La Belle Miette – move over cupcakes

A few years ago, there was a cupcake frenzy rampaging throughout Melbourne. No one seemed to be able to get enough of a little cake that is covered with swirls of frosting and decorated with little red heart candies/sprinkles/other sugary goodness. This observation is evidently well-supported if you were to google “melbourne cupcake stores” – which I did do; since googling is a favourite, frivolous pastime of mine. 639,000 results appeared in an instant, or 0.48 seconds to be exact. There were the usual suspects such as the Cupcake Bakery, Little Cupcakes, the Cupcake Queens, Cupcake Central, and The Cupcake Family. Outside of Melbourne, someone by the name of Paolo (or who likes the name of Paolo) had opened his very own cupcake store, affectionately called Cupcakes by Paolo.

With so many stores located just within the Melbourne Central radius, I started to view cupcakes as sneaky little things. It did not help when someone in my lab stuck up a funny Weight Watchers poster that showed a pink cupcake holding up a white flag with the words: “I come in peace”. Whilst it amused me, the poster didn’t quite convince me of the cupcake’s innocence. To paraphrase from Shakespeare, that cupcake doth protest too much. Whilst I did try a few cupcakes from different stores, I didn’t understand the fascination surrounding them. Suffice to say, I wasn’t a cupcake kind of person, and I didn’t score well in the “what cupcake flavour are you?” quiz in my honours lab either.

So, imagine my panic when macarons started to gain popularity in Melbourne, boosted possibly due to its guest appearance in MasterChef. I termed it the macaron movement. Oh no! I thought, soon there will be macaron stores sprouting the streets just like those cupcakes. It turns out that I was half right. There wasn’t an overwhelming increase in the number of stores that specialised in macarons. Rather, there was an increase in the number of existing stores that started to sell their own macarons. For a period of time, there was heated debate between friends as to what constituted a macaron, and what size it should be. This was largely based on confusion between macarons and macaroons – and how to pronounce each one correctly. For a small little round biscuit, it sure courted quite a bit of controversy.

The first macaron that I bought was the black and white macaron from the chocolate store, Shocolate, which had apparently won an award. It looked good in a zen kind of way, and it tasted very good. Long story short, I was hooked on macarons. That’s when I created the macaron expedition which involved creative logistics such as how-long-can-I-disappear-to-cover-all-these-shops-without-anyone-missing-me? In reality, the macaron expedition took place over several weeks as experiments and reports joustled successfully for my attention. Slowly, my friend and I ate our way from Shocolate to Cacao to Ganache Chocolate to LuxBite and macarons by someone else called Duncan. Apart from one very disappointing experience which sent me on a macaron hiatus, I enjoyed the sugary expedition.

It was by chance that I came across La Belle Miette. Some would even say it’s fate. One day, a friend and I had trooped off to Hardware Lane to eat the crepes at Le Triskel as we were in our francophile mood. That’s when we notice a cute little shop that sold macarons. Naturally, we detoured and popped in to have a closer look. Round little perfections sitting atop a marbled table gleamed happily behind a glass barrier. They were all pastel shades ranging from a light lemony yellow to intense raspberry red. I was sold, and when I looked at the pretty boxes, I was smitten. The design of those boxes tell a beautiful story which you can read on La Belle Miette’s website. This is very similar to a thesis, which is meant to relay a story too, albeit a less tasty one.

How many should we get? 2 or 3? In the end, we got 6……….That is to say, 6 utterly scrumptious macarons that should individually win macaron the year award. We devoured in no particular order:

  1. 72% Cocoa Single Origin Chocolate (Venezuela)
  2. Caramel a la Fleur de Sel
  3. Hazelnut Belle Miette
  4. Pimm’s & Pomegranate
  5. Strawberry & Vanilla
  6. Lemon

I loved them all, no matter what flavour they were, all had a wonderful egg-shell crunch when you first bit into them. Then your teeth sinks into the the sweet moistness of an impeccably rich ganache that can only leave you in an exuberant sugar-high mood. The single origin chocolate macaron is sin in a box, and the delightful chewiness of the salted caramel macaron has caused my mind to wander many a time during lab meetings. I noticed that La Belle Miette also dabbles in cheeky flavours such as Pimm’s & Pomegranate. Although I have not tasted Pimm’s before, I can assure you that people who prefer tart flavours would very much enjoy it. Although some might consider lemon or strawberry and vanilla fairly boring , their lightness provides a welcome contrast after eating the heavier flavours. Sometimes, the best things are the simplest.

With the spectrum of flavours like theirs, La Belle Miette captures a range of clientele – those who like to play it safe and conventional, as well as who are adventurous enough to try exotic combinations. What La Belle Miette does even better is her ability to strike the right balance between textures and sweetness. One does not overwhelm but complements the other. Within the patisserie circle, it is safe to declare that Pierre Hermé and Ladurée are giants in the field of macaron creation. Melbourne may not have either of these outlets, but we have our own giant in the making – La Belle Miette.
La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon

Chez Dré – What’s not to love?

The name South Melbourne has become synonymous with brunch spots especially during the weekends. The area is essentially a hotspot of cafes that serve reliable breakfast favourites, coffee and delectable pastries. So where does one go to get a fix for all three, I hear you ask. If you were me, and pressed for time, you might want to venture down the cobblestones to the rear of Coventry Street until you see a little hanging sign overhead that spells “Chez Dré”.

Chez Dré is home to one of the finest chefs in Melbourne, especially if you happen to like patisseries as much as the air you breathe (which I do). Many have visited this place and many have fallen under its spell. One thing that stands out almost immediately is the impressive open kitchen. This is a clever concept which Chez Dré has incorporated, and it essentially provides a little pre-theatre magic. You can see first-hand the works of art that are being built or the finishing touches being added. Combined with the delicious smells,  Chez Dré easily composes a symphony for your senses. I do not know if the kitchen staff ring a bell when the dishes are ready to be served; but if they do, I wager that many diners will soon develop a Pavlovian response.

It is often said that the early bird gets the worm, but with all day breakfast being served at Chez Dré, you can safely hit the snooze button for 10 more minutes. And if you don’t feel like having breakfast by that stage, there’s always lunch. Chez Dré’s menu offers a wide selection of sweet and salty dishes that can be light or heavy. The only difficult decision is which dish to pick. However, if you bring along friends, you can happily order three to four different ones to tickle your tastebuds. Just remember to bring friends who like to share 😉

On one rainy Friday morning, a few of us travelled by tram to try the delights of Chez Dré. Between us, we ordered the caramel bananas and chocolate sweet crepes, sauteed mushrooms with sourdough, brioche french toast, and a Croque Madame. I love the crepes and they are just as good as the ones served at Le Triskel in the city. It is very hard to go wrong with bananas and chocolate! After bartering a little with my generous friends, I pinched a bit of their french toast which was served with caramelised apples and vanilla marscapone cream. The tangy bite of the apple cut through the vanilla marscapone cream to match the chewiness of the brioche perfectly. I had a little bit of food envy! In contrast, the Croque Madame brought a whole new meaning to eating a ham and cheese toastie. This was more like ham and cheese version 2020. The bread provided a delicious crunch when bit into, which I really loved. Coupled with the ooze of an egg yolk, the taste was all that richer. Somewhere in between our funny conversations, we ordered coffees and hot chocolates. The hot chocolate at Chez Dré came served with a strawberry flavoured marshmallow – something that will be a hit with kids. If you prefer your hot chocolate on a slightly thinner note, then you should give this one a go.

From my perspective, no good meal is complete without desserts. I don’t know if people usually have sweets after brunch, but I do. How could I resist when there were rows of patisseries and colorful macarons distracting me all throughout brunch? The descriptions of all were tempting enough, but I picked the chocolate tart because I took a shine to its mirror glaze. One bite was all it took to convince me not to share. Yes, I was being a selfish, terrible friend. However, a beautiful chocolate tart was at stake…and it tasted deliciously dark and creamy. Did I mention that the word “diet” is not in my vocabulary?

It was with a heavy heart, and possibly even heavier stomach that we slowly made our way back to the lab. Nobody had missed us, except perhaps for our cells that were waiting for us to passage them. In summary, Chez Dré captures the essence of what dining out with friends is meant to be. Her service is charming, and the quality of all dishes that we tried was testament to the chef’s creativity. Their desserts taste phenomenol and are presented with the utmost care. I can hardly wait for my next visit back, after all, a certain dainty chocolate eclair with perfect curls had caught my eye! This time, I’ll buy two to share!

Chez Dré on Urbanspoon

Ganache Chocolate

Melbourne is famous for its coffee culture. It is difficult to envision walking down a street without the aroma of freshly grinded beans wafting in the air. In the Winter, I love walking past little cafes and inhaling second-hand coffee. That’s right, I don’t drink coffee. Not unless you count Farmer’s Union ice coffee or Dare ice coffee. However, even the least discerning of coffee drinkers would be able to tell you that those aren’t real coffee. Rather, they are loaded with sugar. This is not a problem for me, since I have a rather sweet tooth. Instead of coffee, I adore hot chocolate. I really do!

During my Honours year, I scoured the web for places which sold the best hot chocolate. The first time I visited Ganache Chocolate at South Yarra was a case of sheer serendipity. The day itself had not looked promising, and when it started to pour, I ran for cover into what seemed like a rather narrow shop. What struck me at first was the red brick wall and the presence of a few tables and chairs. Then elation set in as I looked around and absorbed the sights of chocolate, chocolate, and MORE CHOCOLATE!!! Chocolate abounded in the form of bars, pieces, dinosaurs and bunnies. How cute! Clearly this was a sign, I was meant to be here. Never mind that my first seminar was coming up and that I had not yet put together the powerpoint slides. Science would just have to take a number in the presence of awesomeness.

By this stage, I was becoming more excited, and then I spotted the cakes resting behind the glass. Despite their different descriptions, they shared one common feature – incredible, well-defined architecture. Each layer enrobed a new flavour that unobtrusively merged and married with the next one. I tried the Triple Mousse Cake – it was in one word, sensational. Despite having dark, milk, and white chocolate mousse, the cake itself was not overly heavy. The sweetness was well-balanced and will not send dentists bolting. If master chocolatier, Arno Backes, was man of science, I would have nominated him for the Nobel Prize.

I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was the hot chocolate. Ganache Chocolate serves undisputedly the best hot chocolate in Melbourne. Maybe it was the unrelenting weather outside paired with the dulcet tones of velvety, rich, molten cocoa that warmed me to my depths. My neurons were firing with each sip, sugar-charged electrical impulses dancing along the nodes of ranvier. The experience left me smiling for days. For some lab members, this was rather unsettling, but I didn’t care. From that moment on, I compared every hot chocolate with Ganache’s. So far, I have not encountered a better place. I highly recommend Ganache Chocolate to all hot chocolate lovers, I do not think that it will disappoint in the slightest. They also serve coffee, and I hear that their capuccino is equally as wonderful.

A lot of people are concerned with service. From my experience, and I came dressed as a student, service was not an issue. The staff at Ganache Chocolate are welcoming, and not at all pushy. Generally, if staff can afford students the same respect as everyone else, then it is a place worth visiting. I have been back to Ganache several times now, and tried all their cakes. I cannot pick a favourite, that would be too cruel for the rest.

Mr Backes – I salute you!

Ganache Chocolate on Urbanspoon