Melbourne's best sandwiches for socially distanced picnics

Omnia's helluva prawn cocktail sandwich.
Omnia's helluva prawn cocktail sandwich. Photo: Supplied

As disappointing as it is that we're still riding the stage-four express into spring, a tiny tweak last week made a world of difference to those feeling the sting of isolation. You can now meet with one friend, recreationally.

If the penny hasn't dropped yet, let me spell it out: that means picnics for two in a park without the formerly mandated activewear to prove you were working out.

Dining out isn't dead; it's just going to look like socially distanced sandwiches until we move to phase two. And that ain't so bad when options on the hand-held meal front are thoroughly wild.

A few weeks ago we covered some of the city's new life-changing sandwiches: the crisp chicken burgers coming out of Lagoon Dining at weekends; the return of the Rockwell and Sons' DIY double patty smash (available in any almost postcode through Meatsmith); passata-sluiced eggplant parma bangers from Footscray's Roman's Original and the newly launched decks from Hector's Deli that are travelling to different suburbs every day.

And this past weekend, chef Raphael Exton Pery, on his break from Gimlet, launched his Jolly Good Sandwiches pop-up in Fitzroy North, and those suckers look promising: roast beef, Swiss cheese, American mustard, pickles, mayo, onion and cos lettuce on a white baguette with a Young Henrys beer.

This is before we even mention our usual suspects: Falco Bakery and its top salad sanga or the beasts from Beatrix, and Bread Club in North Melbourne.

Tulum chef Coskun Uysal and his Balik ekmek (Turkish fish sandwich).
Tulum chef Coskun Uysal and his Balik ekmek (Turkish fish sandwich). Photo: Eddie Jim

Dani Valent, reporting from the south, tips Spout for eggplant pitas, Oasis Bakery's chunky wraps and the 5 & Dime pop-up at Caulfield.

Good Food's digital guru Annabel Smith says Latin Foods and Wines has moved to Melton and is doing DIY packs of their grilled beef with green beans, chillies and tomato chacarero for the west.

But crazier still is that top restaurants, deprived of regular trade for even longer, have turned to the sandwich trade.

Good food-Red Curry chicken, Banh mi from Anchovy. 11th September 2020 The Age News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Red curry chicken banh mi from Anchovy. Photo: Joe Armao

If you would like a sandwich from a hatted chef, Thi Le of Anchovy in Richmond was an early adopter. From as early as May she started cooking khao jee pâté, Lao's version of banh mi: crusty bread stuffed with Le's house-made pâté, pickles, mayo and rotating proteins. This has now covered house-made sausages, ox tongue, crispy pork, wood-grilled duck, pine mushrooms and romanesco, all grilled out the front of the Bridge Road restaurant.

Likewise, chef Eileen Horsnell quickly put a lid on Napier Quarter's star dish (rye bread brushed with salsa verde, aioli, and draped with Olasagasti anchovies and sliced boiled egg) for roving enjoyment.

Tulum's balik ekmek (Turkish fish sandwich).
Tulum's balik ekmek (Turkish fish sandwich). Photo: Eddie Jim

Last week, chef Coskun Uysal of Tulum joined the party, offering Turkish street foods from noon-3pm Wednesday to Sunday. His lahmacun, a ubiquitous snack around Turkey, is a finely rolled unleavened bread covered in spicy minced lamb, baked to order then covered with salad, parsley, pomegranate molasses and rolled up, still crisp and hot. "It's walk-up only because they have to be straight from the oven," Uysal says.

The same goes for his favourite fish sandwich from Bosphorus – flash-fried King George whiting slipped into a crisp Turkish roll with raw onion, lemon juice, and minty chopped salad. It's freedom in a bun, which, after dousing the whole thing in a dressing of salty yoghurt spiked with dill, becomes a sandwich best eaten over a sink, or better yet, a dog. Haven't bought one yet? You'll find any park stuffed with iso pugs.

South Yarra's overqualified sandwich shop is Omnia. Chef Stephen Nairn was looking at a hat for his meticulously executed bistro dishes at this new southside star, and he's bringing that technique to build-em-up bagels with impeccable house-cured pastramis, pickles, delicately smoked chicken and ocean trout.

The Left-Handed Chef's jumbo challah schnitzel.
The Left-Handed Chef's jumbo challah schnitzel. Photo: Simon Schluter

But hold the phone for a helluva prawn cocktail sandwich. Slices of fluffy, white enriched bread similar to that used for parker rolls are liberally buttered. Leaves are dressed and there are pickled shallots. The Mooloolaba prawns are gently poached in a court bouillon (an aromatic broth used to enhance veg or seafood) until just set, while the Marie Rose sauce is an aioli united with smoky, peppery, tomato concentrate made from scratch.

More? South Melbourne is home to Israeli star the Left-Handed Chef, and while the pita pockets are pretty unmissable, as are bowls of silky hummus dressed in smoky shredded chicken shawarma, the sweet, miniature plaited challah bread, filled with chicken schnitzel, pickles and matbucha red sauce is the hug both you and this visa holder-owned restaurant needs.

We are all desperately pining for restaurants to open as soon as they safely can – hopefully sooner than is predicted. Until then, we'll take what we can get. Which turns out to be more than we ever dreamed.

The lowdown

Anchovy Khao jee pâté, $12. Pick-up only; 338 Bridge Road, Richmond,

Napier Quarter Sandwiches available daily from $15. Pick-up only; 359 Napier Street, Fitzroy,

Tulum Balik ekmek (fish sandwich), $15. Pick-up only; 217 Carlisle Street, Balaclava,

Omnia Prawn cocktail sandwich, $16. Pick-up or delivery; 625 Chapel Street, South Yarra,

The Left-Handed Chef Mini challah schnitzels, $17. Pick-up or delivery; Shop 2, 219 Park Street, South Melbourne,