Do you remember that freakishly cold, rainy day in Summer this year? I don’t recall a January day ever going below 20ºC, but that day did… with a max of 19ºC!! And it poured, shone, and hailed… Mad Mad Melbourne…
Well, that was also the day I finally visited EARL Canteen and tried its legendary pork belly sandwich. The lead-up to that visit was simple. I’d always meant to catch up with I-Huafor brunch during her work lunch hour in the CBD. It’s a good way for me to start chipping into my wishlist of city eats. EARL Canteen has been on my wishlist since day one, ie. more than a year ago. It took me a bit of coercing, but she finally agreed to lunch with me there. We even had time for coffees at Brother Baba Budan later.
I got there just before noon when it was quiet, but even on that cold wet day, it got busy by 12.15pm. Quite nice experiencing part of the CBD lunch crowd… watching people dressed in suits, obvious office folk, strolling in here for their feed of seasonal and sustainable sandwiches. Being in a rather frumpy bleary-morning throw-together outfit, I’d bussed into the CBD just for this lunch and, when it got busy, I felt quite out of whack from the power humdrum emanating from everybody else.
The place looked and felt quite stark and clean. And the staff were friendly and efficient. I initially took a seat outside to wait for I-Hua, but the guy kindly asked me inside where it’s warm.
I-Hua’s on a Paleo Diet, meaning no carbs, no bread, no processed food… OH MY!! So she had a hot smoked salmon salad w free-range egg, beans, tomato, sprouts, rocket $12 instead. Looks scrummy to me. But the salad also had lots of beans, which are legumes: another food group that Paleos can’t eat. So the beans were left behind… aaaa such a waste!
Incidentally, friend and fellow blogger, April from My Food Trail, also popped in for takeaway sandwiches. She works nearby and loves getting her lunchs from the EARL. April very kindly allowed me to snap pictures of her lunch of seared ocean trout, tomato, beans, potato, olive mayonnaise, butter lettuce, focaccia $14. She disappeared as quickly as she came, but did text us back that she loved her lunch and finished it within two minutes, ha ha!
And then there’s my lunch… finally!
EARL Canteen’s much talked-about and legendary
Pork Belly Sandwich!
To be honest, I hardly ever order baguettes of any sort at lunches and brunches, but this one baguette deserved a try. Also, I half-expected this sandwich to be overrated by social media hype, a common situation these days. But you know what? I liked it!
The pork tasted noticeably different, I think it’s because they came from free-range happy pigs. Then again, they’re now ranging-freely in my belly. Hahaha! But yes, the meat was wonderfully nommy and it was cooked very nicely with crisp, good crackling. And because it wasn’t overly salty like siew yoke (Chinese roast crispy skin pork) normally is, I actually liked this pork belly better.
But I have to admit that the pork belly here was very very fatty… at least 60% of it was pure fat. Abit scary, but so damn good! And it’s delicious fat from good quality pigs anyway, so I didn’t mind. Still, I’d say it’s not suited for the health conscious amongst us, unless you’re having a calorie blowout day. I felt quite oily inside for the rest of the afternoon and needed an evening jog before everything felt normal again.
Also, my one quibble with most Western-style pork belly sandwiches is how the other accompanying ingredients (read caramelised apples) tend to be too sweet as counterpoint. Well, that wasn’t the case with EARL’s version. The other ingredients stayed gentle, light and they were far from sweet. This difference meant a lot to me.
I can be quite a cynical person, so it was a rather pleasant surprise that I think EARL Canteen’s pork belly sandwiches lives up to its name. Not sure how often I’ll order that again though… sooo sinful! But it was good enough to make me want to come back and try the other (less oily) sandwiches from EARL’s seasonal offerings.
Oh and since we’re speaking about sandwiches and bread rolls, have you heard of Vietnamese bahn mi? You can get amazing ones in Richmond and Footscray at Nhu Lan Bakery.