65 Degrees Café – Converting hot chocolate lovers

Lately, something peculiar has been happening. Instead of craving hot chocolates, I’ve been more interested in trying out coffees. I blame it on the blustery and Wintery days, and perhaps, more pertinently the fact that EVERYONE around me is drinking at least two cups a day. I smell coffee in the morning and usually around 3 pm – someone would buy another round of it.

65 Degrees Café has been circulating in the news for awhile – even my Dad knows about it! It is located at 309 Exhibiton Street which is close enough to where we are during the weekdays. A few weeks ago, I read on twitter that 65 Degrees was promoting their hot chocolates and boy did the picture of it look good. Scrolling through their website – I found that they sold brioche for breakfast. Wow! My two favourite foods – how could I not go now? So, I sold the idea to my friend and off we went two days later. The weather was incredibly and unusually sunny that day. In fact, it was so good that my friend suggested we walk there – unheard off!

Upon entering the café, we were pleasantly surprised by how fragrant the aroma of the coffee beans were. The outfit is small but cosy and they sell a selection of cakes/pastries/baguettes behind a glass cabinet. We ordered a medium sized mocha as well as the hot chocolate. One of my guy friends say that people who order mocha or cuppucinnos are girly, but since I am one, I didn’t have a problem with that. Also, I figured that going with mocha was a safe bet because I wasn’t quite ready to take the coffee plunge just yet. If you were to draw a Venn diagram, mocha falls nicely in-between coffee and hot chocolate. Perfect for me!

We sat on high stools as we waited and watched whilst people busied themselves with their iPads and work folders. What caught my eye was a picture of people lining up to get their gridlock coffee. One of them even had pouffy hair. It reminded me of the picture which shows evolution from ape to man. You can even buy their T-shirt with the logo on it, as the website has clevely noted: all the cool kids are wearing ’em. Soon enough, a friendly waitress brought over our drinks.

I made a cardinal mistake of drinking the mocha before the hot chocolate. The mocha was incredibly robust and creamy. I loved that the froth doesn’t just disappear in one sip. With its punchy flavours and just enough sweetness – how did they know my sugar level? – both of us were mocha converts. There was a slight bitterness at the end of each sip and gradually I grew to appreciate why people could be addicted to caffiene. This was the first coffee that I drank and really enjoyed. Ice coffee doesn’t count! The only downside to the mocha was that it kind of stole the hot chocolate’s thunder. My friend drank the hot chocolate before the mocha and she found that she quite enjoyed it. For me, I prefer hot chocolates that are dark and decandantly creamy – such as the ones served by Gânache Chocolate. The hot chocolate at 65 Degrees Café was silky light without being watery thin. Again, the sugar level was just spot on. We found ourselves enjoying the mocha a lot more perhaps because the hot chocolate didn’t share the same intensity. Due to us arriving a little later in the afternoon, we sadly missed out on trying the brioche.

65 Degrees Café derives its name (I think) from serving coffee at this temperature – great to warm hands in the cold Wintery months. Coincidentally, this is also the optimal temperature for sharing smiles and laughter with friends any day of the week – Mondays especially. We are delighted to have found this gem of a place and can’t wait to return to satisfy our next caffiene hit!

65 Degrees Café on Urbanspoon

Crêperie Le Triskel – Arrogantly French and Rightly So

There are quite a few places in Melbourne that sells crêpes, but none can make them better than the one located at 32 Hardware Lane. The beautiful shop goes by the name of Crêperie Le Triskel and it is unabashedly French. I know this because the little black sign that hangs on the outside of the shop proclaims its origin loudly and proudly. I’m tickled by this place whose front window showcases volumes of books so convincingly that I initially mistook it for a quaint bookshop café. I adore the wafts of fresh crêpes and the friendly “bonjours” that their staff call out when they see you pass on by. But most of all, I love their bold confidence. Any shop that dares to strut that they are arrogantly French is a good sign that they have the goods to deliver.

My friend and I love crêpes and see them as comfort food especially during the Winter months. I know a lot of people swear by hearty stews, but when you want to eat something light that still keeps you warm, there is really only one answer: crêpes. Melbourne city has the good fortune of being home to several well known crêperies such as Aix Cafe Crêperie Salon, Breizoz French Crêperie, Choix Creperie Cafe, and Roule Galette. In Melbourne Central itself, there is Harajuku crêpes – Japanese-styled with most varieties immortalised on a wall for easy visualisation. If you venture a little further into South Yarra/Toorak, there is cute little place called Le Petit Français Crêperie & Café whose range is easily comparable to the others in the city. So far, our absolute favourite has been Le Triskel because of its consistency in producing mouth-watering deliciousness in a convivial Parisian atmosphere. There is a map of France, a rack supporting several French magazines and the shop also plays nice French songs – none of which I understand. These songs are either classically dramatic or enthusiastically upbeat in their chorus which is very French.

We have visited Le Triskel quite a few times to try their sweet and savory offerings. Le Triskel even has a blackboard on which they teach you how to place your order in French. Based on my very limited understanding of French, I think the words loosely translate to “I will like an a chocolate crêpe and an Oragina please”. This is great, but unfortunately all the crêpes that I am keen on are not purely chocolate, and I don’t want an Orangina. For example, I desperately wanted to order a sweet crêpe by the name of La Carabistouille (Salted Caramel, Braised Apple, Vanilla Ice-Cream and Walnuts) or La Mongolfiere (Vanilla Ice-Cream, Whipped Cream, Mixed Berrys and Chocolate). My friend on the other hand smartly decided to order our old favourite – the raspberry puree, melted chocolate and vanilla ice cream crêpe. There’s no art to saying that because the words were already in English.

Oh God! Why did the crêpes that I want have to have such long difficult French names?  So I practiced saying those four little French words over and over and over again in my head. It always sounds better in my head. I had it spot on at “La”, and then it kind of crumbles…like a cookie. When I felt relatively confident enough, I put up my hand to attract the attention of one of the staff members. A nice girl came along and she spoke in a heavy French accent, “Ready to order?” In that precise moment, my voice went into hiding and I lost my nerve. I just pointed rather hopelessly to the menu and the kind girl pronounced it (La Carabistouille) easily for me and walked away. My friend has a smug smile on her face because she knew I chickened out, so I rewarded her with a swift kick under the table. I wanted to kick my vocal cords too (but that is physiologically impossible) – all that five minute of practicing for nothing! However, I feared massacring the French language even more especially since the shop front clearly stated “arrogantly french”. They mightn’t give me the right crêpe, or worse, they mightn’t give me a crêpe at all which will be a monumental tragedy. MONUMENTAL because it was close to 2 p.m. in the afternoon and I hadn’t had a bite to eat all day.

We watched on giddily from our table as the staff prepared our crêpes. It’s mesmerising to watch as a pale gloopy batter gets thinned out to a lovely light golden blanket with one swift flick of the wrist. They always make a perfect circle without any breakages in the middle. Making crêpes is an art which is why I leave it to the experts at Le Triskel. I can make pancakes at home. When I feel creative I try to make animal-shaped pancakes without a mold, which ultimately may or may not bear any resemblance to the real animal. “Is that a funny shaped cloud?” A family member would ask, and I would say with a bright smile, “Why, of course it is!” There’s no point telling them that it was meant to be a koala or a humpback whale. I should invest in animal-shaped molds, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, back to the crêpes. We love Le Triskel’s crêpes because of its warm doughy aroma and it’s slightly stretchy nature. It has just the right amount of soft chewiness and there’s always plenty of filling to colour the crêpe with. Salted caramel appears to be this season’s flavour and we can’t get enough of it. We love salted caramel ice cream, salted caramel macarons and Le Triskel’s salted caramel crêpes. We won’t mind at all if the caramel was saltier. Salted caramel is also incredibly versatile because it goes well with almost anything. Le Triskel has paired braised apples and vanilla ice cream with their salted caramel crêpe and it has got to be one of their genius moments yet. The warm juicy sweetness of cinnamon apples is coated by the smooth coldness of vanilla ice-cream. The gentle saltiness of the caramel adds a slick finishing touch and the crêpe itself enrobes the flavour explosion. My friend’s folded crêpe held a gorgeous raspberry tartness and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Flamboyantly decorated with lashings of dark chocolate, it remains a perennial favourite which we never tire of.

If sweet is not your thing, there are plenty of savory galettes to tickle your fancy. On another occassion, my friend thoroughly enjoyed the La Triskel (Egg, Swiss Gruyere Cheese and Mushrooms with a choice of one of: Spinach or Tomatoes or Ham or Prosciutto or Turkey) and craved their ham for the next few days. I didn’t enjoy it as much mostly because it was crispy and I do not like buckwheat flour. Give me floppy sweet crêpes any day of the week.

Chances are, you will want something to quench your thirst too. There is a nice selection of beverages ranging from ciders to coffees to hot chocolates. Order their hot chocolate if you like them a bit lighter and thinner. There is a bowl of coffee that you can also enjoy if milky coffees are your thing. Once, we ordered the bowl of coffee just for the sheer fun and novelty. Boy was it a huge bowl! It was rather funny too, because the both of us are not coffee drinkers (unless you count ice coffees) and we found it, after the first spoonful, to be horribly bitter. So we did what every other good science student would have done, we improvised it. By this, I meant that we dissolved at least 30g of sugar into the bowl of coffee and stirred furiously. We did all this while trying valiantly to hold back our laughter at the absurdness of the situation. Surely we were ruining good coffee, but it certainly was a lot more palatable after the sugar hit and the both of us left Le Triskel buzzing with energy. Till this day, it remains one of our fondest memories of Le Triskel.

Crêperie Le Triskel is a lot like a good book. You know how the story ends (happily-ever-after) but it is still a favourite to pick up and read again whenever you have a spare moment. No matter how many crêperies we have been to, there is something about Le Triskel that always draws us back. Perhaps a little Parisian magic and flair is mixed through the crêpe batter to make it taste so good, so “arrogantly french”.

Creperie le Triskel on Urbanspoon

Mr Mason – Death by Chocolate Never Tasted so Sweet

Late Friday afternoon rolled around and the weather was pretty awesome, so my friend and I decided to pay Mr Mason a visit. Mr Mason is a French inspired restaurant located at 530 Collins Street which is quite a bit of travel distance for us.

Although it is not at the glitzy end of Collins Street, we had heard promising things about their desserts and were keen to try them. More accurately, I have a fiendish sweet-tooth and my friend was nice enough to indulge my whims. It’s all semantics here. We were going into uncharted territory so the first thing we hit up was Google maps. To our delight, we discovered that a few trams could deliver us to our afternoon of sweetness. Awesome!

Upon arriving at Mr Mason’s, we observed to our slight embarrassment that we were not as well-dressed as the rest of the diners. These were businessmen and women in their ties, suits or formal skirts and blouses. We looked like two kids in causal attire. They were deep in conversation, their fingers swiping furiously across iPad screens or flipping proposals in thick white files. Our hands held well, practically nothing. The place was packed for a Friday afternoon and we had not made reservations. For a brief moment, I had this horrible feeling that they would turn us away. But they didn’t. They had spotted an empty table in front of the bar and ushered us to our high stools. After settling us, one waitress brought over the lunch and express lunch menus for us. The lunch menu is conveniently divided into small, medium and large categories, so you can order as much or as little as you like. When we explained that we had come specifically for the desserts, she smiled graciously and brought us the dessert menu. Her eyes twinkled when almost immediately we were ready to order the Chocolate soufflé, honeycomb, vanilla bean ice cream and some warm honey madeleines. We didn’t see it on the menu, but took a punt and asked if we could order hot chocolate. “But of course!” She agreed and took off with our orders.

Whilst waiting, we soaked up the sights of Mr Mason. The entire place is decked in warm chocolatey overtones. I spotted classy noir leather sofas at one end in front of a stone-walled fireplace. Imagine sitting there, glass in hand and hearing the roar of bright orange flames as you while away the bitter cold Winter afternoons. Imagine writing a novel, the crime and suspense kind in a place like this. There are Zen-like raw wooden pillars that sprout from the ceiling near the bar, and there’s a large blackboard resting atop it. Beautiful writing etch in white let patrons know the range of beverages available to order. In fine weather, you can even take your drinks outside to the terrace which overlooks a part of the city that is not always classed as beautiful.

Our table was separated from the next row by black grids still wide enough to sneak a peek at what the others are supping on. We looked on as the suits next door make quick meals of scallops and lamb shoulders with swift glides of their knives and forks. Their enjoyment and content clearly evident on broad smiling faces. We could hardly wait till our desserts arrived.  Our anxiousness must have showed because the same waitress who took our orders came by and reassured us that she was going to check on our desserts. We observed as service staff made their way around the place to collect finished dishes, top up glasses and shared a small chat with the customers. Their initiative in ensuring the comfort of their diners is both refreshing and commendable.

Within five minutes, our waitress brought over our hot chocolate, soufflé and madeleines. There is a magic in desserts that has the ability to change a person’s day; and Mr Mason readily confirms this hypothesis. We are quiet for a moment as we gaze at the two desserts. The shell-shaped madeleines are golden hued and sat snugly on top of a linen draped basket. Their heady fragrance of egg and honey is unmistakable, and they make our mouths water. The soufflé is served on a wood-grained board with vanilla bean ice cream in a small round dish. Shiny jagged pieces of honeycomb that look like small gold nuggets decorate the side. Fine powdered sugar is dusted over the top of the chocolate soufflé creating a snowy look. This is perhaps a little ironic because the ramekin is white-hot to the touch. Both desserts are front page news picture-worthy, and it is a pity that I didn’t have a camera on me. The hot chocolate is served in a glass and not a cup. We are both surprised and thrilled when we see three distinct bands of chocolate, ranging from dark to light, capped with bubbly froth thick enough to last beyond the first few mouthfuls. We stir the hot chocolate and take a tentative sip. It is awesome! Silky smooth, it bathes the back of our throats with a desirable amount of sweetness that rivals that of Ganache’s hot chocolate.

My friend who cannot refuse anything with egg and honey has fallen for the pillowy soft madeleines. However, she is still generous enough to half the basket’s offerings with me.

Honey, honey, honey!!!

The warm insides of the madeleines are fluffy and not overly dense. Perfumed with whiffs of sweetness, they are incredibly addictive and we find ourselves asking if we may take a serve home with us. Our waitress is not sure but goes to find out and later on is happy to accommodate our request. We fall in love with Mr Mason’s a little more. But it is the chocolate soufflé that steals the show and very nearly our hearts. Unlike the ones served at Madame Sousou in Fitzroy, you do not eat chocolate air. The spoon cracks through the crispy dark exterior and plunges into molten richness a notch lower than scalding hot. The moist gooey chocolate is capable of inducing one of the seven deadly sins so consider yourselves forewarned. We pour the real vanilla, vanilla bean ice cream into the chocolate fountain and spike the concoction with shards of honeycomb. It is death by chocolate, and quite possibly, the most delicious death ever. The combination of hot and cold in our mouths at the exact same moment is absolutely potent; and we can almost hear Katy Perry singing the MasterChef song. Not fans of honeycomb, we are again surprised to find that the honeycomb at Mr Mason’s does not stick to the roof of our mouths. They are deliciously crunchy sweet – and we become honeycomb converts.

Mr Mason is the kind of place where you see lawyers, businessmen and bankers walk in – which sounds like a joke, but it’s true. We walked away in awe of their desserts and very impressed with the professionalism of the service staff who take obvious pride in their work. Our experience with Mr Mason has been very positive and we look forward to the next time where we can try new desserts and enjoy old favourites.

Mr Mason on Urbanspoon

The Hardware Sociéte – Melbourne’s Soul Food

Melbourne is dotted with more cafés than you can possibly visit in one trip, so we had a slight dilemma when a friend from overseas came to visit. The trip was a short one and we wanted to take her to a place which best captured the character of Melbourne city. In the end, we settled on The Hardware Sociéte (THS) – a nifty little place tucked away at the end of Hardware Street. As far as cafés go, this one has street cred. Open for breakfast and lunch, THS is almost always packed to the rafters. It is a mixed crowd. Hugely popular with the dapper young hippies, this place is also well known amongst more mature professionals in suits. It is quite evident why THS has garnered a loyal following from their fans. They serve good honest food at ridiculously affordable prices. Importantly, their service staff are friendly and always at hand to offer recommendations to the undecided customers.

It seems to me that all the best places in Melbourne are hidden in lane ways, and so our friend had to do a little bit of treasure hunting before arriving at this gem. But that’s alright, because everyone knows that treasure hunting helps to work up an appetite. It was a little cold that day, so the three of us opted to sit inside. As we walked past the front glass cabinet, we tried our hardest to ignore the various pastries like almond croissants, canelés, tea cakes and bread-and-butter puddings on offer. The interior of THS exudes a warmth and cosiness reminiscent of visiting your best friend’s house. It is homely and the coat hanger rack looks like a splash of yellow paint dripping down, which is kind of cute and funky all rolled into one. Our waiter beamed and presented us with the lunch menu which starts from 12pm. As he poured us glasses of water, he explained the special of the day before leaving us to make our decision. A couple of dishes caught our eyes and we quickly negotiated to share three different ones. We were keen to try the special of the day which was roasted duck breast served with pomme frites, carrots and celeric purée, and we also ordered the sirloin steak and pork belly. The aroma of fresh cups of coffee was too hard to resist, and so we ordered the mocha as well as two 54% callebaut hot chocolates.

We were delighted to see our drinks served in round yellow, green and pink cups on wide saucers.  The hot chocolates came served in cute little milk jugs so that you can alter the strength or intensity of the drink to your liking. For our friend who ordered the mocha, there was a puddle of coffee with a chocolatey brown hue at the bottom, and she happily spooned brown sugar into it before stirring in the hot chocolate. In contrast, there was a little ball of dark chocolate ganache found at the bottom of our cups. We heaped in two teaspoons of brown sugar before pouring in the hot chocolate and downed the creamy mixture. Instant smiles flashed all around the table. Decadently rich, both drinks were a perfect start to our meal as we slowly sipped in the sugary goodness, swapped stories and giggled. Time passes quite fast when you are in good company, and before long, three beautiful plates of food were presented in front of us.

The roasted duck breast was the special of the day and quite frankly, we would not mind one bit if it became a permanent fixture on the lunch menu. Pink, juicy flesh under a layer of tanned skin, the meat was succulent and just the slightest bit gamey. THS provided house made pomme frites so thin that I initially mistook them for thin strips of deep fried onions. The biggest meat eater of our group also surprised herself and found a love for the celeriac mash which absorbed up the meaty juices of the duck and surrounding rich droplets of gravy. However, she remained unconvinced on the carrots. Rabbit food, she called it. I think those would be incredibly lucky bunnies is they get to snack on THS carrots.

I was the lucky girl who ordered the pork belly which came buried like treasure under a small mountain of vibrant green baby rocket and diced red squares (I think they were capsicum). I’m not fond of rocket because of its bitterness but my friend loves its peppery taste. So we swapped her carrots for my rocket. Thin peels of crunchy poached prawn was thrown into the salad mix which added a delicious seafood sweetness to the healthy greens. There was also a serve of whole baked apple on the side with spiced crumbles decorating the top. But the star of the show is undoubtedly the rectangular piece of pork belly. I did not find the skin to be as crackling as I would have preferred, it was slightly chewy perhaps due to the greens were sitting on top of it. Still, it tasted wonderful and I think they rubbed some spice on the skin to set it apart from other kinds of pork bellies. The moist layers of fat and meat meant that the pork was pull apart tender with smokey flavours that permeate your taste buds. THS has created a playful twist to the traditional pork and apple sauce combination. The juicy saltiness of the pork went down incredibly well with a sweet cube of apple. I would definitely order this again.

The sirloin steak turned out to be a little disappointing. It’s deliciousness was most likely eclipsed by the excellence of both the duck breast and pork belly. I’m not saying that it was a terrible dish, just that it wasn’t as memorable as the first two. The beef was cooked somewhere between medium rare and well done and it came served with a rotund of mashed potato which had a crispy coating. There were a few small white pieces of either marrow or tallow which we found quite fishy and thought that it didn’t go well with the dish.

By the end of our meal, the allure of the hazelnut and raspberry bread and butter pudding became near impossible to resist, so we ordered one serve to share. This is pure comfort food which is best eaten on Winter’s day. Warm, fluffy, and just plain awesome, it capped off a wonderful meal amongst friends who don’t get to meet often. THS is a brilliant place to bring friends to and show them the soul food of Melbourne. A quick glance at their breakfast menu and our minds were set on returning. After all, how can you say no to fried brioche?

The Hardware Sociéte 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