BILL GRANGER CRINGES TO think of the sandwich that was his lunchbox staple as a kid: Strasbourg, tomato sauce and butter on sliced white bread.
''Isn't that dreadful?'' the celebrated chef and restaurateur says, grinning.
He remembers his Greek friend perching alongside him in the schoolyard devouring crusty-bread sandwiches filled with fried eggplant and tzatziki. ''At the time, I found it so weird. Nowadays, I'd be desperate to swap with him.''
Granger is not alone.
Sandwiches have undergone a sharp makeover in the past decade, going from dreary lunchbox staple to menu hero in Australia and abroad.
In London, acclaimed chef Mark Hix, who worked under Anton Mosimann at the Dorchester, recently launched FishDog, a vintage street van offering a gourmet take on the fish-finger sandwich.
And in Australia, Melbourne's Earl Canteen lives by the catchphrase: ''We make sandwiches. Just not as you know it.''
Since opening three years ago, Earl Canteen's pork-belly roll, made with crackling-topped pork, coleslaw and wilted silverbeet, has become a cult classic - owners Simon O'Regan and Jackie Middleton estimate they've sold about 35,000.
Be it school lunches, brown-bagged office lunches, diet-busting weekend blowouts or fancy finger food, Middleton believes there's a sandwich for every occasion.
Here are 25 ideas to get you started.
1. Fish finger ''Knock together a real tartare sauce, visit the local fish-and-chip shop for battered fish and chips, and sandwich it all between some good ciabatta,'' Middleton says.
2. Roast chicken with waldorf salad As a kid, Neil Perry went off to school with brown bread sangers stuffed with sliced tongue, mustard and pickled onion. Years later, the chef-restaurateur's Guangxi pork slider (slow-cooked pork on a brioche bun) is a runaway hit at his Melbourne and Sydney Spice Temple restaurants. But for office workers, Perry suggests roast chicken with waldorf salad. ''Make sure the waldorf has plenty of great mayonnaise through it and serve it on good, thick-sliced brown bread.''
3. Gorgonzola, pear and walnut on sourdough Another Perry favourite, it involves dressing pear and walnut with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, and spreading the bread with gorgonzola and a good cultured butter.
4. Vegetable omelet with aioli A brunch treat, Perry says it's best in a baguette with ''beautiful crunchy iceberg lettuce''.
5. Red pepper salsa, salami and cos lettuce Canberra's Silo Bakery has been serving creative sandwiches for 15 years and co-owner Graham Hudson says the quality of the bread is as important as the filling. He suggests filling a baguette with red pepper salsa (made from grilled and peeled red capsicums, capers, red onions, oil and vinegar), Veneto salami and cos lettuce.
6. Grilled asparagus, lemon mayonnaise, pecorino and pepper Melbourne's Phillippa Grogan opened a bakery in Armadale in 1994 and the business has since expanded to include a store in Brighton, Melbourne's city centre, and a wholesale bakery in Richmond. This combination is wonderful in summer when asparagus is small and sweet, Grogan says.
7. Crisp pancetta, caramelised walnuts, baby celery and mayonnaise To caramelise walnuts, Grogan says, sprinkle them with brown sugar and soy sauce and bake them for eight to 12 minutes.
8. Fruit bread and cheese Grogan suggests trying fresh goat's cheese, cheddar or gruyere with vinefruit bread and mild blue or goat's cheese with fig bread.
9. Chopped egg, sweet corn, parmesan shavings and smoked paprika A twist on a classic, according to Grogan.
10. Sliced eye fillet, fried egg, lettuce, cheese and garlic aioli In central Sydney, Pathi Rodrigues and Maria Barona serve traditional bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches) worth every minute of a half-hour lunch break at Encasa Deli. The pepito is their biggest seller. And the secret to its success? The crunchy baguettes are pulled fresh from the oven every 10 minutes and served warm.
11. Lightly floured and fried calamari in a baguette with thick aioli This is a favourite from Rodrigues' Spanish homeland. ''Sandwich-making is about simplicity. Keep it simple and use quality ingredients and you can't go wrong.''
12. Poached chicken, strawberry, mint and lemon creme fraiche on ciabatta Kate Stewart, director of Melbourne-based catering and events company Bright Young Things, says ''champagne soakers'' are always popular at parties. The chicken-strawberry combo has been this summer's hit. ''The rise of celebrity chefs and television cooking shows means people are better educated with ingredients and more comfortable with a fancier sandwich,'' she says. ''Not only that, they now expect it.''
13. Yabby, creme fraiche and walnuts on rye This is another good pairing with bubbly, says Stewart.
14. Rosemary, fig jam and brie toastie Guaranteed to get the party started, Stewart says.
15. Pork and fennel meatballs, provolone and passato A heart-warming combination that's always popular, Stewart says.
16. Pork belly, Asian slaw, pickled ginger, daikon, sweet chilli jam and mayonnaise on baguette Mal Gill, of Brisbane's Lady Marmalade cafe, competed in a national sandwich competition with a roll crammed with roast pork, five-spiced apple, brie, bacon, sage mayo, hash brown and fennel salad. You won't find it on the menu at his Stones Corner cafe but his pork belly baguette is a worthy substitute. ''We use David Chang's pork belly recipe, as we've found it is just unbeatable.''
17. Pulled pork with fennel slaw and jalapeno mayo Bill Granger's porcine offering is good for a crowd. It involves cooking pork belly with brown sugar and salt and serving it with fennel and apple slaw and mayo spiked with pickled jalapenos inside a soft bun.
18. Marinated steak rolls and barbecue sauce Granger's roll made with sirloin is steeped in Asian ingredients and served in a baguette with grated carrots, daikon, fresh herbs and a sticky sauce flavoured with five-spice. ''Nobody wants pretentious food these days and the sandwich, however 'gourmet', will never be snobbish.''
19. Tuna melt with mozzarella and artichoke, topped with parsley and olive salad Giving a simple sandwich a salad boost means Granger can serve it to his daughters for dinner without guilt.
20. Cucumber, smoked salmon, cream cheese and egg on crustless white bread Stuart Long oversees afternoon teas at Melbourne's the Langham, which serves about 2500 sandwiches a week. A traditional afternoon tea wouldn't be complete without these ribbon-cut finger sandwiches, ''crusts cut off, of course'', Long says.
21. Iberico jamon and manchego cheese Long's suggestion for busy office workers is an upmarket take on the old ham and cheese.
22. Tuna, sweet corn, iceberg lettuce and citrus mayonnaise The Langham chef gives tuna salad sandwiches a slight twist with zesty mayo. ''Make sure the lettuce is crisp,'' he says.
23. Lobster fingers with vanilla bean mayonnaise, wild rocket and grilled prosciutto This is definitely at the luxury end of caterer Fergus McPeake's range. The Irish-born chef opened a cafe serving bespoke sandwiches in Melbourne's financial district 15 years ago, a stepping-stone to his corporate and commercial catering company, The Sandwich Group, which specialises in sandwiches. Lobster fingers have ''wow'' appeal at parties. Poach rock lobster (or buy it cooked) and stir vanilla seeds into good mayonnaise. Spread good wheatmeal bread with mayo, layer on rocket leaves, crisp prosciutto and lobster, and cut into ribbons.
24. Panko, thyme, chive and parmesan-crumbed schnitzel and lemony coleslaw Everybody loves a schnitzel sanger, McPeake says. ''Keeping it simple with quality produce is the key. We use chicken fillets and panko crumbs for crunch.''
25. Roasted pumpkin, goat's cheese, rocket and dukkah It's not just vegetarians who enjoy this filling, McPeake says. It's easy to make but it's packed with flavour.
Tried and tested tips
The best in Australia's sandwich business divulge their tips and tricks for making, keeping and serving a winning sandwich.
■ Make sure the butter is at room temperature before you spread it; otherwise, it will grip to the bread and make holes in your sandwich. Stuart Long
■ Make your own mayonnaise. It takes only a few minutes. Then go mad with flavour additions to enliven any sandwich. Mal Gill
■ If you're packing sandwiches for a picnic, add a damp (not wet) towel to the lunchbox. It'll keep the bread moist. Mal Gill
■ Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the bread. Do not push down on the sandwich. Let the knife do the cutting. Stuart Long
■ Always use fresh bread and vary the bread if you can't vary the filling. Choose between yeasted and sourdough, seeded, rye, grain and corn breads. It's especially good for children. Phillippa Grogan
■ Make sure there's always something wet to bind the sandwich together, whether it's butter, jam, aioli, ricotta, hummus, or citrus-spiked avocado. Kate Stewart
■ Don't be scared to use lots of fresh herbs and great vegetables, fresh or roasted, in your sandwiches. In most cases, if it can go in a salad, it can go in a sandwich. Neil Perry
Bill Granger's sandwich recipes:
Pulled pork with fennel slaw and jalapeno mayo
1.5kg pork belly, on the bone, skin scored
75g soft dark brown sugar
25g sea salt
For the jalapeno mayo
Small jar good-quality mayonnaise
3 tbsp jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
Squeeze of lime
For the fennel and apple slaw
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
Juice 1 lemon
Olive oil, to drizzle
Soft rolls, to serve
1. Rub the sugar and salt into the skin and flesh of the pork. Sit pork in a tray, cover loosely and then allow to stand for at least two hours, up to 24 hours.
2. Heat oven to 160C. Brush off any excess rub and drain away any juice that has collected. Place the pork in a high-sided baking tray and add 200ml of water to the tray. Cover with foil and cook for 3½ hours or until a fork inserted and twisted pulls away tender meat. Throughout cooking, check level of water and top up as necessary - don't let the liquid dry out completely. Remove foil and cook for a further 30 minutes. Remove pork from oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before shredding meat with a couple of forks.
3. To make the mayo, mix the ingredients together with some seasoning and set aside.
4. For the slaw, put all the ingredients in a bowl, squeeze over the lemon juice and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
5. Serve the mayo and slaw with pulled pork and soft, floury buns for everyone to assemble their own.
With the humble sandwich elevated to main-meal status, Bill Granger does not feel guilty about serving his three daughters tuna melts for dinner.
225g tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
4 chargrilled artichoke hearts from a jar, drained and sliced
½ x 125g ball buffalo mozzarella, torn into shreds
50g grated mozzarella
4 chunky slices of sourdough
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
Parsley and olive salsa
Small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
½ onion, very finely chopped
Handful green olives, chopped
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
1. Preheat an oven grill to medium.
2. Mix the tuna and artichokes with both mozzarellas and lots of black pepper. Toast the sourdough lightly on both sides, then pile with the tuna and mozzarella mix. Sprinkle with chilli flakes, then grill until the cheese is melted throughout and bubbling on top.
3. In a small bowl, mix the parsley, onion and olives with a glug of olive oil and lemon juice and serve spooned over the piping-hot tuna melts.
* For more lunchbox ideas see our recipe aggregate.