A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
Firstly, to all our readers, a big thank you for your support!! The number of views has increased from just under 500 to over 10,000 per month in just two years of reviewing Melbourne’s desserts. In celebration of our second birthday today, we are adding another special review to our “Best of Melbourne” dessert series. We know you loved our guides to Melbourne’s best doughnuts, lemon tarts and yum cha desserts. We hope you will also enjoy the below review. It is dedicated to the dessert creation that arguably, strikes equal measures of fear and admiration into the hearts of many dessert-makers and dessert-lovers. During the last few months, your dedicated Dessert Correspondents have visited old favourites and new places and hereby present to you, our opinion of….
MELBOURNE’S BEST SOUFFLES
Located opposite Melbourne’s most recognisable landmarks and offering classical European food, the European is undoubtedly, one of Melbourne’s most iconic restaurants. Dimly lit, one hundred shades of oak brown, it’s at once intimate and familiar for both the new comer and the regular patron. We love The European especially for wintry meals — truly, pre or post theatre or evening promenade, nothing beats a dinner of coq au vin or duck cassoulet followed by the bone-warming aromatics of the Banana and Date Souffle. Certainly, you smell the pungent banana scent even before it’s set in front of you, and tinted with caramel and spice, it continues to envelop you as you eat it. It’s not the most pretty-looking souffle (a consistently wobbly tumble that bursts out of its short ramekin), but it’s one of the most evocative (eg we pretend the Parliament building opposite The European is L’opera de Paris).
Restaurants designated as “business luncheon place” often conjures an image of red wine, designer suits, investment risk talking… absolute food purgatory. Not so, Comme. Tucked between office buildings and beside a very fine hotel, Comme is modern French. A glamourous cascading staircase greets you at the entrance, and leads to an upper-level private dining area. It’s more likely that you will frequent the classy bar seemingly spun out from the centre spread of a Vogue Living magazine. Follow our lead: order a tipple and do your deal-making and hand-shaking in the adjacent dining area lined with old French film posters and a decorative fireplace. After an hour, or hours, of prepositions and counter offers etc, tie the loose ends with Comme’s souffle. It’s a dwarf, but short and sweet with a precise balance between fluff and bite is just the way business people like it. At times though, it can deflate a little quicker than preferred. Oh well, that’s mirroring the stock market for you.
If I was in charge of hosting a party for the glitteratti of Italy, I would do pre-dinner drinks at Neapoli. I could see Sophia Loren and Monica Bellucci slinking down the stairwell, Raoul Bova and Ricardo Scarmaccio ordering their next espresso shots at the long bar before wandering to the al fresco seating, and perhaps, upstairs, Berlusconi searching the crowd with hawk eyes for his next bunga-bunga candidate. Nestled in a laneway, Neapoli is an elegant, pared-back Melbourne version of an Italian aperitivo bar. The food dances over Europe, and even dips its toes in the Middle East and Asia. We could skip it because our hearts belong to the wine selection… and the heavily caffeinated Espresso Souffle. You will need to order the Raspberry Chocolate Souffle because although you will be disappointed with its egg-y flavour, it comes with a little pot of molten chocolate. Take that little chocolate pot and splash it over the Espresso Souffle. Chocolate, coffee, need we say more? With a peaky top and rivulets of chocolate, we pretend we are eating the Italian Alps.
Worth the trip a little away from the CBD
Just when we thought that there are no more real “fine dining” restaurants in Melbourne because they had all either internally combusted or otherwise emigrated to Sydney, there is The Point. For a sublime long lunch, a cliched romantic dinner, any celebratory event, there really is no better venue in Melbourne. Did I mention the view — the postcard-perfect scenery of a placid lake glimmering like an opal when the sun hits its surface, little boats bobbing up and down? Did I mention that the savoury fare is not Petri-style dish fine dining? And did I, did I mention the desserts? On a more recent visit, the Apricot Souffle was a little too understated in tones, but a Chocolate Raspberry Souffle sampled in late 2012 was tart and sweet and rich, a super bouncy pillow tempting the descent of angels.
If The Point calls for dressing-up, The Smith is the place to dress-down, but not too much, mind you. For stylish casual dining, The Smith is to the south-side what Huxtable is to the north-side. Sharing-style fare backpacks across Europe and South America before settling and meshing with Asia. The result: pops and bursts of flavour, a “greatest hits list” of everything Melbourne loves to eat. The consequence: it’s so damn hard to drag yourself away from the “small bites” that feature the likes of kingfish sashimi enlivened with lime, toasted coconut and the snap of chilli, or the Latino joy of wagyu fajitas. But you most definitely must keep stomach space for the desserts. Drum roll please. If you think the stratospheric Knickerbocker Glory tower will admit you into the emergency ward by reason of sugar coma, then take it nice and easy and light with The Smith’s souffle. At the time of writing, it seems to be no longer available, but look out for the return of the Peach or even Coconut Souffle. Whispery light in flavour and texture and sweetness, you will satisfy that sweet-tooth without having to give a thought to calories or blood sugar thresholds.
Not quite there but keep in mind
The posterior of the stock exchange building on Collins Street holds two secrets. One is Henry & The Fox (previous review here), which does light creative lunches very well, and the other is Mr Mason. Although it proclaims to be “French-inspired,” the food is more European Union. Here, simple fare is occasionally served on rustic wood boards in a setting that could pass for a masculine hunting lodge — wood panelling, speakeasy bar, leather armchairs, crackling fireplace, glinting copper pans suspended from the ceilings. There is a Chocolate Souffle on the menu, but it errs towards dense cake with a molten centre. Keep it in mind though, if you are ever in need of a big chocolate bang.
The true gastronomical snob will wonder why we feature Max Brenner. Overlooking the fact that it is a franchised chain that has seen a fair share of controversy, Max Brenner is probably one of the first places after fast food joints that many a young person visits prior to developing a love for finer forms of dining. In any case, it’s hard to beat Max Brenner’s “chocolate popping sorbet,” a viscous shot of pop rocks, marshmallows and miscellaneous candy embedded into molten chocolate to slurp and gulp. It also does a Chocolate Souffle, but like Mr Mason above, this souffle is more chocolate fondant than souffle. Again, good for chocolate cravings.
Flinders Lane in Melbourne’s CBD is a veritable catwalk of notable Melbourne restaurant ventures. Virginia Plain is one of them, a cavernous, sparsely-decorated place that never seems to quite fill up, a booming sound-box overcompensating for the missing vibe. In our unfortunate experience, it’s one of those hit-and-miss places. Yes, you will find some of the best savoury dishes in all of Melbourne here — a quinoa-crusted ocean trout that pops in your mouth and a caterpillar-like line of scallops alternating with pig trotters stuffed with black pudding. But, you will also wonder at other dishes. One of those would be the promising Coconut Pina Colada Souffle, which at the time of writing, is no longer on the menu. On a bed of laser-thin pineapple slices sat a mound of souffle that had barely risen. The egg taste, so raw. Even pouring a little jug of pina colada syrup over it made no amend. Such a fabulous idea, such an execution.
AND finally, the ultimate souffle indulgences
In third place…PM24
PM24 is down-to-earth. Its high noise levels and wrought iron circular chandeliers evokes medieval dining halls perfectly. The food however, is not the pig trough slop of the French peasant living in the Dark Ages. Rather, PM24′s fare is of a heartiness and generosity very rare these days. The souffle has just been recently changed over to a chocolate version, but do watch out for the return of the Passionfruit Souffle. Tangy passionfruit sauce cascades down from the souffle’s centre to pool at the bottom of a white ramekin filled with a billowing souffle tower. Sweet and citric, c’est superbe.
In second place…MR HIVE
Mr Hive is the modern man. All sleek New York style — refined, sophisticated, edgy. The decor’s palette is a crushing black, flickering with brassy touches — it’s an ideal canvas for the contemporary savoury fare… and the dessert Olympics. The flavours changes occasionally, and while we have had the good fortune of sampling the Raspberry and Blueberry Souffles (both fabulous), our heart belongs to the Praline Hazelnut. Mr Hive’s souffles are symmetrical columnal puffs, so perfectly formed that Archimedes would surely dance with joy when measuring its circumference. A teardop of ice cream is dropped into the centre, causing a slow spread of cloying sweetness. Finished up with a shot of chocolate milkshake and a superb salted caramel truffle, having this souffle chez Mr Hive is truly a dessert-lover’s dream realised.
And in first place…..BISTRO VUE
Bistro Vue is Monsieur fiable, the dependable go-to for every affair — love, friend or family. Inside, belle epoque meets French country manor — weathered chairs are upholstered in squishy, posterior-friendly, garnet red cushions, imposing cabinet work softened by cliched romance-inducing dim lighting, weighty cutlery gleaming beside plates painted or embossed with floral trellis. It’s unmistakably elegant, yet also somewhat, unspeakably illicit. Just like its Chocolate Souffle, au fait, which conjures every synonym of exquisite souffle perfection. Served in a mirror-shiny copper saucepan, the waiter will impale the poor thing and pour semi-lascivious molten chocolate into its middle. You will never see it deflate in seconds, never taste the faux pas egg tones, and never be able to finish this handsome debauchery of a chocolate cloud (we never have, it’s huge!). (PS: Consider also the gargantuan creme brulee too).
So fellow dessert-lovers, a few questions for you: