Sydney’s macarons, Adriano Zumbo, and a few other eating observations

I was enjoying the comments on the supermarket article so much that I decided not to post until my return for a little travel interstate. Now I bring you new tales of macarons (hey, there’s been a break of over six weeks since I last mentioned them!) and cakes, and some other food observations from Sydney.

There’s a pâtissier in Sydney who has been attracting some attention for his Pierre-Hermé-esque creations, including his versions of my beloved Parisian macarons (too often called ‘French macaroons’). Adriano Zumbo has a teency little shop in trendy Balmain. Along the righthand side of the narrow space is a glass cabinet of high-end patisserie. Indeed, you could almost imagine being transported to an exclusive atelier in Paris.

I’ll start with the macarons. There was a range of about ten flavours. I tried chocolate/earl grey, lavender/blueberry, and rice pudding. The macarons had been packed into clear plastic display boxes, making it difficult for the shop assistant to remove them. A number of cracked macarons were visible.

And so to the tasting. Problem 1: some crunch. Problem 2: some hollow shells. Problem 3: hard ganaches. Success 1: well judged lavender flavour (but fleeting blueberry). Success 2: tasty rice pudding filling (but chewiness isn’t necessarily a successful idea in a macaron filling). Zumbo’s macarons are a visual success (mostly), but on the day of this sample, the product was marred by textural problems in both the shells and fillings. The only Parisian resemblance here was the appearance.

As an aside, Sydney’s seagulls have a taste for luxury goods. Halfway through one macaron I was suddenly swooped upon and a moment later my hand was empty, the macaron gone! Bastard birds! I sat, bereft of macaron and wondering if this was one of those times when a man is allowed to burst into tears in public;)

I also bought one of Zumbo’s cakes. The ‘Ed Knocked Me Up’ sounded both amusing and interesting (walnut and coffee elements). It was quite large (and heavy) for an individual cake and cost about A$8. The caramel dome was beautiful and the modest garnish of a coffee bean and a flake of gold leaf added to the allure.

Numerous interesting elements were revealed with the caramel and the nut-encrusted chocolate girdle. Crunchiness, sponge, biscuit, buttercream, mousseline cream and even a lump of a coffee-walnut ‘compote’ (if I recall the description correctly). This was a very, very difficult piece of prettiness to eat without cutlery, especially with gateauivorous seagulls swooping on helpless tourists.

I was surprised to find that the dome was almost completely mousseline. That’s a hell of a lot of sweet, light and fluffy cream to get through. Too much. For someone who clearly has great technical skill, why did Zumbo produce something that could be characterised as Paris-meets-American-excess? Sure, the high-end patisseries in Paris produce things which can be insipid, or small-delicate-exorbitant, or man-that’s-rich, but rarely do their products give rise to an impression of gratuitous-fat-bomb! I know this sounds harsh, and that tastes may differ, but I felt this was a well made, somewhat busy piece of excess. If the amount of mousseline were halved, it’d be much closer to being an outstanding piece of patisserie. I hope his other creations don’t suffer from similar problems.

Moving along now… to Lindt’s concept store in Sydney’s Martin Place. This is the city’s other well known venue for macarons. I’ve read a lot of enthusiasm for the Lindt ‘Délices’ (as well as Zumbo’s), but some correspondents have been less complimentary. I chose three flavours: coconut, blackcurrant, and something I’ve forgotten (oops). Fail. Dry and crunchy in the mouth, with a number of hollow shells. The coconut was damp and dull. The blackcurrant flavour was clean and fruity, but marred by a very hard ganache.

My conclusion on the macaron front: from the Sydney tasting and my review of Melbourne’s macarons, I’ve seen no evidence that there are seriously well made macarons in Australia. THEY SHOULDN’T BE CRUNCHY, GOT IT?! I’ve read claims that David Menard at Noisette in Melbourne can do it, but I’ve not tasted proof, nor had other corroboration of the claim.

Other food in Sydney

With the taste of Portuguese grilled meats still lingering after my travels in May, I headed for Petersham to get a refill. Silva’s (Canterbury Road) is famous for its grilled chicken, but also known for some other dishes. I ordered a bowl of caldo verde (potato, kale and chorizo soup) and a prego (steak sandwich) with chips. The soup was A$9. As I waited, I worried a little that I might not have the appetite for an enormous bowl of soup *and* the main course. No need to worry. The soup turned out to be a very pricey serving. Whilst tasty, it was distinctly meagre for the price. The prego was better, but nothing stunning. So much for the taste refill. Pity.

I ventured out to Bondi Junction for the Thursday Organic Food and Farmers’ Market. A strange market, patently not living up to its name. There was very little fresh produce (three or four stalls), of which most was non-organic and non-farm. One hot-food vendor was refreshingly honest in declaring where there were organic or non-organic inputs. The rest of the small market was a hotchpotch of prepared food (some delicious), non-food stalls and a butcher’s van. Another farmers’ market contributing to the growing scepticism about the concept. A real pity.

As this was a very brief visit to Sydney, there wasn’t much more scope for eating/dining. Thankfully the remaining experiences were positive. Lüneburger German Bakery is a chain which seems to have appeared since I was last in Sydney, two years ago. The pretzels really are very good, the bread looked great, as did many of the pastry items. I also managed to dine at Chat Thai in Campbell Street without queuing first. I’d read glowing reviews of this small, modern Thai restaurant, but it was clear I’d need to dine at an odd hour if I wanted to have a calm meal. It’s not often I eat lunch at 4.30pm, but this was well worth it. (The only downside was the waitress who coughed repeatedly into her hands, all the while making drinks and handling crockery.) The menu is long and refreshingly interesting (see the website). Many of the diners are Thai. Prices are low. I’d return in a flash. Hell, I’d even queue!

And now I’m back in Melbourne after a fragrant detour to Canberra. More about that soon…

36 thoughts on “Sydney’s macarons, Adriano Zumbo, and a few other eating observations”

  1. Welcome back Duncan! You will be happy to know that the Parisian macarons in Manila are not crunchy at all. Ha ha ha. I don’t quite know if they’re the right texture they should be, anyway. Soft with the slightest chewiness. I think. I don’t remember…

    I misunderstood the size of the cake at first, till I saw it in comparison with your hand. While it is still a lot of mousseline proportionately, I was under the impression that it was a giant 2-pound demisphere of mousseline. Well, okay, it’s still a lot regardless 🙂 It’s quite expensive, though. Petit gateaux and entermets here are probably around AU$4.50.

    What’s the cake under the torched meringue? Can’t wait to hear about the rest 🙂

  2. Hey Manggy. Oooh, I can imagine Manila’s humidity seeping into the fleetingly-crisp-domed shells of a good baker…

    I assure you, that domed thing *felt* like a 2lb monster! It was perhaps 7-8cm in diameter, perhaps 9-10cm tall, and distinctly heavy. The price was pretty much what one can expect here, I guess (given that much more mundane wares go for A$5-7).

    The meringue thing is actually sprayed with a blue colouring. It was quite psychodelic. I think it was a blueberry tart of some sort.

  3. I laughed at the part where the seagull stole your macaron – sneaky birds! Did you eat the whole Ed Knocked Me Up cake or did the seagulls get a taste of that too?

  4. Duncan!

    Lovely round up of your trip.

    1. I *heart* Caldo Verde. Any idea where I can get a good one in Melbourne?

    2. Shame about the market!

    3. Shame also about the pastries. It’s always disappointing when something so pretty turns out not to be what you expected. I had a similar (less-posh) experience 4 years ago with a Laurent mini chocolate cake. I lusted over that cake for 3 months while on a low carb diet. And when I finally bought it and ate it, it was too sweet and just plain feral. Hehe.

    4. OMFG)(@#$*)#JKN# German Brot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    xox Sarah

  5. Duncan, I’ve just got back from afternoon tea from the NGV at St Kilda Rd. There is a selection of macarons at $3. Ray Capaldi I assume is behind them (unless they’ve bought them in – I’ll check this week). The pile on display had good form, pistaccio, chocolate and pink. Sadly the one that I received was crushed underneath but the outer shell was thin and crisp and it was chewy inside. I’m not sure if I’m up to judging these at your high standards but it appeared a fair stab. You don’t need to buy a ticket to go the the tearoom and it’s worth a visit if you like afternoon tea -nice teapots etc.

  6. @utsi: The aliens from Battlestar Gateaulactica haven’t yet tempted me heavenwards!

    @Agnes: You should have seen me trying to hide the cake from the birds. I relocated to under a tree in the hope that the flight trajectory would be too difficult!

    @Sarah: Seriously, wish for this chain to come to Melbourne! No idea where to find decent caldo verde (or any!) in this city. The last Portuguese restaurant I knew of closed a few years back. I think there’s a community club in the west somewhere (Altona?)… might be food there.

    @Ed: Thanks for tip! Unfortunately, I’ve now had such a fucking gutfull of crap macarons that I refuse to pay for anymore, even though your description sounds like they might be decent candidates. The sad thing is that I’m not even applying unreasonable standards in my tastings — the serious flaws in Aus attempts are simply absent from most bakeries in Paris.

  7. Sorry to hear your macaron adventures have been in vain, Duncan. As you know, I found some pretty ones in Perth but they were from Paris. Perhaps you’ll have to be happy with imports for the time being!


  8. Haha.. I’ve had gulls snatch food from my hands too – cheeky buggers! Can’t believe how bold they are. Lucky it was the macaron – had it been a Luneburger pretzel, I would’ve chased after it.

  9. hey , nice post on the new macaron tales, lovely . i think the macaron trend is becoming more and more popular until birds knows how to choose a macaron from duncan’s hand. thank for sharing again dude!

  10. I can’t get the image out of my mind of you with tears in your eyes on the picturesque Balmain foreshore and the triumphant marauding seagulls. Touching 🙂

    While camping in the Grampians I got swooped on by a Kookaburra. In the 40 odd cm between plate and mouth the cheeky devil managed to do a lightning raid, taking the steaming hot baked potato off my fork.

    You’ve gotta love the wildlife!

  11. The Lindt “delice” has little culinary merit to it, whether as a macaron or otherwise. I never understood what my contemporaries saw in it. Thumbs down also for Lindt’s hot and iced chocolates.

    I spent too much of my life at the Martin Place Lindt (free plug also for other outlet at Cockle Bay Wharf, Darling Harbour) by virtue of the fact that I worked across the street; now I’m just venting my cooped-up rage and resentment, so thanks to Duncan for the outlet.

    I will say that some of their cakes are very decent, though they have a certain assembly-line feel about them.

  12. Hi Duncan, I’d just made some macarons again and not without the usual drama! With exactly the same batch, 1/3 of it were *almost* perfect (i thought, at least), and the other 2/3 of the batch went into the bin. I’d appreciate some comments on the cracking domes and feetlessness when you have the time 🙂 Thanks. (Oh and that bit about you and the seagulls is too funny!)

  13. Duncan: 0, Seagull: 1.
    Aus macaron: 0, Duncan’s macarons: 1.

    I can’t believe there are no good macarons to buy in Melbourne. I need to taste a proper macaron so I know what level I need to get mine to.

  14. Thahn, like I said the NGV on St Kilda Rd Ray Capaldi has some decent ones being made. Try it and see.

    i also laughed about the seagull. Once I had one steal food from my plate while I was reviewing a restaurant.

  15. Duncan, I’ve learnt heaps from you on macarons (shouldn’t be crunchy. Got it). And I view the cakes at Zumbo as being experimental – some work and some don’t, but it’s the taste discoveries that keep you going back.

  16. I’m heading Sydneyward shortly – the town in which I spent the first three years of this century – and I’m curious indeed as to how I’ll find it, particularly the culinary scene. With acknowledged prejudice and my re-assigned loyalty (to Melbourne) I already presume that my response will be measured in degrees of frustration rather than pleasant surprise.

  17. Hey Fi. I hope your response won’t be frustration! Sydney’s food scene is certainly interesting (coming from Melbourne) with many pleasant surprises beyond the big names. And for some reason they have waaaay more good Thai food than Melbourne does. Even the disappointment (for me) of my Zumbo samples shouldn’t shade the fact that Melbourne isn’t seeing much effort on the patisserie front. Lots for you to enjoy!

  18. You’re so right about the Thai food – that is something I miss from there. Spice I Am, Wentworth St, Sydney CBD…astounding.

  19. I guess Australian sea gulls are pretty sophisticated eater!
    Never really tasted the PH Macarons, so for now, I am satisfied enough with Thomas Keller’s Macarons from his Bouchon Cafe in Yountville, CA.

  20. Hi Duncan, I am going to say something a little controversial here so don’t hate me. You seem hands down to be the unofficial ‘master’ of macarons. And I absolutely love love love your tutorials (and blog) … they have guided me to some macaron successes (which I fear now were infact failures)
    …ahem… I love Zumbos macarons 🙁

    Having never tasted an authentic parisian macaron I fear now that I have no actual idea what they should taste like….

    Have I unwittingly fallen haplessly inlove with an imposter pretending to be a parisian macaron??

    Ali 🙂
    perhaps I can claim a trip to Paris on tax to find out for myself! (or you could send me a sample 😉 )

  21. Hi pea and pear. There’s nothing controversial in loving them! My beef is with professionals who produce/sell something which they want to claim is the genuine article. An imperfect macaron can still be a thing of beauty or deliciousness. But a professional should do better than that. I enjoyed the weird ugly mammoth thing they sold at Vue de Monde, but as a macaron it was an abomination. Zumba’s macarons were interesting and enjoyable if consumed without reference to a benchmark. It is *possible* that you would be disappointed by what Ladurée or Hermé produce after having become used to the crunchy, hard-filling things that Zumba appears to produce. That notwithstanding, keep angling for the trip to Paris;)

  22. thanks duncan, although now me thinks you hit zumbos on a bad day, as I have never had a crunchy, hard filling macaron there. Still I better go to Paris just to be sure 😉

  23. You are right about Zumbo’s macarons….but I still love them 🙁 Sometimes they are exactly like the Ladurée macarons, sometimes they are not. I have encountered a hollow shell but it’s a rare occurrence.
    Either way, I’m still addicted. I’m pretty sure there’s crack in all his pastries and chocolate. I wonder if he requires a personal slave…..

  24. I think the macarons at Belle Fleur’s new (second)chocolate shop on ugly Parramatta Road in Petersham (park in Palace St) are much better than Zumbo’s. The shopgirl told me that an
    in-house Frenchman makes them. Small size,
    nice appearance, the flavours I’ve tried are pistachio, grapefruit/vodka and blueberry with
    an unusual filling. The only other good macarons I’ve had were in Tokyo and Kamakura, Japan.
    I haven’t been to France – yet.

  25. came across your blog in a best macarons in sydney search.
    i know this is an old post, but thought i should comment, there are lovelyy macarons in a sweet bakery in paddington (across the road from oportos) which is more kingcross because its really close to cocacola sign im not sure what the place is called nor am i sure the street name
    but they where amazing, i had a chocolate one, lovely!

  26. I agree! Good macarons are very difficult to find in Sydney, Australia. However ‘Patisserie New York’ in Caringbah have by far what I would decalre the best macarons in town. They are delectable and mouthwatering, yet unfortunately only come in a limited (and rather tame) variety of flavours:( For instance you have all your basics; strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, lemon, passionfruit and maybe (and I exemplify the maybe) on a slightly more adventurous note, pistachio.
    Yet I must say, that upon encountering Zumbo’s macarons, I was rather intrigued and pleasantly pleased by his green apple macaron. Aesthetically it was divine, its colour was that of a fresh crisp granny smith apple and thankfully I encountered no hollow shell. However I must admit that the ganache while still encompassing a very distinct green apple flavour did taste rather ‘off’, like it was apple flavoured blue cheese. Consequently to my utter delight blue cheese was actually a macaron on the menu; take that for innovative!
    I heavily encourage all avid foodies to try a macaron from ‘Patisserie New York’. I am certain that you will not be dissapointed. Foodies honour!

  27. @Anonymous: thanks for that information. I welcome enthusiastic commentary and info, don’t get me wrong, but your choice of words is unusual for a typical independent commenter, so it reads very much like promotion. If you are genuine and want to leave a further comment you’ll just need to contact me to explain why you want to be anonymous. Sorry to be tough about this.

  28. hi Duncan!
    thanks for the reply on the macaron books, im going to Sydney on Saturday til next week n will def check out all the macaron places u mentioned and plus the food market etc…oh lovely. Made a really cool peach macaron yesterday with lovely montage, check it out ya!


  29. Hi Duncan

    Yes, I can only say that once I’d tasted the macarons in Paris, I was in love! It was a revelation. (Just like those sweet steamed dumplings/buns I tasted at the Heidelberg Christmas Markets, although less refined, which incidentally no one seems to know about back home in Sydney.) Suddenly I was bestowed with the knowledge that it was *always* the way it was meant to be. They just tasted right, like they had a purpose. Yes, the slightest give of crunch draws your bite into the soft almond meringue and the intensely fruity filling. (Of course there are other flavours.) As a Sydney girl, I was not prepared for fruit fillings to taste like anything but jam. So confused by the burst of flavour I wanted to confirm my suspicion of real fruit puree of sort so I dutifully downed another two whole macarons before verbalising my delight to my companion.

    Now everytime I spot a macaron I feel a hint of excitement that’s spiked with much dread. What if it’s not what it claims to be? I can only handle so much disappointment. Ah, Lindt’s and Zumbo’s versions were both too sweet and their shells too hard. La Renaissance (The Rocks) was no better. Over the last six months I’ve tried a few from Bacco Pasticceria (Chifley Plaza Sydney) and they were passable (and cheap at $1.50) and only once had it been a big disappointment. Quite to my annoyance it was when I brought a friend there for coffee. So my search continues.

    Lastly, just want to thank you for your amazing blog. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found it. I love reading other people’s food experience but stumbling on this wealth of knowledge gets me so excited I think it’s going to give me insomnia!

    Here’s to many late nights.

  30. Have you tried the Macarons at Baroque Bistro Patisserie or their sister Patisserie La Renaissance? I’d be interested to hear how they match up to the others in your opinion.

  31. @Mike: no, I haven’t, but the feedback I’ve had from a few people has been quite mixed. I can’t judge beyond that.

    WARNING: I’m noticing an increase in attempted comments “innocently” mentioning a single manufacturer. In some cases these are blatant attempts at advertising, and recently someone affiliated with [EDITED due to further spam from the shop mentioned, name now deleted] in Melbourne attempted a particularly underhanded method to get multiple mentions posted here. As a result, that business will NEVER be mentioned on this site ever again and any comment by anyone mentioning them will be edited to remove that business’s name. Got it, slimy PR people?

    I hope that Mike, above, is a genuine commenter.

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