8 November 2010
EARL Canteen @ 500 Bourke St, Melbourne
The gourmet baguettes at EARL Canteen have a cult following. Tucked away at the back of a courtyard on Little Bourke Street, EARL is a magnet for city workers willing to pay a few extra dollars to do away with run-of-the-mill lunch time sandwiches.
The pork belly baguette is their signature item, and the best sandwich I have sampled at EARL. The guys at EARL have truly mastered the art of pork roasting. The Otway pork belly is succulently roasted to retain a porky juiciness, achieving a healthy layer of melt-in-the-mouth fat in the process. The feature item in the sandwich is the crackling which possesses the ultimate crunch and acts as the ideal seasoning for the pork meat. Coupled with a crisp apple, cabbage and fennel coleslaw and a few leaves of silverbeet, this baguette is a true beauty. However, be warned – the chewiness of this unheated gourmet French roll can give your jaw an unsolicited workout.
On the other hand, the 12 hour slow cooked lamb baguette contains a heated baguette roll which is crunchy rather than chewy and so minimises jaw strain. Although the lamb is wonderfully moist, sinking my teeth into the lamb pieces is deceptively similar to biting into fibrous rope - the kitchen staff at EARL made the amateurish mistake of cutting the lamb with the grain, rather than against it. This textural flaw aside, the lamb baguette is highlighted by the captivating flavours and aromas of the lamb, honeyed carrots and mélange of garlic, lemon zest and parsley.
EARL also offers some of the most delicate macarons I have come across in Melbourne. With only three macaron varieties available – salted caramel, rose and Earl Grey – I had no choice but to try them all. EARL’s macarons possessed the ideal level of sweetness and were devoid of the crunch commonly associated with unskillfully made macarons. The chewiness of the macarons was variable - the salted caramel was perfect but the rose and Earl Grey each needed more bite - but the flavours were charmingly natural and refined, albeit falling marginally short in terms of intensity. These macarons don’t attain benchmark status but are nevertheless among the best I have tasted in Melbourne.
If the pork belly, slow cooked lamb and macarons do not interest you, perhaps the lime poached chicken, Wagyu meatball or seasonal friands will. With unique menu items and fresh produce, EARL is a welcome deviation from the sandwich norm.
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)