I thought I was going to be the last food blogger in Melbourne to make it into EARL Canteen. Sadly unable to attend the launch and since their opening in early May I had been tortured on an almost daily basis with tweets and blog posts and reviews all extolling the wonders of this clever little canteen that found a niche and filled a need we didn’t know we had. Thankfully they did.
“They” is Jackie Middleton and Simon O’Regan. You’ll see them when you walk in, smiling in welcome. Like the rest of their staff. The perfect professional level of friendly and approachable. This is a part of their brand that they built up before the doors had even opened. You see EARL Canteen cleverly uses social media, Twitter in particular, to gain exposure and loyalty. It is never overwhelming or spam like. In the lead up it was genuine and relevant – sneak peaks of how the fit out was going, tid bits of insight into the menu planning and recipe testing. They had the Twitterverse waiting in eager anticipation for the doors to open.
Since then they have stuck with this approach to marketing and, I think, to great effect. Using it to promote endorsements from customers – from retweets of those who had just been in for lunch to links (with thanks) to blog posts and mainstream media reviews. Pretty soon some menu items began to acquire an almost cult status as the online word spread:
RT @bookshopaddict: @EARLCanteen I think the boudin blanc baguette is the cool indie band answer to the stadium rock of the pork sandwich
It helps in no little way that they have, in equal measures, a great philosophy and great passion. They care about where the food comes from and how they serve it to you. The same level of care is given to the balance and creativity in the menu. I related immediately to their story of being hungry waiters who saw chefs create quick snacks from restaurant meals wedged between some bread. I did that too in my long ago waitressing days.
I had several failed attempts at getting to EARL. None of them made any easier for me given I do not work in the CBD and couldn’t just pop in. The first time I wanted to go I got sick. The second time I had planned to make the trip in I had to stay home and wait for a tradesman who waited until the very end of the day to show up. The third time I was meant to have a little lunch with the girls and it got cancelled. It seemed crazy that it was such an ordeal. But I did get there, and I have been back.
My first visit was at the height of the Pork Belly sandwich craze, so it was impossible to order anything else. It was selling out daily and there wasn’t a blog or tweet or review I read that didn’t pay homage. I had to know what everyone was raving about and why That Jess Ho had renamed it the “Sex Sandwich”. As it turned out they were all right. It is amazing. From the perfect salty crunch of the crackling to the chunks of succulent meat each mouthful of the Otway pork that took all night to cook is a decadent delight. It is served in a Dench baguette with apple, cabbage and fennel coleslaw and wilted silverbeet and is $13.50.
My lunch companion couldn’t pass it up either which was disappointing as it meant I didn’t get to try another sandwich, but I could hardly blame her. We did have some of the seasonal salads $9.50 for a large plate or $6.50 for the small. The cabbage pomegranate and parmesan one was simple but sublime.
On my next visit I had the Sticky Lamb $16. Tender braised lamb with peas and a cauliflower cheese crumble. I was not disappointed. I am rather fond of cauliflower in any form and thought having it in a crusty baguette a damn fine idea.
My lunch companion on this occasion couldn’t resist the lure of the pork belly, so my hopes of trying another sandwich, the newly added (boudin blanc) Sausage and the Egg $14 for example, were again thwarted. So I decided on a different plan of attack. If I cannot try more now, who’s to stop me eating it later. The new wagyu and ratatouille sausage roll $8.50 and a salted caramel macaron – for “later” were popped into bags and off I went. The sausage roll (which you can also get with soup for $12) made it to “later” but the macaron, consumed very soon after departure, alas did not!
What to expect at EARL? Expect sandwiches with fillings that are local, seasonal, sustainable and ethically raised. Expect to wait (only a little!) while they make it to order. Expect a modern minimalist interior (with blogger friendly lighting!). Expect good coffee. And most of all; like their journey from idea to opening, and my ordeal in getting there, expect (in their words) a crazy sandwich adventure.
500 Bourke, Lt Bourke St courtyard
(03) 9600 1995
Hours: Mon-Fri 7.30am–5pm