Where: Butchers Diner, 10 Bourke Street Melbourne
What: The best sandwich in Melbourne
Who: Ox Tongue Soul Sister
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
If you told me two Thursdays ago that I’d be eating dinner at close to 10pm, I would’ve laughed in your face or stayed in bed because I wouldn’t have been able to face the day. Thankfully I was none the wiser at I sat in new Thai restaurant Isan Soul on Bourke Street, hoping against hope that my food would arrive before an 8pm literary event. However as the clock reached 7.50pm with no sign of our entrée let alone meal, Ox Tongue Soul Sister and I took our leave and resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d be eating our dinner after the event. (I’ve since been back to Isan Soul and my food did arrive this time – stay tuned for next week’s blog post.)
In a testament to the event we attended – author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah in conversation with Areej Nur (view my live-tweets here if you’re interested in what was discussed) – I forgot about my hunger, so captivated was I by the conversation that was taking place. As soon as it was over, however, my stomach started grumbling with a vengeance that only abated when Ox Tongue Soul Sister suggested we go to Butchers Diner, a 24-hour diner on Bourke Street from Con Christopoulos, the same restaurateur behind French Saloon, Neapoli and The European.
Nocturnal creatures are spoilt for choice now. Fast food has taken a backseat to the likes of 24-hour ramen, midnight spaghetti and American comfort food. Enter Butchers Diner.
Butchers Diner is a brightly lit hole-in-the-wall eatery with a curved communal table and a few smaller tables, vintage red and grey chequered floors and steel cabinetry. It has an eclectic menu that includes burgers, rolls, chilli dogs, skewers, fried chicken and salads, and daily specials that range from Monday’s shellfish jambalaya to Friday’s Reuben sandwich. There’s a communal hot sauce table, so it’s basically everything I want in a restaurant but if there’s one inconvenient thing about Butchers Diner, it’s that it’s cash only, so be sure to come prepared.
For a place called Butchers Diner, it has enough vegetarian dishes for plant eaters to be able to visit and leave with a full stomach so don’t let the carnivorous name (or the fact that they are a meat storage facility) stop you. From a cheese toastie and a falafel plate to a vegan hash and a range of salads, there are options, though Ox Tongue Soul Sister did marvel at the temerity of charging $7 for raw seasonal veggies with olive oil and salt.
It was only fitting that Ox Tongue Soul Sister and I ordered the ox tongue ‘yakitori-style’ skewers that were on the Butchers Diner menu. Not content with only one unusual cut of meat, we also ordered the blood sausage and devilled egg roll, but opted for two vegetarian dishes after that – a tofu banh mi and a charcoal broccoli salad.
Everything arrived at once and approximately five minutes after we ordered, so the service at Butchers Diner is nothing if not efficient. The ox tongue skewers were pleasantly chewy and tangy when generously drizzled with the accompanying lemon, but they never reached the heights of the Japanese-style thinly sliced gyu tan that Ox Tongue Soul Sister and I enjoy.
Butchers Diner also has duck heart and liver skewers, and as an aficionado of offal, I’d be keen to try those skewers. Ox Tongue Soul Sister and I were also enamoured by the slow cooked octopus and housemade lap cheong (Chinese sausage) on the charcoal grill menu, so we’ll definitely be back to try that.
The highlight of our meal, hands down, was the blood sausage and devilled egg roll. The blood sausage was presented as a crisp, sturdy square that paired beautifully with the curry powder-spiked mashed boiled egg, iceberg lettuce and pickled vegetables. Sandwiched by a fluffy white bread roll, the combination of flavours was exceptional – the richness of the blood sausage and curried egg were offset by the texture of the crisp lettuce and the tartness of the pickled vegetables.
Blood sausage is an incredibly diverse dish with iterations in nearly every culture – the Spanish morcilla and the French boudin noir are versions of blood sausage that I’ve tried – and if you get past the fact that it’s made from blood, it’s an incredibly savoury dish rich with the taste of the herbs, spices and in some cases, cereal, bread and cornmeal that it’s cooked with. We shared this roll and I’m glad we did because it meant we could try more and that the taste of the blood sausage never became too overwhelming.
In comparison, the tofu banh mi was a huge letdown. Our tofu appeared to be of the salt and pepper variety, except it lacked any and was pretty bland. It was certainly fresh with the addition of the vermicelli salad and grated carrot, but Ox Tongue Soul Sister and I had to douse our respective halves with Tabasco sauce to spice things up (and fine, I am known to douse everything in Tabasco sauce so this may not mean much – but Ox Tongue Soul Sister can’t tolerate heat well and still chose to do this, underlining how plain the tofu banh mi was).
Our charred broccoli salad with tahini, lemon and almonds was another top-notch dish and our favourite after the blood sausage and devilled egg roll. It was a simple yet well-executed dish.
I felt okay in the immediate aftermath, but I should’ve known the combination of bread and blood sausage would rear its monstrous head – a bad bloat situation descended upon my body the next afternoon.
Butchers Diner is perfect for a quick solo meal on the communal benchtop and it seems to be a hospitality hangout for those who want a quality meal post-10pm. The blood sausage and devilled egg roll is available throughout the day, so venture to Butchers Diner anytime for one of the most delicious breaded meals in Melbourne.
Butchers Diner is open 24 hours a day every day.