Saturday, August 27, 2011

Burch and Purchese: Birthday Cake!

647 Chapel Street
South Yarra
Telephone: 03 9827 7060

Opening Hours: Tues - Sun 10am - 6:30pm

While we're gabbing away about cake, I figured there is no time like the present to push an Amnesty post hurriedly out the door and down your throats! And who could complain when it involves a Burch & Purchese concoction:

The Sauron-like gaze of food bloggers has long been fixed on Burch & Purchese, but even the fickle public eye was captured when Darren Purchese received his Masterchef stamp of infamy in a celebrity chef challenge opposite current champion Kate.

My precious.

I received this cake as a surprise for my birthday way back in May (hence the amnesty urgency) from some fabulous family and friends. Masterchef being all the rage at the time, I attempted a taste test and announced: "Chocolate! Pear definitely. And er that nut I like!". In case you enjoy quibbling and feel this is an inadequate description, here is the official spiel:

Dark Chocolate, Pear and Hazelnut:
Tarakan 75% chocolate and vanilla mousse, caramelised pear, hazelnut cream, pear cream, chocolate hazelnut brownie, hazelnut milk jelly, dark chocolate velvet spray

It was indeed "awesome". A sensual cornucopia of textures, and the chocolate, pear, and hazelnut overtones were intense to the last crumb. Which, unfortunately, came too quickly. A journey to the studio for replenishment is imminent!

What's the best birthday cake or gift you've ever received?

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 25, 2011


This is a post digressing temporarily from the cupcake warfare to announce the painfully obvious: a new blog design!

To be honest, I had no intentions of changing the look of the blog at all - this is the happy accident of a design-happy euphoria induced by some industrious business card-making! As for the card, here is a sneak preview of the current work-in-progress:

I think I may have been bitten by a bit of a luscious-lush-lady bug spawned by an excess of cupcake gluttony and Katy Perry tunes. I may wait a bit to see if I still like it after the girly-girl superpowers have faded away. In the meantime, I am restraining myself from painting my apartment over with glorious pink stripes. And running around town with a pink power ring and matching lantern.

Other exciting things are also happening in this space, the results of which will take some time to filter through. Let's just say it involves a spanking new no-nonsense N---n!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cupcake Showdown: Bleeding Red Velvet (Part 1) - Little Cupcakes

Shop 7 Degraves St; 03 9077 0413
TG06 181 William St; 03 9600 1690
Shop 4 118 Queen St; 03 9602 3884

Opening Hours: Varies, see here

It's been a goodly amount of time since this blog featured an old-fashioned showdown!

Little Cupcakes, William St

Cupcakes are a real religion in Melbourne. Worshipping types run the gamut from daily zealots to occasional visitors and even the prodigal (those who flock in during troubled times).

Cupcakes at a crossroads.

Blasphemy unfortunately is rife, especially in the CBD, where artificially-coloured and synthetically-flavoured idols are hawked aplenty.

It is for this reason I turned my back on the faith some time ago, having tasted too many ‘cupcakes’ better employed as neon decorations than eaten by any man or beast.

My return to the fold therefore is with a very particular mission in mind: a search for a contender worthy of claiming the Red Velvet throne.

A more callous person might observe a comparison between the Red Velvet cake and the Holy Grail: mystical construction (oddly tasty combination of beetroot with buttermilk, cocoa and cream cheese), scarlet contents, Hollywood endorsements, and a passionate following.

It is in fact because of one such passionate follower, L, that I became hooked while looking for a version befitting the occasion of her birth.

As far as Melbourne is concerned, Little Cupcakes is the goldie oldie shop for fundamentalist cupcakesians. L swears on her stack of recipes that these are still the best in town but I’m not sure I agree!

Tastings will be scored according to a badly-conceived Thank-Cake-It’s-Almost-Friday! matrix: T for texture, C for Cost, I for Icing, A for Appearance and F for Flavour.

Texture: As with other cupcakes I’ve had from here, this is a pleasantly light cake, with a very small crumb. In the spongy to fudgy spectrum, it is much closer to the former than the latter, but retains an adequate level of moistness.

Cost: $4.00 per regular cupcake ($4.50 for gluten-free) and $2.20 for a mini size.

Icing: Is there a dentist in the house? Prohibitively sugary (grainy even!), with the sweetness overpowering any of the cream cheese tang required for a red velvet.

Appearance: Adorable! Evokes thoughts of all things girly-curly like pastels, pinks and polka prints. And the shops are just as sweet, spice and everything nice.

Flavour: Not bad. Errs on the side of too subtle perhaps, bordering on bland with a tinge of baking soda. If I didn’t know better I wouldn’t have thought it contained any cocoa.

Overall Score: 7/10. I would add, however, that in the consistency and ‘all-rounder’ stakes, Little Cupcakes is always a great bet and has certainly stood its own through the waxing and waning of the popularity of the cupcake faith!

Despite my red velvet resolve, I couldn’t resist disloyally taking home a Belgian Chocolate cupcake as well.

In my next post I visit a contender that I believe controversially displaces Little Cupcakes as the incumbent queen of Red Velvets.

Care to hazard a guess or provide a suggestion?

Little Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 13, 2011

La Belle Miette

30 Hardware Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
Telephone: 03 9024 4528

Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 10am - 6pm (or until sold out); Sat 10am - 4pm

Here are some terribly over-used phrases:


"Food blogger!"


"Amateur chef!"

"I am a self-confessed Francophile."

Quintessential snap of stacked macarons.

Because it is 2011. It is hugely unfashionable to have a measured response to anything remotely attractive. We live in a world that all about the rat race, rah-rah, hi-def, neon lighting, and total extremes, mate.

You bought a house? I bought a property. You eating out? I'm dining out. You like 'all things Parisienne'? I liked them first. On Facebook. Didn't you see the tweet?

So it is with a feeling akin to coming out of the closet that I can say I'm as subscribed to the French-ise as much as the next person (which it seems means something close to worship) yet I have never been a macaron maniac.

Like every responsible foodie in Australia I've had my fill, and then some. Ogled the Zumbos on television. Enjoyed the Ladureés, the Pierre Hermés, the Duncans, and the Josephines. Been unimpressed by the Cacaos, the Café Vues, and the Laurents. The La Tropeziennes were alright. Lindts only okay. But just when I thought I'd can can-ed with everyone on the block, a new kid moved in too cool to ignore.

Stacked against the stalwarts, La Belle Miette doesn't need my fandom; it's amassed its on aplenty. I would agree, however, that as far as macarons go the adoration and marvel is pretty deserved. It is quite the Mary Poppins of macarons: practically perfect in every way! Crisp exterior, yielding interior, and intensely flavoursome.

I say this with some authority, having sampled my way through an entire boxful, gifted to me by an indescribably superlative friend.

A chest of treasures.

The spoils.

Being a self-confessed chocophile, it is probably not completely coincidental that this rose through the ranks as my chosen cocoammander: the 72% Cocoa Single Origin Chocolate (Venezuela).

Special mentions should be made as well of the Hazelnut Belle Miette, the Mariage Freres Earl Grey Chocolate, and the 'Bastille' - Moet et Chandon and Blackcurrant. Full list of flavours here.

Not many left now.

In the interest of being utterly objective, I'd say the Strawberry & Vanilla macaron was marginally underwhelming. The concept couldn't be more estrogen-friendly, but the unfortunate result had the vanilla so neutralising the intensity of the strawberry that it was much more plain-Jane than something-about-Mary.

La Belle Miette - a courageous contender in a very saturated Melbourne market! Where do you sit in the macaron camp?

La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 5, 2011


Rialto 495 Collins St
Melbourne 3000
Telephone: 03 9614 7688

Opening Hours: Mon - Fri 7am - 11pm; Sat 12pm - 11pm

Frankly, Australia’s gone absolutely cook-y. I know it’s been an odd year when I’ve been grinned at by more cardboard cut-outs of chefs than wizards, vampires and bridesmaids put together.

The new celebrity

Forget Brangelina’s brood, office gossips are celebrating the arrival of James George Calombaris. Punters in restaurants everywhere are bellowing for sauce and calling it jus. Birthday cakes are passé, bring on the birthday croquembouche (or gingerbread house!). I had toast for lunch and found myself stacking the slices so they ‘plated up’ better. And in a case of life imitating art, I couldn’t even get the balance right.

So it stands to reason that food is now only one of various considerations that come to mind when you’re taking out-of-town guests to dinner.

To be able to fully tantalise their tastebuds your ability to tell tales of the restaurateur’s televised appearances is paramount. Product endorsements and supermarket representation are imperative. Having actually seen said restaurateur in person at the restaurant in question provides unmissable bragging rights. And while he isn’t one of the Gs on Channel Ten, Guy Grossi is definitely worth his salt on the name-dropping leaderboard.

Merchant is Grossi's most recent business endeavour, incorporating some very fashionable Melbourne value-adds:

The apparent exclusivity of a conveniently central yet slightly hidden location (the gondola is your first clue).

The emphasis on its not-just-Italian-but-Venetian-Italian heritage.

The brick, wood and cobblestone trademarks of old money Europe, with waitstaff uniforms that wouldn’t look astray on a Milanese runway.

A bilingual menu, with Italiano taking precedence.

For the dining cynic that is yours truly, it’s a lot I'd love to hate. So it’s a real shame they went and ruined it all by making the food fantastic.

Bigoli Mori, duck ragu ($20)

I’m told that a ragu by any other name (such as ‘bolognaise’) is a stinker. This was a real rose of a dish however; the sauce was generous, tomato-rich, and unapologetically meaty.

Spaghetti, clams ($23)

This was mine (all mine), and I wasn’t about to share. Seafood, white wine, and garlic is probably the most facepalm basic combination of pasta sauces, but man, when it works, it works. And this saucy little miss was chockfull of clams and gone too soon.

Risotto, porcini mushrooms ($18)

Donna Hay was probably right when she said brown is nothing much to look at. But what a Cinderella transformation in the mouth this was. I’m not a huge fan of risotto generally (being that it is texturally much like a halfway-house between rice and congee, the staples of my childhood), but this had supersized bags of intense, mushroom flavour – the kind that simultaneously inspires you to implore everyone at the table to try it yet also keep the whole plate to yourself, damnit. I find that really good mushrooms and truffles in particular often elicit this type of behaviour.

Today’s fish, char grilled ($34)

I believe this was a snapper on the day, and it had great char. Not much more can be improved (or explained) about a moist, tender fish with great char, and so I shan’t bother.

Chargrilled lamb cutlets ($29)

Is there no end to the loveliness of char? This was cooked pink, which is a delightful colour on most meats and little female children. If I could nitpick at one thing, and I suggest you brace yourself for the toothpick weight of this nitpick, it would honestly be the inconsistency of the menu having spelt ‘char grilled’ with a space between both words in reference to the fish, yet simply ‘chargrilled’ in reference to the meats. It’s a niggling thought worth mulling over as you (or I) chew on the last of your lamb bones.

Finally, some very comforting sweets.

Chocolate tart off the day's display ($14.50)

Apple, raisin, walnut strudel with cinnamon ice cream ($14.50)

Let’s put it this way. Any celebrity, chef or otherwise is a cleverly marketed product on which we greedily feast and fanatically gossip. Merchant is likewise an aptly-named business venture. There are no surprises here. It’s great food and great service with a great backer. And like the masses, we were easily char-med.

What's got you charmed lately?

Merchant on Urbanspoon