It’s a simple concept. Soft white bread, Panko-crumbed fried meat, mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce. In Japan it’s known as a katsu sando and it’s found in all sorts of places, from vending machines to restaurants.
Katsu sandos are already dominating Instagram feeds. Cutler & Co does an abalone version, The Moon has a pork one, Belles Hot Chicken is doing a chicken version until the end of this month, and now there’s Saint Dreux.
From the team that created Slater Street Bench and 580 Bench, Saint Dreux is a slick-looking operation. Glowing white LED panels with a charcoal-black service area are reminiscent of something out of a sci-fi film, which co-owner Joshua Crasti says is all about creating something “simple and elegant”. The design was inspired Japanese Shoji screens that Crasti, a designer, worked on with his employer Arkhe Tekhne.
“We wanted it to be this beacon of light so when you get up into this food court you’re drawn to it,” Crasti says. “If you touch it, it feels like paper.”
The rest of the team is made up of co-owners Nick Chen (who you’ll find behind the counter, also of the Bench cafes), Frankie Tan and Claye Tobin. And though it’s located in a food court, Saint Dreux was inspired by similar fast-casual counters in Toyko, where some of the city’s best snacks are found in shopping centres and at train stations. Your sandwich arrives inside a simple black box. Inside, a pair of crustless white cross-sections ready to be removed with one hand.
There are four sandwiches (Dreux launched with five, but the egg version wasn’t up to standard, so it’s been removed from the menu): chicken, Kurobuta pork, prawn and Wagyu. Prices start at $14 for the chicken and go up to $28 for the Wagyu (which has a marbling score of 8–9 and is served medium rare). While that may seem excessive for a white-bread sanga, a lot more work is happening behind the scenes than at your average sandwich shop – but that also means a 30-minute wait is not unusual.
“They’re all made to order, everything that we do is fresh. That does mean sometimes there is a bit of a wait time, and that’s something we’ve been trying to combat,” Crasti says. “Everything is timed to the minute. The prawn one has to go in for a minute and 30 seconds, it has to sit for the oils to come out and to cook all the way through for exactly three minutes before it goes on the bread. Any earlier than that and it’ll soak through the bread.”
This precision is most evident in the prawn sando, with its crisp crumbs and lovely fresh pop of prawn meat as you bite. Everything is prepped on the same day it’s served, and sandwiches are available from 11am until they sell out. The bread is a Japanese style known as shokupan. It’s fluffy but still structurally sound, so mess and drips are minimal. Crumbs are by Nama Panko, are preservatives-free and fresh, not pre-dried like some other Panko. The crumbs are also ground large, for a crunchier outer coating.
Saint Dreux also servese castella, a Japanese-style sponge cake of Portuguese origin baked in a traditional wooden frame to keep them moist. You’ll find matcha, black sesame and hojicha (Japanese green tea) varieties. And like the sandwiches these delicate cubes are simple, soft and clean in approach.
Espresso comes from Acoffee (which the Bench team has a stake in), and pour-over beans come from Japanese roastery Onibus Coffee. There are also cold-foam matcha lattes, and cold-foam filter (frothed cold rather than hot) available.
Level 2, 260 Collins Street, Melbourne
This article was first published on March 21, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.