Category Archives: eating

The act of eating. Dining, products, flavours.

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…

What role do supermarkets play in your life?

Once upon a time there were no supermarkets. Most people who have grown up in Australia have forgotten or never known a life without sheds filled with neat aisles of groceries and the ka-ching! (or bloop!) at the checkout. As tourists or concerned consumers, many of us love produce markets and some of us regard supermarkets as fairly evil, but we are still largely dependent on a lifestyle with supermarkets close to the core.

What role does the supermarket play in your practical life and in your issues-driven decision-making?

I’m going to list a few of the many issues surrounding supermarkets and my own feelings, then invite comments.

It can be argued pretty well that supermarkets in Australia:

(+) brought more variety into people’s lives
(+) helped people explore new foods and cuisines
(+) give some people access to better ethical choices, such as organic food
(+) often help consumers save heaps of money

(-) are greatly responsible for the pervasive consumer obsession with low prices
(-) strongly distort the retail market, imposing restrictive supply and pricing arrangements on producers/manfacturers
(-) make massive profits while claiming to be working in the consumers’ interest
(-) often charge much higher prices for fresh produce than small retailers or markets
(-) promote convenience and price, often at the expense of quality and, increasingly, variety

It could also be argued (though opinions are more likely to differ) that supermarkets:

  • promote a self-focused lifestyle of convenience (Gobbler pointed out in a comment recently that this can be more perceived than real)
  • reflect consumer trends or what manufacturers claim are consumer trends
  • reduce the amount of thought that consumers put into food choices
  • present consumers with too many unhealthy or unethical options
  • offer a picture of food which is too distant from reality (seasonality, cost, etc)
  • only react constructively to consumer issues when they see a profit opportunity


So what do I think and do?

We’re spoilt for choice and seduced by cheap goods, sometimes so cheap that you doubt whether the supplier actually gets more than a cent, gross, for each unit. None of this is transparent – I can’t know whether a house-brand item at $1.50 is of more benefit to the producer or manufacturer than the $1.95 other brand. I don’t know whether a cut-price special is a loss-leader for the supermarket or a massive discount extracted from a supplier. In general, I make my choice based on quality or a measure of price-quality-conscience based on my budget.

I try to buy Australian rather than imported products, except where a local equivalent is too poor to compare. (A difficult decision, and different people will have different thresholds, of course!)

I have no loyalty to a particular supermarket chain because I’ve heard enough stories from suppliers about how each chain controls the availability of products and makes it hard for new products or small suppliers to make it onto the shelves (shelf space is often bought by manufacturers).

I try not to buy fresh produce of any sort from the supermarket.

I would like to be able to buy more fresh produce from quality suppliers with a good approach to their livestock, their producers and/or the environment. Often this isn’t possible because I can’t easily buy bulk. My work schedule frequently gets in the way of going to markets. And my budget often makes it impossible to go for the choices I would prefer. (For those of you with the space for bulk purchasing or looking for alternative sources, A Goddess in the Kitchen has a good post which mentions in the comments some suppliers worth considering (Rutherglen Lamb, Aussie Farmers Direct).)

So what about you?

Do you try to avoid supermarkets or embrace them? What solutions work for your ethical, environmental, or personal perspectives? Remember, the focus here is on supermarkets.

[Note: A few valuable comments on this theme after a previous article may have been drowned out at the time, so those readers are welcome to repeat themselves here if appropriate.]

The harangued consumer can’t navigate SOLE food, ethical eating and the ‘simplicity’ of cooking

The cauldron of ethical, responsible eating has been bubbling away for a while. Advocates of various issues throw in their own chunk of passion while others try to package this pot au feu in a pastry case, as if consumers could carry it around as a dish of good conscience. The thin broth and pieces of irreconcilable ethical directions make for an impossible dish. A lid of statements about correct lifestyles and how people should comport themselves when it comes to their food life leaves consumers in justifiable trepidation about what lies in this pie. All the while, the pie leaks its broth through the many fissures in the increasingly soggy pastry.

Many concerns about ethical eating and food/cooking knowledge have been receiving attention in the Australian blogosphere and some recent posts revealed both common goals and some tensions between the experiences of a diversity of bloggers and the broader eating population. [Purple Goddess: 1, Stickyfingers: 2, The Gobbler: 5, 6, 7 all contribute opinion, wisdom or personal experience (and the comments on their pieces are interesting too).] [UPDATE 27/07/08, 20:42: links 3&4 were removed as the person in question objected to being referred to in this article. They insisted that my reference to other bloggers here is insulting. That was not and is not my intention. I thought that linking to relevant posts by Australian bloggers would help readers to understand what SOLE is and what many of the issues arising are.]

Issues love advocates and advocates love bold statements. Consumers endure a number of conflicting causes that clamour for their support and most of these use a good dose of punitive rhetoric to make the consumer act.

A slightly exaggerated summary of the SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) or Ethicurean issues, plus a few more:

  1. Eat organic because anything else is poisoning you and the earth (only the fewest consumers will be enticed to spend considerably more on produce just because it might taste better)
  2. Eat local because anything else is unpatriotic, bad for the environment, economically or socially irresponsible
  3. Eat seasonal produce because anything else is unnatural, environmentally irresponsible, ignorant
  4. Eat Slow because anything else is part of the evil multinational fast-food complex
  5. Eat unprocessed because anything else could make you obese and/or kill you
  6. Eat non-GM because GM might cause you to grow scales, extra limbs or have deformed offspring, or because it’s just a perversion of nature which must be a bad thing
    And we can add to this:

  8. Cook with unprocessed ingredients because anything else means you’re a gormless fool who is either lazy, ignorant, incompetent, irresponsible or stupid.
  9. Don’t buy produce at supermarkets because it means you’re a gormless fool who is either lazy, ignorant, incompetent, irresponsible or stupid.
  10. Don’t eat simple food when dining out because it means you’re a gormless fool who is either lazy, ignorant, incompetent, irresponsible or stupid.

Most normal consumers haven’t a snowflake’s chance in hell of navigating these issues and chastisements successfully. When confronted with too many challenges people stop caring. Issue fatigue. You lose them. Many more intelligent consumers will also be lost if they can see that a cause is not as cut-and-dried as the campaigners choose to claim (GM, local, organic) — a situation often exploited cynically by reactionary opponents of ethical eating.

There has been valuable writing recently of how little it can cost to make great food and how unreasonably restaurants get away with charging a premium for simple dishes (see links in the second para). But what seems simple or absurd to one passionate commentator may be quite the opposite to another, and to the average consumer. It’s easy to forget Jo(e) Eater when writing about one’s passions for a largely likeminded food-enthusiastic people. Let’s remember what many cooks/eaters/diners are like:

Many people cannot cook very well because they:

  • didn’t learn to at home
  • find the combining of ingredients conceptually challenging
  • may be poor at understanding textual instructions
  • were discouraged by better cooks who had no sympathy for them

People may choose not to cook because they:

  • may not enjoy food enough to get beyond a food-as-fuel perspective
  • have little time spare for cooking
  • need to clear their head before preparing food because it isn’t something they find simple
  • may actually prefer to eat out with friends for the feeling of community
  • live alone and don’t find joy in cooking for one
  • prefer to eat food which requires a minimum of effort
  • live in modern shoebox apartments without enough storage space for a range of ingredients or implements
  • hate washing up so much that even takeaway is preferable

Consumers shop largely/exclusively at supermarkets because they:

  • have little choice locally
  • do not have the time (whether objectively or subjectively) to shop at multiple places
  • only have alternative local access to overpriced or poor quality greengrocers or butchers or other suppliers (Hawthorn or Daylesford in Victoria, or many parts of London, and numerous places in North America, spring to mind as occasional examples of this, either now or in the last ten years)
  • find shopping unenjoyable or have enough other chores in their life
  • find the neat, structured supermarket environment easier to deal with (physically, logistically, psychologically)
  • don’t have a freezer large enough to hold bulk purchases from distant suppliers
  • find farmers’ markets overpriced, hypocritical, class-ridden, or impractical

Many people do not convert to local or seasonal because they:

  • have been exposed to largely unseasonal variety for so long and have not grown up with a seasonal mindset
  • have little concept of local food and rapidly realise that ‘local’ can only ever be a partial change, so why bother?
  • perhaps actually know that local isn’t necessarily better for the environment (the ‘food miles’ concept is flawed in many of its basic assumptions about environmental impact, except in the most simplistic scenarios)

Consumers are so bombarded by scaremongering, warnings, confusing marketing and aggressive campaigning that they are lost. They are misled by TV cooks and food media that make out that expensive or fancy ingredients are necessary for the lifestyle self-image. They’re chastised for choosing shortcuts (‘cheats’) or fast food. They face more decisions on every level than is humanly manageable: issues, product choices, status validation.

And, increasingly, there’s the household budget to worry about, as petrol prices and food costs creep upwards. Fear, difficulty and helplessness will challenge the habits of a decade of food-as-status consumerism.

Now look at whether any of this applies to you. I know many people for whom the above would not apply at all, but their numbers are insignificant in comparison to the broader population’s understanding, fears, experiences, preferences or opportunities.

The passionate food world can encourage consumers to cook more, make wiser food and nutrition choices, and think more about what types and sources of food they could prefer. Encourage, not insult. Help, not cajole. (Thankfully this is another strength of many food blogs.) If we forget this, we just add to the noise, pushing Jo(e) Eater down the road of confusion, frustration and further manipulation by vested interests.

The macarons of Paris — 2008 review

Ladies and gentlemen, meringue aliens and hypoglycaemics, here is the second of two macaron review articles. It’s time we visited the home of the macaron de Paris, alas frequently called ‘French macaroons’. The macarons de Paris de Paris are plentiful and pricey, and not always superdooper (but mostly miles better than those currently found in Melbourne).

If all goes to plan, this will be my last article about macarons for a while. I can hear some of you sigh with relief! And there are others in Melbourne who are honing their skills as we speak…

To the review!

I ventured forth with Harry, my Parisian correspondent. We had a list of seven establishments to visit in one day.

First stop, Fauchon on Rue Saint-Antoine, near the Bastille. Shock! Fauchon had morphed into Lenôtre. A notch or two more stylish. The array of cakes was as tempting as a Brazilian gigolo on a dancefloor, but we maintained our discipline and only dribbled on the macaron cabinet.

Discipline was also needed in the number of macarons to be purchased per shop. With seven venues plotted on our macaron-crawl map, the danger of billiousness was considerable.

Three. So restrained.

lenotre_violette_a.jpg lenotre_coquelicot_a.jpg

Coquelicot – poppy, stunning colour but little discernible flavour, sweet
Chocolat à la violette – pleasant chocolate with a herbal note from the violet
Caramel fleur de sel – salted caramel, heavy and rich

They were quite dense. EUR 72/kg or 1.30 each. Large macarons: 3.50, crinkly surface.

Stop number two. Gerard Mulot’s newish shop near the Place des Vosges.


Mûre – blackberry with tea, pleasant, hollow shell
Passion – passionfruit, delightfully fruity
Pêche-abricot – peach-apricot, unexciting, crunchy
Chocolat – light, rich chocolate ganache, unexciting

EUR 68/kg or 0.85 each. Large macarons: 3.15, rough surface.

Next stop, Pain de Sucre, one of Paris’s most impressive small patisserie-boulangeries (I wrote about them last year). We resisted the wild strawberry tarts, the lime curd, the bread, the marshmallows…


In a break from tradition, Harry was permitted to choose a special, elongated macaron. The rather green, onomatopoeically named Krac-Krac (EUR 4.50) was about 15cm long, contained a green tea butter cream, a long sliver of white chocolate, and… pop-rocks. Lots of fun, but no flavour was particular assertive. Rather expensive.

Cassis – blackcurrant, discreet
Griotte-pistache – cherry shells with pistachio filling, interesting and complex
Menthe-chocolat – spearmint with a chocolate wafer, pleasant, delicate, but not exciting
Angélique-chèvre – angelica shell with goat’s cheese cream, unusual in that it’s a savoury macaron. An interesting experience, but probably not one I’d repeat.

In stark contrast to last year’s visit, this round of Pain de Sucre’s macarons were coarse and irregularly shaped. Disappointing. EUR 68/kg or 1.30 each.

At this point, just three stops into our research, neither of us was feeling particularly enthusiastic. Our tummies were filling with almond meringue and fatty fillings. We hadn’t yet exclaimed in joy about anything. Hmmm.


Citron – rather mild lemon
Bubblegum – oh my sweet childhood! Mind blowing, but a bit scary
Orange-rose – mild, pleasant
Framboise-amande – attractive taste


We weren’t impressed with the texture of these macarons. I suspected they weren’t fresh, as the shells were too soft. They also had dull surfaces and the fillings seemed too damp (perhaps contributing to the un-fresh impression).

EUR 1.60 each. Large macarons: 4.00.

Sadaharu AOKI is our fifth stop.

Pêche-canelle – peach-cinnamon, delighfully fruity, but a little delicate
Sésame – interesting sesame creation, nice sweet-savoury aspect
Violette – great appearance, but fleeting violet flavour
Umé prûne salé – salted plum, delicious (with violent disagreement from Harry)


Aoki’s macarons were the smallest of all that we bought, but only by a few millimetres. They were also the cheapest, at EUR 0.85, despite being the most creative. These were the first macarons of the day to use a rich buttercream in all flavours.

At this point we surrendered from exhaustion and blood sugar crises. The last two stops would have to wait til the morrow.

Ladurée is lucky number six. We arrived a little late. At 1pm the queue consisted of about fifteen people outside the shop and considerably more inside. It was raining. As luck would have it, a member of staff enticed us to another entrance, leading into the salon de thé, where we could buy some macarons away from the surging crowd in the shop.


Muguet – lily-of-the-valley, a new flavour for me, strongly floral, but not as assertive as rose (Harry hated it)
Rosanis – a subtle combination of rose and anise, very pleasant but could have been stronger
Citron – outstanding lemon (it was a special type, but I didn’t catch its full name in either French or English)

EUR 1.50 each.

Pierre Hermé comes last. No insult intended.

The rain continued. The queue outside stretched a short distance, perhaps ten people. On many Saturdays the queue is much much much longer. Only the hardiest devotees could withstand the rain. These devotees were about 80% tourists, most of them American. After quite some time huddling under our umbrella, we could at last cross the threshold. The boutique seemed brighter than I remember it. Most interestingly, the staff were markedly more friendly than on my last visits, two and three years ago. A sign of the dominance of the tourist trade and the need to present a warm face? My first visit to Pierre Hermé was marked by stiff hauteur. What a change.


Arabesque — apricot, peach and pistachio (if I remember rightly…)
Caramel salé — superbly delicious, a salted caramel butter cream
Jasmin — delicate, almost too faint

EUR 1.85 each.

We also bought an Ispahan, a tarte au citron and a tarte au café. Heaven. Pics can be found in my birthday deliciousness post.

There ends the crawl through the macaronic universe of Paris. To round up, prices ranged from EUR 0.80 to 1.85 (A$1.50-3.40) per piece — close to EUR 100 per kilo at the top end. For comparison, the typical Parisian bakery price is approximately EUR 40/kg (probably less than EUR 1.00 per piece), while an upmarket foodhall like the Grande Epicerie at Bon Marché charges EUR 60/kg.

There was absolutely no question in our minds about who does macarons worth travelling for. Ladurée and Pierre Hermé stand heads above everyone except, probably, Aoki. The three have in common that they often use rich (but not heavy) buttercreams, appear to have thought more about the success of flavours, showed product quality and consistency across their ranges and, most importantly, were the only ones which we felt we wanted to return to. The amount of filling varies from place to place, but Hermé and sometimes Ladurée clearly prefer more filling. I’ve even read a blogger criticise Hermé for having too much filling (I forget who, alas), but I must disagree. I definitely favour fat macs.

The crucial lesson learnt. You can joyfully make yourself ill on good ones, but

(wo)man cannot live by unremarkable macarons


Melbourne’s not so great macarons, plus rubbish in Epicure

Regular readers of these pages are very familiar with my obsession with Parisian macarons. Although I’ve recounted my baking traumas and occasional joys, described in considerable detail ways of making macarons and the hazards to psychological health, and told of encounters with the products of many Parisian patisseries, I haven’t done any product reviews. Things are changing!

This, ladies and gentlemen, meringue aliens and hypoglycaemics, is the first of two macaron review articles. This one is local.

Here are the results of the Syrup & Tang jury. Pierre Hermé of Paris, douze points. Melbourne, null points. Oh, okay, six points. I’m sorry for cutting to the chase so quickly, but Melbourne’s macarons can be summed up as somewhere between middling and utter rubbish.

Before I continue, I must digress a little to address something up-to-the-minute: I’ve held off publishing this article because I knew there was also something coming in Epicure soon. You see, I was interviewed for it. Epicure had commissioned someone to write a piece about macarons. (Let’s put to one side that I’ve written for Epicure before and you’d think I might have been the obvious person to approach to actually write about macarons. No?) That article appeared today, Tuesday 17th June, and there is no mention of me. That’s a little odd, but I could grudgingly accept that if the article were factually okay. I’d like to correct a few points:

‘a macaroon, a close relative of the meringue’ — the standard concept of a macaroon has little relation to a meringue. There is no similarity in the key processes. That’s why the common macaroon and the macaron are quite different beasts.

‘Macaroon purists insist the French petit four is called a “macaron”‘ — macaron purists do, perhaps. But they also know the difference between Italian almond macaroons, coconut macaroons and the Parisian style of macaroon. The latter is often called a ‘macaron’ for preference, so as to reduce the confusion which arises (or is spread).

‘Macaroons are the poor cousin, an English, coconut-based biscuit that is larger, much clunkier, and somehow offensive to macaron enthusiasts.’ — Macaroons are not English. Coconut macaroons are probably Scottish in origin and probably most popular in the US. Almond macaroons are widespread in Europe and seem to originate in Italy. I’m not aware of any macaron enthusiast who poo-poos the other macaroons. They are entirely different products.

‘the macaro(o)n, which dates back to the late 17th century’ — Rubbish. The Parisian macaron in its familiar form is less than 100 years old. It’s appearance in the film Marie Antoinette provoked derision because it was historically impossible.

‘”If I had a shop in Paris I would only sell macarons,” says [Laurent] Boillon, who first sold macarons in Australia in 1993’ — okay, but maybe he should read the review below beforehand. (Not the journalist’s fault.)

I could write more, but hey, I don’t get paid for it!

Now, back to Melbourne’s macarons. Let’s start at the bottom of the barrel and work our way up.

Laurent. Or perhaps more precisely Laurent Boulangerie Patisserie. I’d seen their macarons. Frequently misshapen. Sometimes for sale despite being broken and mutated. I am not exaggerating. Indeed, I regret not having had a camera on me when I saw the pitiful display at their Glenferrie Road shop. Macarons that should have been given away free or trashed.

Still, I try to have an open mind. Malvern correspondent, Josh (formerly of the Expanding Man blog), and I sat down to, um, consider the macarons at the Laurent shop in Albert Park. There were five flavours on hand. The macarons were flat and dull, with flat frilled feet extending outwards from the colourful shells. There was no visible filling.


Leftovers. We didn’t want them!

Deep inside the macarons we discovered what seemed to be a marzipan paste. In all(?) of them. Regardless of flavour. A flavoured paste for each one. A modest, thick dollop, insufficient to reach the edges of the macaron. They were very chewy. We didn’t want to finish them. Flavours were unremarkable and the pistachio seemed to have been pepped up with a strong dose of almond essence. As ‘rustic’ almond macaroons of some sort, these might pass muster. As macarons, they’re pitiful, based on what we were able to purchase. Would we cross the road to buy one? Hell no! They could throw them at me and I’d swat them away. Josh was even more scathing. Shame, Laurent.

Next on the list is Baker D.Chirico, perhaps Melbourne’s most successful artisan baker. Alas, the macarons, though miles better than Laurent’s, aren’t great. Flavours were unnuanced. The shells were okay, but texturally less-than-perfect, and with spread feet. Would we cross the road to buy one? Nup. But others might.


Some were broken or hollow. Many weren’t.

We headed for Noîsette in Port Melbourne (yet another Melbourne establishment with an erroneous and irrelevant cîrcûmflêx în îts nâme), mentioned very positively by Stickyfingers in comments previously. No macarons. ‘When does he make them?’ ‘Oh when he feels like it.’ Fine. I attempted a follow-up visit six weeks later, but had the prescience to call in advance.

Me: Do you have any macarons today?
Them: What do you mean?
Me: Do you have any French macarons today? Last time I came past you didn’t have any.
Them: Which ones? Do you mean the meringues?
Me: Maybe. I mean the French almond macarons sandwiched together with a filling.
Them: Oh no, don’t have any.
Me: Can you tell me when you’ll have some?
Them: Hang on. … Oh, they’re only making them to order now.


Onwards to La Tropézienne in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. The owner, Guillaume, left a comment recently in one of my macaron articles.


Macarons from La Tropézienne, June 2008. (Note that the broken shell was my fault.)

I first tried his macarons back in November. They looked great, but the shells had been left to crust for a long time before baking and were thick and too crisp. The filling was a heavy buttercream, weakly flavoured. The second visit, a fortnight ago, saw macarons which looked less attractive (see above — not quite within Parisian standards). The flavours were interesting on paper (orange caramel, raspberry, chocolate), but while the chocolate was a pleasant ganache and the orange caramel was strongly flavoured, the raspberry was an underflavoured buttercream. Disappointingly, the macarons didn’t appear to be fresh. The shells were almost soft (offering no resistance at all) which indicates humidity or staleness. The potential is there for a good product, but with such variation between November and June, I don’t know if they are achieving a consistent product. Would I cross the road to buy one? No. Other people do and should when the macarons are fresh.

And finally, my almond-crunchy friends, it’s time for Vue de Monde. Yes, Melbourne’s most written about French restaurant brand sells macarons in their Café Vue. At least, that’s what I’d been told. I sent my sister on a purchasing mission.

Sis: Do you have any macarons?
Them: Any what?
Sis: Do you have any macaronnzzz?
Them: Ummm… do you mean the macaroooooons?
Sis: {Sigh} Do you have any?
Them: I’ll go and check. {Laughter is heard from the kitchen.} They’re not ready yet.
Sis: I’ll come back.

When my sister returned she was told that the pistachio ones hadn’t worked (alarm bell number one) but there were chocolate and orange ones. She bought two for me.

Let me explain the alarm bell: What hadn’t worked? Macarons aren’t sold on the day they’re made – they need to mature for a day or two. They aren’t filled on the day of sale either. What hadn’t worked that morning?

My sis hefted a large red box to the rendezvous point. Inside were two mammoth, weighty macarons. I looked inside. The surface of the shells was porous (alarm bell 2) and uneven (alarm bell 3). These are being sold as macarons? (no, sorry, ‘macarooooons’)


Crunchy, heavyweight oddity from Vue de Monde.

Vue de Monde’s macarons are very heavy. As a snack, they’re very rich and filling, possibly overly so! They’re quite tasty. I’d buy them as a weird sort of cake. There’s nothing wrong with the diameter — large macarons are common in France — it’s their tenuous resemblance to a good macaron which disturbs me. At A$3 they’re a good deal, especially compared to the crap brownies you can buy for the same price or more elsewhere. But as macarons, no. Would I cross the road to buy one? Possibly, if I felt like cake.

The shell was thick and crunchy. These babies had been left to crust for hours, perhaps a day. The fact that piping marks were clearly visible indicates the batter was too thick or otherwise flawed (and might never work for a real macaron). And despite the crust and thickness, one shell still showed a fissure.

I don’t know if this was an aberration, not having seen other exemplars, but given the multiple problems, I wonder if they know what the product should actually be like. Permit me to assist:


Orange macaron with chocolate and seville orange marmelade ganache.

Making macarons isn’t easy, especially for home cooks. But it isn’t horrendously difficult for pastry chefs working in professional kitchens. I doubt that Melbourne lacks the talent, so I’m left wondering if some of these businesses are content to assume that punters will still buy mediocrity for lack of an immediate comparison. Excuse my cynicism.

For the closest thing to a serious macaron, go to La Tropézienne. For an entertaining, crunchy, rich cakey thing, go to Vue de Monde.

(Thanks to Josh for planning the first part of the macaron crawl!)