A charming patisserie-cafe with a diverse mousse-cake range that endears on each return visit.
A little way from the bustle of South Melbourne Market, an intrepid step down a cobbled laneway, pass wall flower boxes ensconced with petunias, lies the filigreed entrance of Chez Dre. A busy place, it seems like a cake factory that decided at the eleventh hour to become a cafe and a bakery as well. Outside, there’s a courtyard decked out in umbrella-ed seating and vines grasping at the walls, while inside, blue-green banquettes and long wood tables surround an enormous open pastry kitchen staffed by white uniformed chefs moulding the little mousse-cake creations, piping the creamy eclairs and stuffing the long baguettes that eventually make their way to the front glass counter. For the mostly 20-something patrons with a scattering of families or so, Chez Dre also offers a simple brunch and lunch menu. But, it’s most definitely the sweet things for which one visits Chez Dre.
Chez Dre is a sweet-tooths’ heaven. Sweet things at Chez Dre seem to number many, but can be distilled into 4 categories: macarons ($3 each, reviewed separately); mousse cakes ($8.50 each); eclairs ($8.50 each); and classical French lemon, chocolate and salted caramel tarts (highly recommended). Although the eclairs and tarts are the same throughout the year, there is usually some seasonal variation with the range of mousse-cakes available.
Let’s start with a review of the mousse-cakes at Chez Dre. Since Chez Dre opened in April 2011, MoMo & Coco have visited a number of times and sampled most of the mousse-cakes available. With the greatest honesty, your Dessert Correspondents do not like mousse-cakes — we are averse to gelatin (a common pig by-product, and we don’t eat porcine things), we do not love cream, and we hate that baby-food texture and blandness of mousse — and Chez Dre’s renditions did not persuade us of having missed out on something. If we must eat mousse-cakes, our personal preference leans towards mousse-cakes with pronounced flavours and a smooth, light texture. Although superficially beautifully, most of Chez Dre’s creations were too subtle in flavour, erring towards bland. More sensitive palates perhaps might have appreciated the earlier mousse-cake creations at Chez Dre. However, it has become very evident to us that cake-making at Chez Dre has improved since its opening.
Of Chez Dre’s first mousse-cake range, the Blackcurrant Mousse ($8.50) was our preferred mousse-cake of the range available at that time. It was a pretty log dusted over in a violet-coloured snow, enclosing a cloud-like-textured mousse with a shadow of blackcurrant and a red berry jelly inset with little discernible flavour. Doesn’t sound fabulous, but it was certainly the better example of what was then available. Of that first mousse-cake range, we also sampled a so-named blood orange, jasmine tea, strawberry cheesecake and strawberry/berry mousse, but alas, they were not memorable.
Of the subsequent mousse-cake range (currently available at the date of writing this review), we recommend especially the Chocolate and Passionfruit Mousse-cake ($8.50). It is well worth your stomach-space. It’s a light chocolate mousse, somewhere between milk and dark because of that distinctive charcoal-y tone, but sweentened with a centre cube of zesty passionfruit curd. It is embellished with a twirl of a caramel cream, chocolate sticks with a gently placed gold leaf and sugary discs of half-macarons.
Better than the strictly mousse-cakes are Chez Dre’s “hybrid cakes” — that is part mousse, part real “cake.” The first hybrid that we love is the Hazelnut Crunch ($8.50). In tonal brown, a crunchy feuilletine base is layered with dark-ish chocolate mousse, and a wider layer of very much lighter chocolate-hazelnut inflected mousse. This square block of mousse is balanced with a crunchy hazelnut chocolate crown — akin to a big orb of crumbled Ferrero Rocher shells. We can’t get enough of this! It was available in the first cake range, and appears to be an apparent favourite among Chez Dre’s patrons as it is still present in the currently available range.
The second hybrid cake that we would recommend is the recent addition of the Praline Cube ($8.50). It looks rather boring in comparison to the other lurid or embellished cakes on display, but appearances are so deceiving. Peeling aside the thin squares of tempered chocolate reveals a seven-layered sensation. We can’t name all but we will try – alternating layers of almond joconde, lemon curd-cream, sticky caramel, chocolate hazelnut praline biscuit, chocolate cream. It is a beauty. We predict it to become a signature. 🙂 There is also another non-mousse irresistible that we would recommend though we have only seen it on one visit — it’s a honore profiterole creation.
Turning away from the mousse-cakes, MoMo & Coco much prefer to visit Chez Dre for the Eclairs ($8.50 each) and traditional tarts ($8.50 each). A very rich, gluttonous affair, the eclairs re-negotiate the traditional (lighter) choux pastry into a denser cake-like tubing, which is spliced by equally luxurious twirlings of *real* cream. One has to admire the tight, carefully executed piping handiwork too. Flavour-wise however, there is no significant difference between the chocolate, hazelnut, and salted caramel eclairs, all are very lightly-infused, with the latter erring on the buttery side. Nonetheless, all are very delightfully sinful. 🙂 Although MoMo & Coco’s benchmark eclairs continue to be those from Paris’ La Maison du Chocolat, the eclairs at Chez Dre are some of the better ones in Melbourne…pity that they are a little small.
Of all the sweet irresistibles available at Chez Dre, it is the traditional french cakes that are far more memorable. Of course, most Melbourne cakeries/patisseries stock such things, but in most cases, the chocolate is more sugar than chocolate, the ganache too drippy or too creamy, the shortcrust pastry brittle, crumbly or too stodgy. Chez Dre’s versions however are simply exquisite, full of powerful flavours in balanced proportions. Pictured below is the Chocolate Tart ($8.50), bisected into a rich chocolate filling and a chocolate mousse half. It is then glossed over with silky dark chocolate. The other Chez Dre irresistible pictured below is the Salted Caramel Dome ($8.50). Although not pictured, one would be advised to consider the Lemon Tart ($8.50) and the Passionfruit Tart ($8.50) also, both of which MoMo & Coco have sampled and love.
By contrast to the chorus of raving conformity present in the blogosphere/print media, we came away from our first few visits to Chez Dre with a sense of deep ambivalence and disappointed expectations. Our first visit just before Easter 2011 saw that credit card facilities had yet to be installed. First impressions count — don’t open if not ready. It took us a few months to return. Later visits to sample the brunch fare encountered either cold or harried service, and the view of the large kitchen didn’t alleviate the conveyor-belt feeling. But, more recent visits have endeared us to Chez Dre. The adage that “practice makes perfect” applies especially to pastry/cake-making, and it is evident here. Mousse-cakes are pretty but generally still palid, though with a few exceptions as we have noted. Better are the eclairs, consistently decadently dense and creamy. But it has to be the part-mousse-part-cake or part-mousse-part-tart hybrids that we love. Also, most things at Chez Dre with chocolate, lemon/passionfruit or salted caramel are pretty special. More fruity or exotic creations less so. Overall, Chez Dre is a charming patisserie-bakery-cafe. And although MoMo & Coco will no longer visit during the weekends for sit-down meals because it is now choked with people and has lost its atmosphere, the increasing improvements in the irresistibility of Chez Dre’s already exceptionally diverse cake range are a siren call for sweet-tooths.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Chez Dre Patisserie and Boulangerie, Rear of 287 Conventry Street, South Melbourne, Vic 3205.
- ☑ Budget: $-$$.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Cake.
- ☑ Must-eat: The “Chocolate Tart” and “Hazelnut Crunch.”
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A charming patisserie-cafe with a diverse mousse-cake range that endears on each return visit.