Some disappointments don’t need naming

Today I visited a place-that-serves-fancy-cakes. It will not be named. To name it might encourage people to visit it. That would put money in coffers which don’t seem to deserve it.

Sometimes you want to read an honest review to help make a decision (visit/not-visit) or to know how to approach an establishment. But occasionally I just don’t want to so much as plant the seed of curiosity.

I was recently tipped off about a new fancy-cake-place in Melbourne. Allegedly popular and probably good. It was the sort of tip you might embrace with exuberant expectation, but which history has taught you to approach circumspectly for fear of desperate disappointment.

It’s très très chic. It’s got the look. These cakes are under glass, not behind glass (no tacky cake-shop cabinets here). You might think yourself transported to a Pierre Hermé or Jean-Paul Hévin boutique, given all the straight lines and shiny surfaces.

My real focus was the food, but my darting eyes almost darted over the sweet things. Honey, they’ve shrunk the cakes! I had found myself in a fancy-cake-boutique. The diminutive items are labelled with small squares of card, printed rather than written. There are no prices.

No prices. That really annoys me. It’s rare to see such an exquisitely arrogant conceit in Australia. I would normally turn on my heel and leave, but I had set my mind to tasting their fancy-cake-boutique wares. The très petits wares were attractive and, given their blushingly modest dimensions, seemed to promise (1) quality, and (2) sticker-shock (except they were, after all, sans stickers).

A little lemon tart (perhaps 7 cm diameter, sloped sides) was $5. A modest hazelnut and chocolate millefeuille (perhaps 8 cm long, 3 cm wide) was $6.50. Not so shocking, to be fair (all is relative: I’m taking into account target clientele, visuals and snobbery).

Lemon tart: the undistinguished pastry was too thick; the lemon curd lacked zing and clarity of aroma, despite tasting of decent ingredients. We’re not in France, Toto.

Hazelnut-chocolate millefeuille: a bit of a mish mash of chocolate, gianduja, hazelnuts in caramel and more. The gianduja was a little too soft and sweet under a layer of chocolate to permit a clean bite. The hazelnuts were soft (How old was the cake? How long had the nuts been sitting in caramel?) and tasted less than fresh. An unfortunate final touch was one bad hazelnut — not the pastry chef’s fault.

You encounter places like this all over the world. Usually with a premium or a decent dose of snob. The concept looks like the genuine article, the presentation is excellent and any lover of the real thing will be beguiled for a moment. If my sampling is representative of the gamut of their wares, the seduction should be short-lived. A pity. There are other (too few) places in Melbourne doing better for both higher and lower prices (visible) and without quite the same pretence.

As the establishment is, I believe, a corporate vehicle rather than a pastry chef’s project, I don’t know if the chef has been forced to create and pitch the wares in a regrettable direction — there’s clearly talent in the kitchen, despite my misgivings about the product and setting. I’m sure the place will be a hit. Dommage.

– DM

8 thoughts on “Some disappointments don’t need naming”

  1. Time to venture into the city streets and find out the truth (and the place too). Is it really that médiocre? Is it really going to be such a big hit even though it’s merely the visuals & the nouveau très très chic ambiance that attract clientele? Will get back to you on that one once experienced/tasted the baking wonders despite loads of discouragement from you.

  2. Now I didn’t use the word ‘mediocre’ and nor did I intend it — the product was about as good you might get in many reasonably fancy cake places in Melbourne. But those places don’t dress themselves up as a high-end cake-boutique with all the trappings (except exorbitant prices — the small mercy in the place I’ve written about here).

  3. Ah yes, the anti-climax of visiting a much vaunted establishment only to feel horribly let down. I know this feeling well.

    It occurs to me that the number of true food aficionado’s in town is actually quite small. And I suspect most of them read blogs. But the majority of self-declared ‘foodies’ are actually quite easily influenced by spin, presentation and hype.

    Places like the one you describe, thrive on perceived cachet rather than on delivering the goods and they remind me that on the whole it is often the sizzle not the sausage that is so tempting. Sadly it means that those with real talent are often forced under the radar for the lack of PR and Design.

    BTW thanks for the very kind comment on my fledgling blog. Cheers!

  4. Hi there Stickyfingers. I think we just have to open most of the mags to see just how much more important the sizzle is to far too many people. 🙁

  5. Hi Duncan,

    I love the way you write with so much description and understated wit 🙂 Hmm at a guess I would say this cake shop would be perhaps in Malvern, Toorak or Armadale? It certainly scores in the snobbery stakes it’s almost like they’re saying ‘if you have to ask how much a sliver of our divine cake is then you aren’t wealthy enough to sit here.’
    Every time I’m in Melb I have to go back to Brunetti and Laurent.

  6. Welcome Goldie! Glad you like it! Geographically I’m afraid the plausible guesses are, alas, too far from the city in this case.

  7. Ah, Duncan! I’m so sorry to hear what a disappointment it was. And ugh, no prices displayed, how annoying. I’m almost certain I know which chichi-looking place you’re referring to, but I’ll respect your desire to not name it. But it’s in Little Collins St, n’est-ce pas? 🙂

Comments are closed.