Thursday, December 09, 2004

Choc-a-block I: Fun n' Games - Max Brenner

Continuing our quest for the best hot chocolate in Melbourne, we arrive at what seems to be the hottest chocolate shop (no pun intended) in town – Max Brenner. Located on the semi-open podium level of the swanky new QV precinct, this is the newest place to see and to be seen. Colourful gift tins with cute cartoons line the walls of this dark chocolate brown chocolate boutique-cum-cafĂ©, where tourists, uni students and shoppers alike sit down for a bit of choco-tainment.

Undoubtedly the most popular and the most fun is the ‘Suckao’. Small pieces of chocolate are served in a small dish of what looks like the top of an oil burner, with a tealight burning underneath, offering heat to melt the chocolate. A small jug of warm milk is served on the side, which is added as the chocolate bits begin to liquefy. This is drunk through a stylish metal straw with a little paddle at the bottom that doubles as a stirrer. This is all so fun and exciting that it’s easy to forget about the actual taste of it all – which is perhaps the point, since by then, the delicate chocolate has probably been unfortunately scorched by the intense heat of the almighty tealight beneath, leaving a grainy pile of inedible mush. You’d be better off giving the job of melting chocolate to the professionals by having some of the snacks they offer, such as a cinnamon scroll with melted chocolate. The scroll is halfway between bread and pastry – the dough is soft but layered and porous. It is not too sweet, allowing the subtle cinnamon to shine through. Cut into bite-sized pieces, dip into the pot of molten chocolate and let the fun begin. The tongue is first met with the intense milky-rich smoothness of the chocolate. Then, as the teeth take their first bites into the scroll, the morsels of bread push the chocolate around the entirety of the mouth. Soon, this chocolate-carb paste is gluing your tongue to the roof of your mouth. It’s a bit like playing in a mud pool in kindy – clumsy, messy, but utterly enjoyable. Max Brenner’s, with its bright colours and low stools is like kindergarten – it’s all fun n’ games. So don’t run home complaining to Mummy that they didn’t give you the best hot chocolate.

Max Brenner
Level 2
25-27 QV Square
Melbourne 3000
Tel: +613 96636000

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Choc-a-block II: Subtly elegant - Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patisserie

Having graduated from kindergarten, take a short vacation at the beach, and move up the chocolate education system to the sophisticated Cacao. Here, we don’t need chocolate-coloured wood to remind us we’re in a chocolate boutique. We are greeted instead by a simple, sunlit room with large glass panes, accommodated by crisp white chairs, small tables and minimalist sofas. The extravagance resides within the chocolate. Row after row of elegant chocolates are displayed in glass cabinets, similar to those in Koko Black, but at around hip-level. If you see customers bowing down at the shop assistants, they’re not begging for a taste; their heads are merely gravitating towards the captivating chocolates. Each chocolate, filled with such ingredients as fresh fruit, cream, jelly and tea, is a carefully constructed work of art – almost too perfect to bite into yet so wickedly tempting. Chocolates can be individually chosen to fill up various box sizes. The wooden box would be the obvious choice for chocoholics, who can make return visits to refill their environmentally friendly boxes. Also available are bottles of hot chocolate ‘concentrate’. Chocoholics could not be happier.

In our bedazzled and mesmerized state, we managed to order hot chocolates, pastry and cake. The hot chocolate at Cacao is perhaps the best value for money. It comes in a large mug sprinkled (sadly without as much artistic flair as the chocolates) with cocoa. Sufficiently smooth, but not extremely velvety, this hot chocolate is best consumed with food, be it sweet or savoury. This may sound weird, but the food helps to bring out the full depth of the chocolate used in this beverage. On its own, it could even appear a little bland and thin.

Cacao’s cakes are also highly intriguing and extremely fine, being a patisserie as well as a chocolatier. The croustillant chocolate we tried consisted mostly of chocolate mousse, which in itself, was well made. However, the surprise comes at the base of the cake, which is lined with praline, creating a most pleasurable and astonishing crunch. This contrast in texture is probably the essence of the cake.

Like Koko Black, customers can see Cacao’s pastry chefs and chocolatiers at work. But unlike Koko Black, they are in a semi-open kitchen at the rear of the shop rather than on display at the front. There is a quiet confidence about Cacao. For some, the chocolatiers at the front of Koko Black are the reason you enter the shop in the first place, whereas at Cacao, you see the chocolatiers and understand why you are there. The products and ambience are subtly elegant. If Koko Black was a BMW, Cacao would be the Mercedes – classic but still ‘with it’.

Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patisserie
52 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda
VIC 3182
Tel: +613 85989511