Balaclava wine bar Pretty Little is known for dainty, delicate dishes. But out back the team is doing things differently.

After convincing the landlord to let them use the garage – accessible by a rear laneway – they’ve transformed it into Bala Sanga, a sandwich shop doing slightly heartier and significantly more casual food than what’s served at Pretty Little by night.

“The shed hadn’t been opened in almost 30 years,” says owner Mike Byard. “We had the opportunity to basically make something out of nothing.”

The once-cobweb-covered storage space is now a no-frills shopfront with a tile-lined bench, a sandwich press and a few bar stools. If it weren’t for the cobalt signage, you’d never know the shop was there, particularly when the unmarked roller door is closed.

“Part of the charm of it is that it’s hidden,” says Byard. “Finding it is half the fun.”

Like many of-the-moment hospo ventures, Bala Sanga was born out of lockdown. “We were selling [sandwiches] out of [Pretty Little’s] front window,” says Byard, adding most customers were Balaclava locals in need of a quick and easy WFH lunch. “As restrictions eased, we found a lot of people were still working from home – and that was probably the way it was going to be for the foreseeable future. So, I decided to go ahead with the project.”

While Byard knows he’s one of many Melbourne restaurateurs jumping on the sandwich bandwagon, he doesn’t think it’s at all fleeting. “Every city in the world has their street food,” says Byard. “I think sandwiches [is] ours.”

For the final menu, he refined his lockdown offering into three fresh and three hot sangas.

“We’re doing a barbeque-beef-cheek version of a Reuben,” he says. His take is served on light rye and topped with smoked raclette, red sauerkraut and pickles. “We’ve also got a meatball sub,” he adds. A mainstay from the original lockdown menu, it’s served on a baguette with asiago cheese, garlic butter and a thick drizzle of herby sauce.

Rounding out the menu is a triple-cheese and onion toastie; a stacked-up salad sanga; a saucy poached-chicken sandwich with cos, pickled celery and tarragon mayo; and a curried-egg number – a childhood favourite of Byard’s. “I grew up eating egg sandwiches that my mum used to make,” he says.

Aside from the meatball sub, all sandwiches are made with Rustica sourdough. The hot ones are made to order while the fresh ones are ready to roll. And to accompany them, Bala Sanga serves coffee by Code Black and sweets from Woodstock Bakehouse.

Bala Sanga
Rear Laneway 296 Carlisle Street, Balaclava

Wed to Sun 7.30am–3pm