Category Archives: reviews

What I (or others) think about places, products, books and more.

Michel Cluizel’s Chocolatrium


I’ve never been to a chocolate factory. In the role of the prizewinners in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I’ve long dreamt of bathing in couverture, taking illicit bites of bonbons on the production line, throwing annoying Oompaloompas into a vat of boiling sugar syrup, and more. Even in a chocolate loving place like France, access to chocolate factories is limited. Valrhona only opens its doors to the elite. Meanwhile, Michel Cluizel lets you onto their property, but limits visitors to a museum, the “Chocolatrium”.

The Michel Cluizel factory is located in Damville, about an hour’s drive west of Paris. The town is virtually inaccessible by public transport (plans to visit two years ago were scuppered). And is a mysterious Chocolatrium worth visiting anyway?

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Knowing that there was some risk involved, my trusty Parisian correspondent, Harry de Paris, and I set off in our own vehicle and incorporated the attractive nearby towns of Evreux and Dreux in our sightseeing plans.

In typical French fashion, the Chocolatrium’s shop is closed for lunch. This we knew in advance. We didn’t know, however, that the open chocolate workshop would take lunch at a later time, about 45 minutes after the shop had reopened. This can make an early-afternoon visit rather disappointing. Luckily we arrived about 20 minutes before workshop lunchtime and were advised by the friendly lady at the desk to rush through to the workshop’s viewing room before viewing the first two parts of the place.

Entry to the Chocolatrium costs EUR 5 and the museum (for want of a better word) consists of at least three areas (I have no memory of a fourth area, described on their website as “an old-time workshop”).

The first area is a display room with storyboards and cartoons explaining the history of chocolate (in French and perhaps some English), and a number of display cases with various chocolate paraphernalia (partially labelled in English). The storyboards aren’t bad and cater reasonably for kids and adults alike. It was interesting to read a potted history of chocolate not long after wading through the enormous book Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage for a review over at The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf… and kind of a relief to see it in short form.

After the display room was a small film theatre where a somewhat interesting video about Cluizel, the family, business and chocolate manufacture was shown. In French, even the completely monolingual non-French speaker would (a) appreciate some of the info conveyed by the images, and (b) realise that the film was groan-inducingly self-promotional at times. Nonetheless, it was interesting seeing different types of pods and the drying process. Some images of the manufacturing process were also enlightening.


Finally, visitors walk into a glassed-in raised area overlooking a small workshop where three staff were making or processing chocolates. One guy was lining cocoa-pod shaped moulds, another was coating balls of ganache in white couverture and giving them a spiky pattern, while a woman at the back was doing the thrilling job of packaging foil-wrapped chocolate fish into tins. Not scintillating, but still, it’s not everyday you get to see pots of molten chocolate or, as one young visitor exclaimed, “Maman! Une piscine du chocolat!” (Mummy! A chocolate swimming pool!) as she watched the conching machine. I was inclined to agree with the sentiment, as the delicious aromas lured me into thoughts of a chocolate hot spring.


And then it’s consumer time. A large, sparsely adorned shop stocked most of Michel Cluizel’s packaged products, from blocks to boxes of pralines to cute sampling boxes (including a nugget of cocoa butter) and more. Prices were good — at or lower than the lowest prices in Paris. This was a surprise, as Michel Cluizel’s own shop in Paris was selling the blocks at considerably above typical retail price last time I visited. Every visitor gets to choose a free gift and one of the options, a small box of pralines made in the workshop, is probably compensation enough for the entry price (though unfortunately they all tasted largely the same, despite different appearances).

The Chocolatrium is a strange affair. It’s kind of fun, but definitely not worth a trek out to Damville if you have no other activities/destinations in mind. It’s nice, at least, that Michel Cluizel has created something for the public, even if a bit gimicky. We chocolate lovers do, after all, like to have chocolate dreams.

Latest reviews on The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf

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We hope you enjoy them! If you have a book you love (or loathe) why not join in by writing a review? (Click here for more info)

Product: Cocoa Farm Shiraz Infused Wine Chocolate Barrels

For the first time I have been offered a free sample of something. You’ll notice one or two other local sites will also be writing about this. Rather than taking the approach of simply offering the product for review, an incentive was added, in the form of a prize for the ‘best’ review. What a great way to ensure that the odds of a negative review are reduced. Such is marketing…

UPDATE: And it’s been drawn to my attention that some people didn’t feel the need to disclose the freebie or incentive. Hmmmm.

The Cocoa Farm brand will be known to some for their colourful packaging and presence in some organic food retail shelves. Cocoa Farm is owned by Farm by Nature, a small Melbourne company. The product received for review was small barrel-shaped chocolates with pieces of currant ‘bathed’ in shiraz. Well, most people know that I’m fairly clear about what I think about food, so here we go…

These chocolates are fairly pleasant, but nothing to rush out for. I don’t know the price point, so can’t comment on their quality:cost relationship. The chocolate is 36% cocoa solids and 11% milk solids, with a strong, very pleasantly fruity aroma from the wine and fruit. The chocolate has a coarse snap, with a very dry texture and it is slow to melt, resulting in a thick pastiness, reminiscent of Cadbury Dairy Milk at best. The few pieces of currant are small, fairly dry pieces with pleasant acidic and fruity notes from the wine.

I guess they would make an okay gift for some audiences. The flavour profile is quite acceptable and many will enjoy it (though I doubt anyone would really say ‘oh, shiraz’ if they hadn’t seen the wrapper), but the texture is poor — no aspiration to much quality evident there.

In the UK, sending product to bloggers seems to have been a successful strategy for Hotel Chocolat. But they haven’t used quid-pro-quo incentives (as far as I know) and, to be frank, their product is light-years better. Although Farm by Nature can be congratulated for being ahead of many companies by thinking of harnessing the power of bloggers, you’d probably want to be careful about the quality of the product you want to promote.

Review: Eating Between the Lines, by Rebecca Huntley

Eating Between the Lines has received a bit of media attention since its publication recently. I heard an interview with the author, Rebecca Huntley, on ABC Radio National and found the discussion interesting. I decided I should read the book, and then Neil over at At My Table wrote a great review that increased my interest further. You should read it.

I’ve now worked my way through the book and as you’ll read below, I wasn’t impressed.

Summary review

Eating Between the Lines claims to be “A different kind of food tour” and sociologist Rebecca Huntley certainly takes the readers on a journey. The book is a series of discreet chapters exploring aspects of food culture in Australia. From the subtitle of the book, “Food & Equality in Australia”, you might expect the focus to be on poverty, access to food, and perhaps the ability to cook. In fact, Huntley ranges over these themes and adds a sociopolitical agenda involving gender roles, racism, Slow Food and more. At times, the reader might feel that the author lacks much insight into deeper cultural and historical issues, leaving her argumentation a little popular-conscience rather than achieving insightful examination. Nonetheless, many interesting pieces of information come out of the interviews and stories and the footnotes are interesting. I found Eating Between the Lines very irritating, but it’s well written and designed to hit the right “how terrible” buttons with certain types of readers. Huntley might, however, have cast her net a bit too wide, because there are enough touches of sneering through the book that she might well offend even some of her target audience.

The structure of the book

The introduction paints a picture of inner-urban living with access to many food options in opposition to a decaying suburban environment with limited choice, most of it unhealthy. The author asks “how fair is Australia’s food culture?”. She then ventures into the contrast between a wealth of television chefs cooking fancy food and the supposed realities of eating/cooking in the normal population, using obesity, other writers’ commentary about British food, and some data about purchasing habits to get the ball rolling. Each of the next nine chapters covers an issue that Huntley feels is relevant: poverty and bad eating, child obesity, domestic cooking, men not cooking, single people and food, indigenous food and social disadvantage, ethnic food and racism, local food, ethical/rich-people food trends. Huntley concludes with an honestly ideological position about food, equality, empowerment, access and more.

The author

Rebecca Huntley is a social researcher, director of the Ipsos Mackay Report on social trends, and writes for Vogue Australia.

What is particularly good/interesting/new/special?

Eating Between the Lines serves as a window on food issues in Australia (and the rich world more generally) in the mid-2000s. That’s probably its greatest value. Its timing was good, though might have been even more interesting if written after consumers began to react to the global economic problems (that’s life).

The book is well written and stimulates readers to think, but because the author is quite definitely writing to an (at least loosely) pre-determined agenda, its value isn’t really as an objective assessment of issues unless you read between the lines of Huntley’s own perspective. The footnotes and bibliography are valuable inclusions which will give interested readers more paths to explore.

Huntley interprets “equality” more broadly than some readers might expect (extending it to food choices, urban sprawl driving out local agriculture, and more). This comes as a surprise as the book develops, and at times I really wondered how chapters were meant to relate to the overarching theme and the neighbouring chapters. Certainly, Huntley covers a range of interesting topics and illuminates many issues which are worth attention, sometimes very skillfully, but it’s difficult to work them all into a coherent thesis.

The author makes some interesting points, such as “If Jamie [Oliver] wants to encourage more family meals, why doesn’t he criticise those fathers who won’t shop, cook and clean for their families?”, raising the tricky issue of whether indigenous foods should be part of mainstream Australia’s diet, reminding us that food is about sustenance for many people, and highlighting the gulf between the dietary/cooking habits of the rich/empowered and other parts of the population.

What flaws/problems are there?

This book reeks of “I know what I think and I’ll paint you a picture that shows I’m right”. There are certainly many valuable points made and examples given. But Huntley seems to disrespect some of her subjects, sometimes moments after describing their plight or using their situation to prove a positive point.

On many occasions, Eating Between the Lines presents arguments based on nothing more than uninformed conjecture. There’s little serious data, but lots of social commentary to support more social commentary. Huntley is too comfortable generalising beyond her experience. Even the introduction shows a willingness to poo-poo something that doesn’t suit her: she provides a secondhand quote of London-based Australian reviewer Terry Durack saying “I grew up in a country where good food was available to all at a good price”. Huntley then writes “… I don’t believe we can be confident of the truth of Durack’s claim that good food is available to all Australians at a good price. Not all of us live in a lucky eating country. And the top-class food familiar to critics like Durack is not the kind of food the vast majority of Australians have the time, money or opportunity to enjoy.”

Excuse me for being blunt, but that’s just rank ignorance. If Huntley understood something about relative costs and quality of food historically (and now) between different rich-world countries she would hopefully have been more careful in dismissing Durack’s statement. The vast majority of Australians have had much better access to good, affordable basic produce than most people in many comparable countries for many decades (and Durack was writing about when he grew up). That doesn’t mean the same degree of access across the population (and has to exclude people living in extreme poverty and/or isolation) or that it applies to every type of produce in every place. But Huntley’s rejection of Durack’s slightly-too-broad statement is symptomatic of an impaired openness to different experience or possibilities.

Some readers will quickly tire of the author’s cynical depiction of men as kitchen chauvinists who can’t cook, won’t cook, or get treated with kid gloves when they do manage to step into the kitchen. I don’t for a moment deny that the vast majority of men don’t do much/any domestic cooking. It’s likely that it’s primarily because of established gender roles being perpetuated/enforced by various parties, including the men themselves. But Huntley dwells on men not cooking, or only learning to cook because of necessity, with limited consideration of other factors. I found it offensive personally, and on behalf of those men who do cook as part of their normal domestic roles. Huntley isn’t scared of moments of passing chauvinism about men, gay cooks, women in commercial kitchens, fat people, and more.

I could write much more on the flaws (I’ve bookmarked about 20 examples of particularly irritating stuff), but I think you get the idea. I’ll finish with one vaguely amusing example:

In the chapter called Basic Meals for the Ultra Rich, Huntley simultaneously derides people shopping at farmers’ markets (“Sucker prepared to spend a lot of money on not a lot of food.”) while admitting she’s one of them too. To prove how expensive it is she presents a short shopping list. This includes a bag of organic apples for A$5, half a kilo of organic coffee for $11.50 and two organic lamb shanks for $8. How strange that the coffee is actually cheap, the apples are only a little pricey (assuming it’s a kilo bag), and the lamb shanks are about the same for most Australians paying typical (non-market) silly prices ($3-4) for any shanks. She didn’t even get her “here’s proof” shopping list right. I’m sure many readers could have done better.

Target audience

Oh, this will appeal to all sorts of people riding the food-consciousness wave. Ironically, the ones who’ll probably like it most are the “Bobos” that Huntley describes and sneers so effectively at in the chapter mentioned above (though they might not like it if they make it to that chapter). It’s perhaps worth reading to make you think, but not necessarily because it’ll enlighten you.

As you can imagine, not everyone shares my perspective on this book. In addition to Neil’s review mentioned at the top of the review, you could also consider this and this.

ISBN 978-1-86395-263-7 – Black Inc.

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…

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!)