Melbourne's top 10 sandwiches 2015

Chez Dre's labour-intensive confit duck sandwich.
Chez Dre's labour-intensive confit duck sandwich. Photo: Daniel Aulsebrook

 Sandwiches get a bad rap, conjuring memories of soggy school lunchboxes and sad lunches al desko. Nudged aside by creative salads and sushi rolls, sandwiches  can seem like the boring option. But they're not. You just need to know where to look. Here are 10 of the best sandwiches in Melbourne, with tips from their makers on how to take yours to the next level at home.

SETTLE FOR QUALITY

Roast beef with gravy from King of the Roast.
Roast beef with gravy from King of the Roast. Photo: Daniel Aulsebrook

Roast beef with gravy ($8.50) from King of the Roast 

The King of the Roast – please, call him Tony – has been serving meaty rolls for 26 years. "This is no junk – this first class," he'll tell you if it's your first time lining up for his gravy-laden goodness. Quality is key. "Before you do anything you have to have top meat, not a cheap cut," says Tony as he slices each soft, white roll down the middle and overloads it with meat; in this case beef so tender it's gently pulled from a larger chunk ("when you have quality, you don't need an electric knife"). The thick gravy is also a must, and if you're feeling extra decadent, add pork crackling. Find them on "the Facebook".

111 Clarinda Road, Oakleigh South, 9551 8610

Roast chicken spiced up with harissa from Smith Street Alimentari.
Roast chicken spiced up with harissa from Smith Street Alimentari. Photo: Daniel Aulsebrook

ALL IN, CHICKEN SKIN

Roast chicken ($9.50) from Smith Street Alimentari 

There's something awfully nostalgic about this chicken sanga wrapped in wax paper. It sparks memories of Monday lunches following a Sunday roast, but this free-range chook isn't leftover. It's been rubbed in a harissa spice mix and spun on the rotisserie for 90 minutes. It's then shredded, skin and all, and packed on to a thick aioli-spread slice of Baker D. Chirico​ high-top sourdough. If you want to give it a crack at home, make your own harissa paste (or buy one of the spice mixes sold at Alimentari​) and massage it into the chicken no less than 12 hours before it's cooked. Take the kitchen's advice and  shred the meat off the bone, chop up the crisp skin, and then fold it all together before piling it onto bread. Alimentari accompanies its sanga with house coleslaw spiked with Tabasco. Available from 11.30am, but often sold out before 2pm.

Nhu Lan's bargain barbecue pork bahn mi.
Nhu Lan's bargain barbecue pork bahn mi. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

302 Smith Street, Collingwood, 9416 1666, alimentari.com.au

PICK YOUR PICKLE

The Cubano ($10.50) at Mason Dixon

"Pickles are important," says owner Garrett Huston. "There are some fantastic Australian pickles but when you've got the right pickle, it will taste more American." His Miami-style cuban sandwich is layered with plenty of dill pickles, slow-roasted Yarra Valley pork and smoked ham, swiss cheese and mojo (like a vinaigrette, but with citrus, cumin, garlic, lemon and a touch of mustard) before being toasted flat inside a sweet Vietnamese roll. After some research, Huston discovered that pickles are actually palate cleansers. His appear beside and inside the Cubano. The pickles cut through the richness of the meat and brittle bits of cheese crust (the result of the swiss oozing on to the hot plate during toasting). You can purchase the proper pickles (Huston uses Vlasic brand) at Costco​ and associated resellers, including Mason Dixon.

Shop 7, 480 Collins Street, Melbourne, 8610 6316, masondixon.net.au

PLAN AHEAD

Inglorious Bastard ($12) at Daniel Son 

"Some of the oldies that come in during the week are too embarrassed to say the name, so they'll point or ask for the pork sandwich," says Daniel Son co-owner Todd Pryse of the Inglorious Bastard. But there's nothing to be embarrassed about when the warmed panini arrives, heightened by two deep-fried, panko-crumbed logs of pulled pork. The meat is cooked overnight in a wet mustard marinade. There's an initial crunch followed by the juicy sweetness of barbecue sauce, a house recipe that includes Coca-Cola, Sriracha and molasses. Pryse's advice is to reconsider the sandwich as something you prepare with time up your sleeve, not a slap-together lunch. "If you work a nine-to-five, bang some meat in the oven on Sunday morning, pull it out Sunday night and you've set yourself up for an epic week of sandwiches rather than some soggy lettuce and tomato."

471 Neerim Road, Murrumbeena, 0497 690 628

THINK OUTSIDE THE SANDWICH

The Gracie ($12.50) at Wolf and Hound 

Named after the Wolf and Hound team's rescue greyhound and created after surveying vegetarian friends, the Gracie is a toasted sandwich spread with sweet and sour piccalilli, layered with melted cheddar and piled with broccoli that's been baked with olive oil and garlic chunks. Brasserie Bread's sourdough,  full of the kind of seeds that you find wedged between your teeth hours later, holds it all together. "It's an unusual combination for a sandwich," admits co-owner Bentley Bird, "but it's still quite familiar. It's like the cheesy broccoli mess you have for dinner as a kid." Using a baked broccoli side dish worked so well when making the Gracie, Wolf and Hound applied the same principle to the Grizz (named after the cat) and added some fancied-up buttered mushrooms. "Take something that works and try it in a sandwich," says Bird. "Put it between some nice bread and see how you go – often the flavours will hold up, especially if they're nostalgic."

60 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington, 9372 6979

BREAD WINNERS

The Zee Man ($13.90) at Big Boy BBQ 

It might look like a burger, but this sesame seed-sprinkled milk roll (custom-made by Phillippa's Bakery) is the only one that can handle the 18-hour, hickory-smoked beef brisket. The Zee Man – spelled out to stop Aussies ordering "the Zed Man" – is a homage to Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que. You can hardly see the generous slices of meat for the buttermilk-battered onion strings (like rings but smaller, lighter and crunchier). There's also stringy smoked scamorza​ and Kansas-style house barbecue sauce. But for owner Lance Rosen​, you have to start with the basics. "That bun contributes to that feeling that I'm eating something that has an American overtone to it. It's the same with a baguette with roast beef and mustard or a banh mi – you get the origin and heritage from the bread," he says. Rosen recommends choosing a bun or loaf with structure that can support the fillings and add texture. Should your favourite sandwich become uninspiring, change up the bread: "It becomes an entirely different sandwich," says Rosen.

764 Glen Huntly Road, Caulfield South, 9523 7410; Shop 2, 27-31 Hardware Lane, Melbourne, 9670 9388; 344 Bridge Road, Richmond, 9425 9636, bigboybbq.com.au

SNAP, CRACKLE, POP

Porchetta ($15) from Heartattack and Vine 

The hunk of free-range roast pork glowing under warm lights at the counter demands attention when you enter Heartattack and Vine. The juicy meat is rubbed with salt and herbs, left overnight, then slow-roasted for up to three hours to develop a crackling worthy of idolisation. It's then sliced, diced and served with tangy salsa verde on a ciabatta from La Madre, and dijon mustard and sambal on the side. They usually sell out by 2.30pm. "To get the crackling going we have two ovens running, one at a slow temperature and one at a high temperature," explains co-owner Nathen Doyle. But those with the usual single-oven scenario at home should blast the cold meat on a high temperature to crisp it up before cooking, or can use crunchy slaw as a textural replacement. "I picked up the concept of this sandwich at a place in Vancouver that was doing something similar. The crackling just made it pop in your mouth. It's what makes this an above-average sandwich and gives it that personality," says Doyle. Available from noon. 

329 Lygon Street, Carlton, 9005 8624, heartattackandvine.com.au

PICK AN INGREDIENT, ANY INGREDIENT

Spicy school prawns ($16) at Hard Pressed 

Spicy school prawn ciabatta is a new addition to Hard Pressed's Latin American sandwich menu. Bite-sized crustaceans are coated in flour mixed with four kinds of chillies, deep-fried, then coated in chilli salt. Meanwhile the ciabatta is spread with butter and placed face down on the grill until golden. Chunky avocado, red onion, jalapeno, lime and coriander salsa is heaped on the base once it's warm, followed by the prawns (eat them whole), pickled jalapenos and smoky paprika sour cream. For an extra $3, you can get your sarnie drowned in a chilli tomato sauce, torta ahogada-style – although this is better with meatier options. "My advice would be get creative but not complicated," says owner Phil Gijsbers​. "There are a lot of ingredients here but it's ultimately about the crunch and the spice of the prawn … Come up with an idea for the main ingredient or concept, do it well, and then build the rest around that." 

76 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, 9417 4441 hardpressedcoffee.com.au

EAT MORE SANDWICHES

Confit duck sandwich ($23.50) from Chez Dre 

It's the most expensive sandwich on this list by a long way, but with duck leg poached slowly in duck fat then picked off the bone, it's also one of the most labour-intensive. Each component is made in the kitchen, from the caramelised onions and mayonnaise mixed with a reduction of shallots, wine, port and white truffle oil to the panini that can barely contain the fillings. Pickled red cabbage and fresh apple also help balance the sweetness, but head chef Justin Naudi​ says it's best to start with quality ingredients and experiment from there. "The only way to figure out what works for you is to make it and experience it a few times. The more you eat, the more you'll know what you want to put in your sandwich," he says. "There shouldn't be rules, the most important thing is to have fun with it."

285–287 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, 9690 2688, chezdre.com.au

DON'T STINGE ON SPREAD

BBQ pork banh mi ($4.50) from Nhu Lan

Despite a 50-cent price hike, any lunch that costs less than a fiver is a bargain in our books. The secret to this sarnie lies in the generosity of the women in orange uniforms that assemble it. With a deft swipe of the wrist, they coat the soft middle of the baguette-inspired roll with both mayo and pate, adding necessary moisture. It's then stuffed with barbecued pork, coriander, lightly pickled carrot and chilli, if you want it. Many atrocities occurred when France colonised Vietnam in the mid 1800s, but this union of Asian and European flavours wasn't one of them.

116 Hopkins Street, Footscray, 9689 7296; 152 Victoria Street, Richmond, 9429 5545