A playground for the city’s favourite chefs, The Convenient Store, presented by 7-Eleven, returns to MFWF this March – and it’s packing some serious new snacks.

What do you get when you take some of Melbourne’s top restaurant talent from their kitchens and give them free hand in its most exciting new retail presence? You get The Convenient Store, a place where flavour meets scale in a celebration of all that’s tasty and handheld, and this year it’s coming to you all Festival long from MFWF’s brand-new hub, Fed Square.

It’s anchovy peanuts from award-winning Lao restaurant, Jeow. It’s Luther’s Scoops’ ice-cream accented with 7-Eleven banana bread. It’s Slurpees spiked with Victorian rum. It’s 7-Eleven coffee poured over Piccolina Gelateria vanilla gelato to make supremely delicious affogati. But above all, perhaps, this year, it’s all about the sandwiches.

Melbourne’s sandwich scene is booming, and The Convenience Store 2023 is right there on the cutting edge. First cab off the rank is a delicious, spicy lamb number designed by Lee Ho Fook chef, Victor Liong.

“My sandwich is a riff on a central/northern Chinese sandwich called a roujiamo, which is essentially spiced braised meat with some chilli and sometimes a hard-boiled egg, chopped and stuffed into a rustic laminated flatbread,” says the Lee Ho Fook chef. Led by slow-cooked lamb spiced with fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns and cumin, Liong’s sandwich is set in a soft mini-naan flatbread spread with aioli, spicy Sichuan chilli and tomato relish, and topped with spinach and coriander. And cheese. “It’s finished with a slice of mozzarella so when the sandwich is toasted you get that super-satisfying stretch to accentuate the richness of the lamb. It’s so, so good.”

Our other guest sandwicher is Shannon Martinez. A Melbourne sandwich heavyweight for the better part of a decade, Martinez knew right away what the people would want. “I tried to change my sandwich menu when we moved to the new location; people were not happy about it. Our most popular sandwich always has been the parma, so we’ve given that a bit of a facelift for The Convenient Store, adding a few extra touches like the garlic kale and the tomato pesto.”

Martinez and Liong’s sandwiches are Festival guests on the Johnny’s Deli menu, which will feature both at The Convenient Store from 24 March to 2 April, and at the Johnny’s Deli counters in-store at select Melbourne 7-Elevens for the month of April. They sit alongside Johnny’s staples such as the Johnny’s Reuben and The Schnitty.

Melbourne’s prince of dips Tom Sarafian also comes to the party in 2023 with a Convenient Store-exclusive condiment: a Sarafian-stamped labne of labnes he’s calling “the Ultimate Sandwich Spread”.

“Traditionally, labne is used in the Middle East in sandwiches,” says Sarafian of the yoghurt-based condiment. It’s a primary consideration, he says, in any Middle Eastern sandwich worth its salt. “It’s almost like the butter to the bread: every great sandwich starts with a layer of labne – I just made it the best I could with the best available ingredients from local farms; it’s exactly how I’d make it at home or in a restaurant.”

Do you need to do anything special when you’re designing for convenience? “The biggest consideration for me was: “will everyone like it?” says Liong. The construction of the sandwich fillings, amounts, and the layering sequence were also considerations, as well as what each element adds to the holding, heating and eating of the sandwich. “We’re hoping to feed a lot of festival-goers over the Festival and then for the month of April in Johnny Deli’s stores, so making sure everyone gets to experience the sandwich the way I would like them to took a lot of work from the fantastic team at 7-Eleven and MFWF.” Liong says he’s really enjoyed the experience. “I’ve always wanted to have something at a 7-Eleven – like Auguste Gusteau in Ratatouille.”

The feeling from 7-Eleven, according to product developer Jana Hatfield, is mutual. “At 7-Eleven, we really do love food.” Working with Shannon and Victor on their Johnny’s Deli sandwiches, she says, has been a fun, collaborative and rewarding experience. “We’re constantly seeking inspiration, monitoring food news, getting out and about trying different ingredients, tasting and testing recipes and products, as well as seeing what’s happening in food overseas.”

Maybe you fell in love with the one-off collabs of The Convenient Store in 2022. Maybe you’ll be experiencing them for the first time in 2023. Either way – there’s a lot to get excited about on the shelves this year, explains Tom Sarafian. “It’s 7-Eleven dialled up to 7-Thousand-and-Eleven: everything that’s awesome about a 7-Eleven already and more. I think it’s going to be even bigger and better this year.”

The Convenient Store, Fed Square, Swanston St, Melbourne, open 8am-8pm daily, Fri 24 March-Sun 2 April

By Frank Sweet