Earl Canteen

500 Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(enter via Lt Bourke)
03 9600 1995

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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.

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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!

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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!

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And then there’s my lunch… finally!
EARL Canteen’s much talked-about and legendary

Pork Belly Sandwich!

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Crisp skin free-range pork belly, apple, cabbage & fennel coleslaw, wilted silverbeet, baguette $13.5
I nearly wanted to call this series of pictures “the many faces of pork belly”, but that would be daggy. I-Hua did mention that she didn’t like the ‘scratchy’ baguettes (from Dench Bakers) they use here, but it appears you can request for softer breads if that’s what you prefer. But I didn’t mind what I had here, although the roof of mouth did get scratched, which happens quite often anyway whenever I brunch and bite into crispy brunch sourdoughs!

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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.

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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.

EARL Canteen on Urbanspoon

8 Responses

  1. Hannah
    Hannah at · Reply

    Man I still keep getting confused by the new look of your blog :P I-Hua’s salad looks so goooood!

  2. Yasmeen @ Wandering Spice
    Yasmeen @ Wandering Spice at · Reply

    Ok, I have been MIA from the blogging world long enough to only now witness your blog redesign! Looks wonderful, I like it :)

    I’m a lover of EARL. It’s a short hike from my office and I can always count on the lamb or field mushroom sandwich to cure my office malaise. I agree with I-Hua that i’m not crazy about super crusty baguettes due to the roof-of-mouth damage. Luckily as you said EARL is super flexible about putting whatever you want on soft ciabatta.

    Glad you enjoyed the experience!

  3. Daisy@Nevertoosweet
    Daisy@Nevertoosweet at · Reply

    Hahaha I agree with Hannah :) sometimes i have to look at the URL twice to know that it’s your blog hehe but i think it’s a great fresh clean design ~

    I don’t really like the baguettes that they had have at Earl Canteen and I remember having a poached chicken one which I didn’t really like :( I must’ve ordered the wrong thing ~ even though the pork belly looks outrageously fattening I’m still gonna give it another try ;)

  4. Winston
    Winston at · Reply

    Ahhh… What an interesting read because I just went there for the first time not long ago and realised my experience was quite different from yours! From the bread, to the meat to the crackling, oddly enough. Didn’t realise that you could request for softer breads. I actually went there cause my friend recently started working there and he recommended my the Harissa Lamb sammie. SO good! And congrats on the move to the new domain! I like your simple, clean layout too. Good stuff, buddy! =D

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