Friday, 18 June 2010

The best macarons in Melbourne

Macarons by Duncan

I'm sorry, there's just no contest.

Macaron degustation

Yes, I'm one of those food wankers that goes cuckoo for macarons. And yes, I'm a tiresome pedant when it comes to calling them 'macarons', NOT 'macaroons'. If you found this page by googling "best macaroooooons in Melbourne", I submit the following for your consideration:

A macaron is a variety of French petit four made from two halves of almond meringue with a filling (often a ganache) in the middle.

A macaroon is most commonly a sort of chunky biscuit, often containing large quantities of desiccated coconut (or sometimes almond), popular in Scotland and the US. Click on the link to see a photo.

Although some Anglophiles like to anglicise the French spelling of 'macaron' to 'macaroon' when describing the meringue-y one, I prefer to use the French spelling because it avoids confusion with the coconutty one.

So I had to clap my hands together with glee when I recently learned that somebody in Melbourne had actually gone to the trouble of writing a zine entitled "Macarons are not Macaroons". Thanks to the kind generosity of the lovely food blogger Gem, I am now the proud owner of a copy of that zine. Linguistic pedant powers: activate!

Sorry, where was I? Like I said, I love macarons. But with a few notable exceptions (for example, the pink geranium and poppy macaron filled with a handmade fig essence jam, made by Nic Poeleart from Embrasse, that I was lucky enough to have at the media launch for the MFWF was JUST SUBLIME), none of the regularly-commercially-available macarons in Melbourne come close to the perfection of those made by Duncan (macaron maestro and author of food blog Syrup and Tang).

Duncan wrote THE definitive guide to making macarons, 'La Macaronicité'. All five chapters can be found here. Read them!

Macarons @byduncan

Macarons that Duncan has made in the past that I've been lucky enough to taste (at food blogger banquets). That subtle cinnamon and peach, with edible sprinkles!

Subtle cinnamon and peach

What I love most about Duncan's macarons, apart from the inventive flavour combinations, is the texture. They're NOT hard and audibly crunchy (yuk!), but they're not soft and wussy either. They have a gentle crispness that gives beautifully as you bite into them (the macaron equivalent of al dente?). The shells are never hollow (see how nicely full this one is in cross-section in the photo below) and the fillings are never dried out.

Duncan is a bit of a macaron perfectionist (macarons tend to have that effect on you), and is not afraid to point you the difference between a good and a bad macaron. Click on these links to read Duncan's takes on other macarons available in Melbourne, Sydney, Paris and on Masterchef.

Fingerlime macaron

Each for-public-consumption Macaron by Duncan is "branded" with a small, colourful dot on one shell. Yes that's right, for a few giddy weeks in early May prior to his departure on an overseas trip, Duncan's macarons were available to the public at the fabulous EARL Canteen. I caught up with Duncan for lunch last week at Hardware Societe now that he's back in the country, and we discussed his future macaron-related plans: I can't give anything away, but he has a few ideas in development. Fingers crossed!

Sample macarons

Some more photos of macarons. Regular readers will know that one of the surest ways to win my heart (food-wise, that is) is to give me salted caramel. It's my favourite Sugadeaux Cupcake flavour and in my favourite Cutler dessert, the ice cream sandwich. The Philippa Sibley Il Fornaio launch party on Wednesday night was overcrowded with Beautiful People, but my +1 and I stayed until we could try Philippa's signature 'Snickers' dessert (caramel parfait glacé with salted peanut caramel and milk chocolate mousse), which I loved. Oh, and salted caramel was the flavour that first introduced me to Duncan's macarons, waaaay back in November 2007.

So when I learned that Duncan would be making salted caramel macarons during his EARL stint, I was kinda excited. And wow, the two and a half year wait between Duncan salted caramel macarons was worth it. He knocked it out of the park with this one! The filling was a proper salted caramel (rather than a buttercream), punctuated occasionally with little salt crystals to get your tastebuds zinging. TOTALLY addictive.

Scaramel macaron

Pretty, patriotic macarons lined up in the EARL counter. I love that each flavour was given a different name (eg Clancy, Zara, Diego).

Macarons @byduncan

When I first tried the green and gold macarons, I preferred the ones with fresh passionfruit in a white chocolate ganache (mmmmm, fresh passionfruit). But a follow-up finger lime and dark chocolate macaron later in the week really convinced me: the native finger lime gave the dark chocolate a fantastic peppery quality.

Macarons @byduncan

Subtle cinnamon and dark chocolate.

Cinnamon macaron

More salted caramel (scaramel?) macaron food porn.

Salted caramel macaron

As I said, Macarons by Duncan are not currently available to the public (sniff!), but if you're interested in trying them someday I suggest going to the Macarons by Duncan website, and signing up to receive email updates.

For it was through an email update last week that a few other existing subscribers and I were able to get our hands on free sample packs of cinnamon-choc-mandarin macarons that Duncan has been testing out in a new kitchen! It felt like an illicit drug deal: I visited a secret CBD location on Friday afternoon between 1 and 4pm, gave my name to a stranger at reception, and was handed a plastic bag containing a fix of pure macaron gold. :)

Sample macarons

Yeah, the label said "imperfect sample". Duncan lied. I thought they were perfect!

As he noted in a subsequent email, whilst the ganache was *very* assertively cinnamony on Wednesday, by Friday it had mellowed. This made the fruitiness of the mandarin to really come through in the sample - a feature I really liked.

Sample macarons

In this light, they look a little like cheeseburgers, but let me assure you that they're a bajillion times tastier than cheeseburgers. Many sincere thanks to you Duncan, for allowing me to be the beneficiary of one of the sample packs!

Sample macarons

If you're looking for commercially-available macarons in Melbourne, my recommendation is to avoid the ones at Laurent and Lindt (horribly dry and crunchy, based on my past experiences). And as much as I love their croissants, the macarons I had a few months ago at Le Croissant in Burwood were also dry, crunchy and hollow.

On the other hand, I've enjoyed Baker D Chirico's macarons in the past (though the macaron nerd in me wishes they'd experiment with some more unusual flavours). EARL now stocks Macarons by Josephine, and I have high hopes for the macarons that will be made in-house at just-opening Le Traiteur.

Macaron snobs, where else do you go for macarons in Melbourne?

Sample macarons

UPDATED 27/07/10: Macarons by Duncan are now available to the public once more! Read about it on Melbourne Gastronome here and get full details directly from Duncan's site here.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Melbourne brunch in the suburbs: a Melbourne Gastronome megapost

Okay, time to call another Blog Amnesty, as my drafts folder has been overflowing with brunches from the last couple of months. Six months ago I did a post all about brunch venues in the CBD: this time it's brunch in the (inner) suburbs. I apologise in advance for the epic length of this post!

Mixed Business
486 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill (map)
9486 1606

Mixed Business

Let's start with a bang. This monster of a breakfast dish is the Mixed Business poached eggs on sourdough with a potato and rosemary rösti, avocado and house relish ($13.50). It was my first visit to Mixed Business and best-friend-K insisted that we try this dish as it's her absolute favourite. Such a tasty rösti! We also ordered a side serve of pickled beetroot ($3.50), which had just the right mix of sweetness and tartness.

Poached eggs with potato and rosemary rosti, avocado, relish and pickled beetroot

On the Sunday morning we visited, the place was heaving. Apart from pleasant little touches like a retro milk bar sign and industrial enamel lamp shades, the fitout is on the shabby side of shabby chic. The flag on the back wall made the place feel a bit like an old scout hall. I liked it a lot.

Mixed BusinessMixed Business

Proud Mary
172 Oxford St, Collingwood (map)
9417 5930‎

Proud Mary

A cafe with a similarly industrial fitout - but definitely on the chic side of shabby-chic, with shiny shiny polished concrete floors and smart wall tiling - is Collingwood's Proud Mary. Much frequented by threethousandesque hipsters.

But don't let that put you off too much.

Proud Mary

Proud Mary was opened by renowned coffee geek Nolan Hirte about six months ago. Like so many of the other third wave specialty coffee houses that have become de rigueur in inner suburban Melbourne, Proud Mary offers single origin coffee brewed according to a range of methods. When I went there with Sugadeaux a few months ago, I had an excellent Yirgacheffe Clover.

The custom made six group Synesso Hydra at Proud Mary is one fearsome brute of a coffee machine. It's bigger than a coffin.

Proud Mary

Even if you don't like coffee, I'd recommend visiting for the food. I enjoyed fluffy ricotta hotcakes with caramelised peach, white chocolate semifreddo and orange infused maple syrup ($14).

But the dish that looked *really* impressive was the baked figs wrapped in filo with mascarpone, vincotto and toasted hazelnuts ($12.50), which were brought to the table next to ours. I recognised the recipient of the baked figs as Adam Cash, the FOH manager from Cutler & Co: when he noticed me ogling his brunch, he smiled and asked whether I'd like to take a photo of the figs for Melbourne Gastronome. Thanks Adam!

Ricotta hotcakesBaked figs

I covet those stools.

Proud Mary

Lawson Grove Shop
1 Lawson Grove, South Yarra (map)
9866 3640

Lawson Grove Shop

I *wanted* to love Lawson Grove Shop. It's one of the closest cafes to my house as the crow flies (pity that the Yarra river means I need to take the long way around), hidden in an obscure South Yarra cul-de-sac and occupying the former communal kitchen of a beautiful art deco apartment block.

Breakfast burritoOmelette

A shame, then, that the brunch the charming S and I had there a few months ago was so unremarkable. I had the special, a bland breakfast burrito made with a waxy flour tortilla, and S had an indifferent chevre, tomato and spinach omelette.

I maintain that making an omelette look interesting is beyond my photographic skills.

Lawson Grove Shop

9 Yarra Road, South Yarra (map)
9827 8588


I wrote about Outpost last September just after it opened, before it started serving food to accompany the specialty coffee on offer. I'd been meaning for ages to head back there to try out chef Paul Jewson's brunch menu, so I dropped in one Saturday morning with the lovely Miss T. If you sit in the front room at Outpost, there is NOTHING separating the customers from the kitchen - I'd imagine that could be quite stressful at times for the staff.


I had the poached eggs on sourdough with sauce hollandaise and roasted mushrooms ($15.50), which was as delicious as it was artfully-presented. Miss T went with the feta and avocado ciabatta toast, which is served with vegemite and melted Cape Otway buffalo mozzarella (also $15.50). The salad leaves on the side are dressed with a vinaigrette accented with pomegranate molasses. Miam.

Poached eggs champignonCape Otway buffalo mozzarella, vegemite and avocado toasted ciabatta

Love love LOVE that steampunk cold drip coffee machine.

Cold drip

45 Keele Street, Collingwood (map)
9077 3941


If you want a brunch that's a little bit different and you haven't yet been to Cibi, what are you waiting for? Located in a refurbed warehouse in a quiet Collingwood street, the space is both a cafe and a showroom exhibiting Japanese homewares and knick-knacks.

The cafe offers some basic Western-style breakfasts like toast with jam and toast with avocado, but the main attraction are the Japanese breakfasts (served only on Saturdays): a grilled salmon fillet, seasonal green vegetable sunomono (pickled), short grain rice, slices of sweet rolled omelette (free range egg), a scoop of Japanese potato salad in a cos lettuce leaf, a bowl of miso soup, and love - always the most important ingredient! It's $14.50, or $13.50 if you want the salmon replaced by pumpkin nimono (simmered). Best enjoyed with one of the Japanese organic teas also on offer.

Japanese breakfast

When I visited Cibi a few months ago with Schatzi, she ordered the Cibi egg and potato salad sandwich ($7.50). If you're going to do carb-on-carb, this is the way to do it!

Potato salad sandwich

Demitri's Feast
141 Swan Street, Richmond (map)
9428 8659

Demitri's Feast

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it: I'm afraid I'm not a fan of Demitri's Feast. Having already been there a few times without thinking it was particularly special, I was surprised to read that the 2010 Cheap Eats Guide adjudged it Best Breakfast of the Year, so I went back again two months ago for brunch with the Ladies Who Lunch.

The cafe is very small, but beautifully kitted out. I like the evil eye watching over the room from the back wall, and the shelf of Greek miscellanea (where I spotted the distinctive blue-and-white spine of Captain Corelli's Mandolin).

Demitri's Feast

Miss B ordered the famous baclava French toast ($11), served with walnuts, thick Greek yoghurt and orange honey syrup. She thought it was okay, but it came out from the kitchen cold. I was disappointed with the fried eggs with bacon, lokaniko sausage and oven roasted tomatoes ($16): the sausage was bland and everything was covered in sprinkles of dried herbs.

Baklava French toastFried eggs

Miss L had the sage mushrooms with manouri cheese, toasted almonds and rocket on sourdough ($12.50). The manouri was an interesting touch, but didn't prevent the dish from being quite dry. And Miss T had the omeletta - Greek omelette with lokaniko sausage, potatoes and kefalograviera ($14.50).

I repeat what I said earlier about my inability to make an omelette look good in photos.

Sage mushroomsOmeletta

Sorry, but we were all underwhelmed. I'll admit it didn't help matters that we went a month after it won Best Breakfast in the CEG, so it was heaving with people. There was an unfortunate stuff-up with seating us - after a 40 minutes wait we were led to a table, but then kicked off it and made to wait a further 15 minutes because friends of someone in the kitchen had jumped the queue. A round of free coffees by way of apology was offered by the harried, well-intentioned manager, but the coffee order went missing. If you're heading there, I'd suggest avoiding during peak brunch periods.

During quieter periods the back courtyard, with its geranium pots and stools made from old olive cans, is quite lovely in the sunshine.

Demitri's Feast

Three Bags Full
Corner Nicholson and Mollison Streets, Abbotsford (map)
9421 2732

3 Bags Full

Yes, another one of those new shiny third wave specialty coffee cafes. Three Bags Full opened in late January, the latest offering from the clever folks behind Liar Liar and APTE. I didn't get around to visiting Three Bags Full until a month or two ago, when my breakfast companion was the charming J (aka He Who Only Orders Poached Eggs).

CloverFlat white

After sipping on a pair of flat whites, we shared a Clover of the Guatemala Antigua Los Volcanes (oooh, caramelly). I looked through the menu and the words "house cured salmon" caught my eye. The salmon was a vivid electric pink, and came served with a pea, feta and corn fritter, avocado, dill sour cream and lashings and lashings of rocket ($15.50).

House cured salmon

J's plain, plain poached eggs. Sigh. He's been trying to convince me that when I visit a cafe I should always order plain poached eggs, so that they can act as a control/benchmark for comparison with other cafes. CRAZY MAN.

I made him stage an action shot, in an attempt to make the eggs look interesting for the blog. :)

J's poached eggs

I'd had several people recommend Three Bags Full to me, and they'd all said the same thing: they loved it but it was always insanely crowded and noisy on the weekends. They were right. Even at 9:30am, there was a nightclub-length queue out the door!

3 Bags Full

Batch Espresso
1/320 Carlisle Street, Balaclava (map)
9530 3550


Compared to most of these young whippersnapper cafes I've mentioned today, Batch Espresso is positively ancient: it opened in 2004 or thereabouts. Over breakfast at Three Bags Full, I'd discussed Batch with J and he'd explained to me that its name and design aesthetic came from a type of New Zealand modest holiday home know as a bach (having never been to NZ, I was ignorant of their existence). I'd never been to Batch before, but when I was taken there a fortnight ago by my neighbours F and H and their housemate, I was able to impress them with my Batch/bach-related knowledge.


So much like a bach, the fitout at Batch is informal and slightly ramshackle. Chrus, my trusty bartender at my local (The Cherry Tree) confirmed that the yellow sign adorning the wall at Batch comes from his hometown Dunedin (where a bach is known as a crib, apparently).


Batch had one of those great breakfast menus where EVERYTHING sounded good enough to order. After much agonising by the four of us, F went with the fried eggs with cumin, mint, lemon, chilli and red pepper relish on toasted Turkish bread ($14) with a side serve of chorizo. Their housemate had the amazing-looking potato and spinach hash with cornichons, corned beef and a free range poached egg ($15.50). Howzat for a brunch, eh?!

Fried eggs with cumin, mint, lemon, chilli and red pepper relish and chorizoPotato and spinach hash with cornichons, corned beef and free range poached egg

H went with hollandaisey eggs, but I decided in the end to go sweet, ordering the excellent orange buttermilk pancakes with blackberry and apple compote, fresh cream and maple syrup ($13).

Orange buttermilk pancakes with blackberry and apple compote

I just loved the tiny tiny Trinidad rum bottle holding the maple syrup.

Maple syrup bottle

The coffee at Batch is Coffee Supreme. We all had a second coffee before wandering down Carlisle Street to pay a visit to the Russian deli. Ah, Balaclava!

BatchBatch coffee

Tups chair, bro.

Tups chair bro