have it.

klerre said...

In my weakened condition this morning, it was almost masochistic reading this review. I don't think I can go on working without a delicious sandwich in my slightly shaking hands.

This place sounds amazing. Can't wait to go there with you (not long now eeep).

I love sandwiches. This is how I feel about sandwiches:

Ali-K said...

I finally signed up to email alerts for your posts Claire - which meant you had me drooling via iphone before I'd even got out of bed this morning!

Oh, if only I worked in the city (probably best I don't) as I'd lunch here every day.

claire said...

Hi Blue Penguin: yes the crumpets made before our eyes were delicious. And like you, I'm a complete sucker for lemon curd!

Thanks, Natalie. It's worth the trip down from the Paris end.

Hi Jackie! After Simon came up to us and told us that anecdote about the Twitter follower, The American (who is not on Twitter) spent the rest of the afternoon teasing me about my "Twitter acolytes". :)

Thanks Johanna - yes I forgot to link to the EARL website. Will remedy!

Hi again Ruth. Yes, burrata really is as wondrous as it sounds. If you're near Carlton you can pick some up at La Latteria. :)

Oh klerre! Taking you to EARL for a sandwich of awesomeness will be a *top* priority once you're back in the country. xoxox

Ah Ali-K, Melbourne Gastronome coming direct to your inbox! Glad you like.

Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday) said...

I had the confit duck sandwich there and it was seriously the best sandwich I have ever had.

As much as I love sandwiches I personally don't see the point of forking out $10 for something I can easily waltz to the deli, get ingredients and make it myself (love my sandwich press). Which is why EARL sandwiches are awesome.

becberri said...

Claire, love your blog, thanks. Just had to write in support of Ruth's comment ... I'm also a frustrated vego who will kill someone if I see another roasted veggie foccacia! Pu-leez! Will make the trek down from the Paris end of town this week for something new! Yay!

Unknown said...

Have you tried the sandwiches at SMXL (I am sure you have!) I remember them as also being more expensive than average but you get what you pay for - their flaked salmon sandwich was awesome

Francesca said...

Hi, i've just found this blog. It makes me wish I was back in melbourne, I feel like I'm missing out on so much!

wow. this place looks seriously amazing! As a fellow sandwich hater Earl looks like it's going to change my mind one delicious sandwich at a time. This is my first stop next time I'm in melbourne. I need that pork belly sandwich!

Jane said...

hi there this place is just opposite my work. After years of living in the Beirut end of the CBD we finally have some decent food choices. Great blog by the way, am a new follower xo

Libby said...

I'm so glad that there are more awesome places to eat on the William St end of town (i.e. the foodie wasteland of the CBD). I've yet to try EARL Canteen but I know I'll definitely come here for lunch next week to try one of their delectable sandwiches :)

Unknown said...

Tried the steak sandwich today, we arrived a bit late for our first choice of the Pork Belly!

Very friendly and helpful service, and HAPPY staff!

delamare said...

Just caught the tram to the other end of town to give EARL a try based on your review - and it was well worth the trip! Had the pork belly one which was amazing, and my vegetarian lunch companion had the mushroom wrap. Service was also spot on, and the actual physical environment was great.

Will be catching the tram during lunch time more often. (Have my eye on the duck one next....)

Peet said...

hey great, this is right near my work! totally going there for lunch today, thanks! :)

Esme said...


For those searching for an equally good sandwich at the other end of the city - Cumulus Inc do amazing take-away sandwiches too. Around $8 - 9 and usually 3 or 4 choices (including one vege option). Baker D Chirico bread and fillings so good you forget it's a humble sandwich.

And... you can always grab a coffee or a sweet treat to go too.

briony said...

EARL looks so exciting, it makes me wish I had a trip back to Melbourne soon! Glasgow has rubbish sandwiches, which is weird because it seems to be all anyone eats for lunch.

Love the blog!


lavendah said...

Thank you for giving me somewhere else to visit on my 2 day ME food and shopping trip to Melb from Tassie. My mouth is watering for the pork belly already.