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