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.