Are you familiar with Veblen goods? They're luxuries for which demand, in contradiction to the usual rationale of economics, increases as the price does. The French dip at the new Sydney CBD branch of the Continental Deli might well qualify; the mere fact that it is listed for $26 makes it all but leap from the menu. Yeah, I know you're shocked, it seems to say. Maybe even a little scandalized. But don't tell me you're not even a little curious.
The grilled broccolini, peppers and mozzarella sambo which I ate on my first visit only two days ago was perfectly delicious, and a comparative steal at (just) $18. But I couldn't stop thinking about the French dip. Just like the high-roller gamblers Scorsese depicts in Casino, it doesn't feel like I'm saving $8 – it just feels like I'm missing out on the even better sandwich.
I mean, the city might be awash in muffulettas right now, but where else can you get that other great classic 20th-century American sandwich? The French dip, should you not have had the pleasure, was invented at Cole's, the 110-year-old restaurant in downtown Los Angeles (or was it?). It comprises roast beef and cheese on a French roll served with – and this is the interesting bit – a bowl of the roasting juices (what we used to call jus in the '90s) to dip the sandwich in.
As you'll be entirely unsurprised to learn, it only took 48 hours for me to snap and run over there and order one.
Good thing I did, too. I don't know that it's worth $26, but the beef they're roasting for it is Rangers Valley sirloin, the baguette is from Brickfields and, rather than supermarket Swiss, the cheese is an Appenzeller-style made in Denmark on the Western Australian coast. "It's $26, but the quality is there," says Continental manager and co-owner Mike Nicolian. "It can make a hearty lunch for one person, but it's also substantial enough to feed two."
It's a damned fine sandwich, any way you slice it. Without the gravy dip, it's juicy; with it, it's like soup and a sandwich rolled into one brown, squishy good time.
The deli hasn't yet been open a week and the French dip is already something of a sensation. The diners either side of me at the bar at lunch were both French dipping, one with a canned Martini, the other with what appeared to be a cleansing Negroni. "It's one of those things," says Nicolian, "when one goes out, everyone who sees it wants to order one straight away. Some people even order fries to mop up the gravy."
Now, about that $20 rum baba…
Continental Deli, 167 Phillip St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9922 7347, continentaldelicatessen.com.au. Open Mon-Fri noon-midnight, Sat 6pm-midnight.