A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
Melbourne’s most significant bean-to-bar chocolatier redefines the chocolate flavour spectrum.
It is said that the Spanish Conquistadors pillaged and plundered the Aztecs, Incans and Mayans not only for their yellow gold, but for a black gold. No, not the black gold of oil in the Persian Peninsula. Nor the black gold of slaves from the African continent. We refer rather to the black gold of the cocoa bean. Dried, roasted, cracked, shelled, crushed, grinded, melted, tempered into…*drum roll*… chocolate. In an inner-city territory more notorious for its worship to another type of black gold (coffee), an outpost with the stepped sides of an Incan temple has opened as a 21st century token of worship to this decadent, luxurious, noir element of nature.
With origins as humble as the cocoa bean itself, L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe brings a new and different dimension to the Melbourne, if not Australian, chocolate scene. It’s a cafe, a shopfront and a chocolate factory all in one. As a chocolate factory, it was unfortunately not in operation on the day of our visit. Behind glass windows, patrons may view a fire-engine red roaster, used for roasting the cocao from their beans. There’s also a massive stone “melanger” that grinds the cocao beans into a paste. As a more adult world of machinery, rather than a child’s Willy Wonka wonderland, there’s no sign of a chocolate fountain or waterfall here, nor oopma loompas.
As a cafe, L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe adopts a typical warehouse aesthetic of harsh industrial lighting glaring at exposed brick walls and raw wood fittings, softened by sprigs of cherry blossom and an entrance wall of bamboo. Arrayed between communal benches, high stools and closely-spaced twin tables, a surprisingly intergenerational crowd of mostly young families of the pram and toddler variety, friends catching up, and even a few senior citizens were seated within an ambience that was bustling, but not rowdy. Service was unfortunately, patchy and overwhelmed.
The cafe menu straddles breakfast and lunch, and strangely, does not highlight chocolate itself. There are however, a selection of richly sensual hot chocolate beverages, ranging from 69%, 70%, 74% and a 85% cocoa intensity ($4.80-5.20). These are also available at the original Collingwood Monsieur Truffe specialty boutique. On our first visit, MoMo & Coco warmed up with one each of these hot chocolates, and filled our stomachs with an omelette roll-up of sage and bacon accompanied by a slice of grain bread ($14). It was nothing to write home about. Better though was the thick lusciously buttery and fluffy classic french toast, entrapping within a baked baby apple, topped with an almost superfluous burnt crisp of bacon, and draped in bacon foam and a sweet marmalade syrup ($15).
Aside from its chocolate factory and cafe departments, the third dimension of L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe is a shopfront. As the latter, it does not house as extensive (nor as pretty) an array of chocolate products as other chocolateries in Melbourne. In a glass cabinet at the counter, the range of cakes available are standard cafe fare ($4-$7), exhibiting no evident creativity nor artisanship, whether with chocolate or otherwise – a honey chai friand, a cranberry slice, a hedgehog slice, a rocky road marshmallow slice, and a flourless chocolate cake that ensures that gluten-intolerant chocolate-cake lovers are not isolated. We also do need to mention that you will find some of most authentic French pastries outside of France ($3.50-$4.50), pastries that make a flaky mess when bitten into, but are buttery soft inside. The chocolate products on offer are more functional and practical, the type of things that one might need when cooking with chocolate, and most can also be found at the original Monsieur Truffe chocolate boutique in Collingwood. For under $15, there is an assortment of sweet jam jars, bags of snaps of cocoa nibs, nut-coated praline balls, and cocoa powder-dusted truffles. While none of this really catches our attention, a shelving cabinet lined with chocolate bars wrapped in rough printed brown paper and silver foil does.
The mandalians ($2.70 each) — white, milk, and dark chocolate – are chocolate discs with embedded dried goji berries and sliced almond These elements add a likeable textural contrast to a chocolate base that should appeal to most palates. MoMo & Coco highly recommend these mandalians as accompaniments to Monsieur Truffe’s signature hot chocolate drinks…because one can never have enough chocolate, of course.
By contrast to other Melbourne chocolateries, Monsieur Truffe distinguishes itself by roasting, grinding and making the chocolate on-site, rather than merely melting imported couverture chocolate. The wrapping of each chocolate bar articulates the origins of its constituent cocoa beans, as well as the percentage of cocoa. Available also as individual larger-sized bars, this is the chocolate sampler that MoMo & Coco purchased ($25).
Rather like a brown rainbow of chocolate, the sampler box is a chocolate tasting experience in itself.
While MoMo & Coco love Cadbury, the first chocolate bar, the Venezuela 38%, is no sugar sweet Cadbury milk chocolate block. Instead marked by the restrained sweetness of honey, it perfectly balances sweetness and chocolate-yness, and ends softly. A MoMo & Coco favourite.
The second bar, Venezuela 49%, brings a hard-edged perspective to milk chocolate. It starts off with a smoky essence not dissmilar to burnt toast, and ends with a woody, almost peppery note that lingers on one’s tongue.
The third bar, Dark 52%, has a taste that mirrors that of a very very good red wine. It is silky and plummy, deeply fleshed out with a bouquet of berries, slightly shaded by cherry. A murmur of oak rounds it off. MoMo & Coco would re-purchase for an indulgent Sunday night in, with a glass of red and a smoking hot lover.
The fourth bar, Mexico 66%, is for the man who is afraid of admitting a love for chocolate. Featuring a masculine backbone of a strong malty cognac, it also has the character of a stoutly old fashioned. One can enivsage this as an appropriately macho accompaniment to cigars and wine while reclining on leather chesterfield lounges at Melbourne’s Supper Club or the Library Room of London’s Lanesborough.
The fifth, Dominican Republic 74%, integrates subtly exotic hints of cinnamon, cloves and cardammon. Notwithstanding its declared high cocoa percentage however, it is (desirably) not as bitter as expected, a somewhat softened version of dark chocolate. Yet another Monsieur Truffe creation to add to MoMo & Coco’s favourite list.
The sixth bar of the sample, Uganda 80%, decants like whisky. The first bite is grainy and ashy, subsequently flirts with slight citrus notes and finishes rather dry, strong and very long. Best in very small, Lilliputian doses.
Provenance – knowing from where something originated – has long been a focus of the antique world. Although arguably more as a nationalistic protectionist reaction against globalisation than as a measure of intrinsic value, the same concept has come into vogue in the culinary arena — note the intensifying rise of organic food and fair trade movements, the percolation of farmers’ markets and the exponential increase in the labelling of the origins of foods, particularly coffee (and its derivation techniques) – single origin, estate, percolate, siphon, pour over, drip etc etc. When viewed together with the multi-national chocolaterie Cadbury announcing the use of only fair trade cocoa beans, the opening of L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe and its focus on organic imports and locally grounded chocolate likewise heralds the entrenchment of the idea of provenance into the realm of chocolate. Yet, MoMo & Coco would point to the oft-quoted words of Shakespeare, “what’s in a name?” Ultimately, for all the pretentiousness and intangibility of labels, coffee is just coffee and chocolate is just chocolate, and the distinction between good and bad is not made by mere labels. Rather, what really matters most to the consumer is taste and value. Thus, as long as attention on this black gold remains focused on the key things that really matter to the tangible consumer, L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe has the potential to redefine a re-appreciation of chocolate in the same way that L’atelier de Robuchon redefined the once far more rarefied style of fine dining into something more communally accessible. And if it connects rather than alienates (and judging by the diverse crowd that it attracts, it already seems to), L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe is surely something to excite both chocolate lovers and chocolate connoisseurs…a small pity though that the current offerings are exceedingly limited in its exhibition of the wonders of chocolate…
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: L’atelier de Monsieur Truffe, 351 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, Vic 3057; also, 90 Smith Street, Collingwood, Vic 3006
- Budget: $-$$$.
- Sweet irresistibles: Chocolate.
- Must-eat: The “Chocolate Sampler” and a hot chocolate on those wintry days.
- The short and sweet story: Melbourne’s most significant bean-to-bar chocolatier redefines the chocolate flavour spectrum.