A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
This special review is dedicated to chronicling Melbourne’s doughnuts from all walks of life, for all budgets and of all sizes…but always deep fried, airy, sugary goodness.
Can you remember when Krispy Kreme first arrived in Melbourne? The mayhem, the queues? The pleadings from interstate friends to please bring a box when you visit them? And then, just last year, how the whole business contracted? Krispy Kreme personifies the States — generous, gregarious and then boom. Oh dear, what a pity. To be honest, ever since a certain slightly disturbing episode of Sex and the City, one part of MoMo & Coco cannot bring herself to eat Krispy Kremes anymore. However, as the other part says (and still loves Krispy Kremes), we would be remiss to exclude it from the list of Melbourne’s doughnuts. Original Glazed is the original, and the best of the range. A dense cake-y texture, saccharine icing that melts into sugar the moment it touches your fingers or tongue. Highly indulgent stuff.
From the market
Everyone enjoys a dose of nostalgia…that is, when it evokes a good episode of our history. The American Doughnut Van at Queen Victoria Market serves carnivalesque nostalgia hot and fast to tourists and locals alike, in a paper bag filled with $1 balls of jam and sugar dough. Although we believe the jam centre is becoming less generous and its sugar cloak increasingly threadbare, these doughnuts are still the best option available after a tiring market trip.
The Southern belle
For a doughnut with a soul, venture to the once desolate, still windswept streets of North Melbourne and visit Beatrix, a Lilliputian cafe mostly visited for a glass counter of luscious American-style baked goodies (full review here). Keep a look-out for the sweet potato southern belle that dances in a white gown of glacial-hard icing. It’s very very dense (no fluff here), it’s very sweet, and it’s more popular than Scarlett O’Hara at a ball. We would start a civil war over the last one of the day.
The curvy Italian
The great Renaissance artists painted and sculpted beings with the most enviable anatomical proportions. Botticelli’s Venus, Michelangelo’s David, Bernini’s many cherubic and angelic creatures. One usually visits loud, frenetic Ladro for the pizzas. Large discs of Italian authenticity, they feature pared-back toppings and crisp base. But do follow with an order of the most curvaceous bomboloni, undoubtedly channelling the sensibilities of Renaissance art. For $11, three planet-sized doughtnuts are rolled in fine lace-like sugar and are presented with citric ice cream tinged with strong liqueur.
Of all the ancient civilizations, no empire was arguably, more voracious for land than the Roman Empire. The Egyptians were more pre-occupied with the afterlife than this life, the Persians on establishing themselves as a cultural centre, the Chinese more with trade and tributes. Wethinks that the man behind Mama Baba is attempting to create his own little Roman Empire stretching from Brunswick, CBD, Kew and now South Yarra. Mama Baba hums like a military compound out for a good time, unapologetically loud by contrast to its restrained Kew counterpart, more sleek than its Brunswick elder. An open kitchen churns out tumbles of pasta and meat dishes that marches across Greece and Cyprus and back to Italy. The decor and layout reminds us of Chin Chin, which is unfortunate in itself, so too an idiotic bookings policy that will only permit dining too early (6pm) or too late (8pm) and nothing in between. But unlike Chin Chin, the food and service at Mama Baba is consistent…though consistently average, satisfying but not terribly exciting. Nonetheless, it’s a great place for the start of a night-out. The “Cinnamon Bomboloni” are guaranteed to end the first episode of that night-out well, and kick start the rest. Fluffy but with some bite, warm nutella inside, and furry, coarse cinnamon that coats our lips too. Delectable, though we would love an extra dollop of nutella on the side too.
For anyone who has been to Italy before, you will know how Italian men are….they are like a doughnut. Operatic in gestures, sugar-coated talking, so damn good to look at, so not good for you. If your preference runs towards the more conservative, chiselled Milanese, the moodily-lit, restrained elegance of Lupino is the place to be, ideally located for a dinner before venturing to Melbourne’s equivalent of La Scala. Somewhere between ristorante and trattoria, it attracts a mature clientele, in both dress and age. Accordingly, the food’s nothing to rave about, but it is reliable and traditional. After pasta or pizza, take up with two substantial, rather chewy plops of dough that are lusciously coated with a rich hazelnut chocolate spread. Like a Milanese, it’s well-dressed but resembling every other Italian inside. Alternatively, if your Italian is the epitome of sophistication, Il Bacaro and Mezzo (our favourites), are far lovelier than Lupino…no doughnuts though.
The casual Spanish affair
If Italian doughnuts/bomboloni are too much of a mouthful, the Spanish version is far more manageable in size, but just as deliciously good. Reload after a shopping trip on Chapel Street with bite-sized doughnuts of four different flavours, courtesy of an oven-warm bakery offshoot of the well-known Spanish restaurant Movida. Located off bustling Commercial Road in a leafy residential street, that unmistakeable aroma of freshly baked bread wafts and embraces you as soon as you walk through the door. Bread is the focus, but don’t miss the doughnuts displayed on a side glass counter. In our opinion, the best is the teeth-sticking dulce de leche (condensed milk caramel), followed by the doughnut injected with a peanut butter swirled in a gritty ganache. We are not too fond of the stringy rhubarb version, nor of the bacon-flavoured one. Yes, you heard right, bacon…not bacon as in the meat though, but rather a bacon-flavoured custard. Do try it, but be warned that you might not like it.
A Sevillian haunt
In Spain, tapas bars are as de rigeur as cafes are in Melbourne. Seville is arguably, home to the best, though of course, you cannot go wrong in any of the other Spanish cities. For a touch of Seville in Melbourne, The Bohemian is an immersive outpost in an isolated location made for finding. The savoury dishes are the highlights, while desserts take on a slightly strange sweet-sour disposition. A memorable dessert is the “Bunelos de Chocolat.” They resemble deep-fried chocolate balls rather than fluffy doughnuts, but still most ideal for a penetrative chocolate hit. The chocolate is bitter, with ash tone, and little cumquat triangles add a slightly saline, stinging zing. See our previous review here.
A touch of El Bulli
On a sunny day, lounging in style does not come better than a spicy cocktail and an array of excellent tapas on the intimate rooftop of The Aylesbury. For any other time, partake in neo-classical Spanish food with an occasional, slightly quixotic, El Bulli-ish avant-garde edge. Whichever way you prefer, rooftop or restaurant, neo-classical Spanish or ultra-modern European, end the night with a platter of four rugged doughnuts (known as beignets here) to be bathed in a pool of proper dark dark dark chocolate. They are served straight from the oven. We warn, do not share. See our previous review here.
The bohemian artist
If you would like to see doughnuts presented with pretty artistry, head to Huxtable, a popular, relaxed, casual dining experience in Melbourne’s hipster inner-north. The crowd is a little older, the venue is a little strange (it can’t decide whether it is a kitchen, a restaurant or a cafe), but the food is a “greatest hits list” of everything popular in modern Australian cuisine. To end the meal, doughnuts are a good option. Small balls are filled with the biting tang of rhubarb and are presented in very whimsical way, complete with the cold chill of ice cream and lashes of subtle orange custard. Consider the other desserts too as reviewed by us previously (see here).
The Persian seducer
The ultimate doughnut experience in Melbourne may be found in the subterranean Maha, a sensual, sexy hideaway resplendent in opulent ruby, purple and blacks. You begin with a shot of pomegranate juice, the meal then unfolds with a banquet spread, and then there is the ending. Blush-pink turkish delight, served molten and in the centre. Encased by fluffy dough. Crisp surface, caramelised to a sandy brown. Doused in lustrous honey, pistachio and rosewater. Rumi, Nizami, Hafiz or one of the other great Persian poets could base a love poem just on it. No photos because some things are best seen to be believed.
So fellow dessert-lovers, what are your favourite doughnuts and where can you find them?