Hard Pressed

Latin mood: Hard Pressed lets ingredients shine.
Latin mood: Hard Pressed lets ingredients shine. Photo: Luis Ascui

76 Wellington Parade East Melbourne, Victoria 3002

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Opening hours Mon-Fri, 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-4pm
Features Family friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9417 4441

Melbourne doesn't have a Cuban sandwich food truck (yet. As far as I know.)

We've had the Cuban sandwich food truck movie – Jon Favreau's flawed Chef, in which Favreau plays the social media naif who blows everything (chef job, family, affair with cute maitre d') in an ill-considered Twitter tirade at an influential food blogger, only to get it all back again by taking Cuban sandwiches on the road in a rebooted 1978 Chevrolet P30.

(Flawed, structurally, because there's no crisis in the second act, just a steady upward truck-borne arc … but this is food, not film, so let's move on.)

Juicy mouthful: The Cuban sandwich.
Juicy mouthful: The Cuban sandwich. Photo: Luis Ascui

We do have Cuban sandwiches, though, including a new one at Hard Pressed, a new cafe in East Melbourne.

Wikipedia goes into a lot of detail about what a Cuban sandwich is or isn't, but the smart info-hunter will cut straight to the source – thecubansandwich.tumblr.com

Here, Tampa Tribune food writer Jeff Houck blogs about Cuban sandwiches from all over the Sunshine State, but what you mainly need to know is that it is a glorified ham, cheese and pickle sandwich, toasted in a sandwich press (which makes it a glorified ham, cheese and pickle toastie). The ham can be supplemented or even substituted by pork shoulder, and the sandwich originated in Florida, not Cuba.

The version at Hard Pressed features slow-braised pork shoulder (12 hours in orange juice, thyme and chilli), Swiss cheese, gherkins and Dijon mustard. It's a juicy mouthful with a nice mustardy tang, one of those sandwiches where the cultural reference makes it more than the sum of its deli-counter parts, at least if you have an active imagination.

The same could be said for the Jamaican jerk beef and roasted red pepper sandwich – the beef is roasted and marinated in jerk spices (ground coriander, garlic, green habaneros) that give it a mild, dry, Caribbean heat ("Not like home, but a mighty good attempt," said a recent visitor from Kingston) – and the Chilean chicken: whole bird spiced with chilli, cumin and paprika, roasted, shredded and sandwiched with cos, bacon and banana mustard aioli. Take me to Santiago.

Chef Jay van Rhee says the idea is not to overcomplicate things, but let the main ingredients shine in these simple but tasty sandwiches.

The pork and the chicken can also be added to a salad of beans garnished with fresh lime, mint and coriander, or a bowl of charred corn kernels, escabeche (pickled veggies, not fish) and avocado with a tangy lime dressing.

Breakfast offers a pile of sauteed portobello mushrooms seasoned with sherry vinegar and garlic on sourdough toast with poached eggs and shaved manchego cheese (there's a definite Latin theme), while jamon croquettes are three nicely crunchy, garlicky nuggets in a tasty saffron aioli. Sauteed samphire adds texture and a savoury weedy edge, though the accompanying poached eggs were past silky, with the yolks almost, but not quite, set (rather than runny). We'll call that a blip, not a trend.

Coffee comes from Axil. A pourover of Ethiopia Sidamo Guji is rich and blueberry-fruity with a nice savoury finish; and a French press brew made in a luxe Espro pot, the upmarket stainless-steel version of the plunger, is a deliciously pulpy Colombian natural that suits the Latin mood nicely.

THE LOW-DOWN
Do… 
try the French press coffee
Don't… forget a big slice of brownie
Dish… El Cubano: the Cuban sandwich
Vibe… city fringe bruncher

http://www.hardpressedcoffee.com.au/