I awoke to a hangover. A dull pain knocked at the back of my skull. Had I been an alcoholic hypocrite? Heavens, no! This was a very special hangover.
The preceding evening had seen me attending my first ever PR event. That's right, a night of schmoozing and freebies. It was chocolate. We all have our peccadilloes.
The event was the formal launch of a new brand and venue for chocolate in Melbourne. Gânache Chocolate, in South Yarra. A new venture for Arno Backes, once known for his involvement in Melbourne chocolate shop and now-chain Koko Black.
Gânache (ok, should be Gânache Chocolate, but I doubt anyone will call it that for long) is billed as a chocolate lounge, with a teaching-space-to-be upstairs. This could be very interesting. The pralines (individual chocolates) are stunning, even if I didn't feel every single one was successful or perhaps equally impressive.
Backes is using a range of couvertures, whereas Callebaut dominates among the chocolatiers who aren't conching their own chocolate. Certainly, Backes has Callebaut on display and sale in the shop, but when asked about his chocolates, he reeled off a long list of respected couvertures, including Felchlin (not one I've seen mentioned in Australia before).
The pralines generally have very thin shells — some of the thinnest I've seen — which makes them both beautifully delicate and also a little fragile in warm hands. I couldn't fault any of them on texture, whether ganache, caramel, butter cream or something else. The range of flavours is interesting, though not testing many boundaries. Novelty is primarily in the execution of familiar categories, with the exception of the very good geranium ganache (think pungent rose with a hint of citrus), and perhaps the 'oriental spice' ganache (delightful, strong with clove, and perhaps more reminiscent of southern German Lebkuchen rather than anything 'oriental'). Gânache certainly gives Koko Black, Haighs, [EDITED due to spam from the shop mentioned, name now deleted] and others a run for their money, and probably wins on most counts. Monsieur Truffe is probably the strongest competitor in quality.
So, no disappointment and a lot of enjoyment in the pralines cabinet. Unfortunately, a block of dark chocolate with whole hazelnuts didn't match the rest of the experience. The chocolate tasted very much like Callebaut Select, with cocoa content around 55%. It's a fairly hard, slightly waxy dark chocolate with a slow melt and very noticeable vanilla aroma. Strangely neutral, it works fine as an enrobing chocolate, but I'm not a fan of it as an eating chocolate. There is quite a range of blocks available so I can't comment on the others.
I had dragged my sister along as my guest and she buzzed around the praline cabinet like an earnest researcher, returning to me regularly with updates of 'you must try X' and 'best to leave Y'. She had sampled fully two-thirds of the cabinet while I had become slightly poorly after my first ten pralines. Ten points for devotion to duty, sis!
At speech time, plates of teency cakes came out, plus a lovely truffle on a chocolate spoon. All were impressive and delicious, though it was noticeable how many people were queasy after so much pre-speech chocolate. I soldiered on, though the richness of the cakes quickly brought me to a halt. They're good, perhaps a little sweet for some people. Well crafted.
The space is attractive and the lounge concept could work. It'll be interesting to see it with normal clientele. I hope they can keep the atmosphere enjoyable, as Malvern dames and hordes of chocolate-loving international students (presumably) descend on the place. Backes will be acutely aware of the comparison with Koko Black, which seems to me to be in danger of becoming a chocolate Starbucks.
Gânache Chocolate deserves to be a wild success, based on what I experienced on Tuesday. I'm not sure just how much better than some of the competition it is, but it is certainly no laggard and if Arno Backes and his co-conspirator, Sian Mackenzie (his partner), can stay true to their concept then there's much to look forward to.
Gânache Chocolate, 250 Toorak Road, South Yarra VIC 3141, 03 9804 7485