Monday, May 28, 2012

Choukette, Brunswick

Where: 318 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Victoria

When: 28 May 2012

Rating: 5/5


Since Charlotte's last review was a French bakery, Parisian Patisserie Boulangerie in Essendon, I think it's only fitting that I complement it with a review of the French bakery we visited today, Choukette in Brunswick, before getting through the backlog of other places we've visited lately. We'd heard plenty of good things about this place and had been meaning to go for some time - in fact, we've walked past it repeatedly without noticing; it has a very small street frontage wedged on the south side of Savers.

Apple turnover and lemon tart.
We walked in to be greeted by a lovely range of sweet and savoury pastries - danishes, escargots, tarts, brioches, eclairs, millefeuilles, filled rolls, pies, etc. Not to mention an actual French guy behind the counter, which is always a good sign (plus he evidently has good music taste, giving us the horns for Charlotte's Alcest t-shirt). It was really, really hard to choose. I was going to go with a cherry band until we noticed that they have apple turnovers, much to my excitement. I can barely walk a block in New Zealand (or some other parts of Australia) without stumbling over an apple turnover, yet most bakeries in Melbourne don't seem to do them. Chain bakery Michel's does do them, but ruins it by 1. putting whipped cream in them (that should be an optional extra), and 2. charging way too much. Soon as Charlotte pointed out the apple turnover, I knew I was buying one.

Most of the pastries are priced around $3 to $6, generally with a 50c surcharge to eat in (which is a shame, but whatever). Same goes for the drinks. They do tend to incline to being about $1 more than the average. However, you can get a coffee and croissant for $5.

Besides my apple turnover, we ordered a lemon tart and two ham and cheese croissants, along with a chocolate milkshake for me and an iced chocolate for Charlotte. How were they? In a word, superb. Absolutely superb. The weakest part of the order was the chocolate milkshake - it was perfectly good, but unfortunately didn't come in the metal tin (I always feel a little let down when my milkshake comes in a glass) and was just overshadowed by everything else - including Charlotte's amazing iced chocolate. We recently went to Friends of Mine on Swan Street, Richmond (unfortunately before we started this blog) and had what we thought was the best iced chocolate we'd found anywhere in Melbourne. Never mind that! Choukette has possibly set the iced chocolate benchmark with a generous glass loaded with chocolate ice cream and real rich chocolate. I had serious drink envy.

The apple turnover was a delight. Crisp and very tasty pastry surrounds a good quantity of apple filling. Now, it doesn't quite top the best apple turnovers I've had in New Zealand, but it's certainly up there, it's nice and fresh, and worth the price. The lemon tart was even better. It's expensive, I'll warn you straight up, and I was hesitant about paying the price. Given that I can buy divine lemon tarts in New Zealand for $1 (are you getting the theme that I think New Zealand bakeries really outclass Aussie ones in range, price, and quality?), I'm generally reluctant to pay $3-4 in Australia for lemon tarts that don't tend to be very lemony, a bit fake, and cased in mediocre pastry. And this one was $5 takeaway/$5.50 eat-in. Worth every cent. It is quite obviously made from real lemons, the pastry is thin, unintrusive but enjoyable, there is a nice little drizzle of chocolate, and this is possibly the only lemon tart I've had that equals the fresh taste of those that Charlotte's mother makes from lemons straight off her lemon tree. Like the iced chocolate, Choukette has set a benchmark I don't expect many will equal.

Marry me.
But the absolute star was the ham and cheese croissant. I don't even know where to begin without sounding too effusive. We've both eaten a hell of a lot of croissants in our lives - I've even enjoyed them in Paris and Geneva. Yet I am happy to say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Choukette's ham and cheese croissant is quite simply the best I have ever had in my life. Anything else is going to be a letdown now. The croissant itself is flaky, buttery, and fresh as anything. The ham is delicious. The cheese on top of the croissant is a very welcome touch. But the star is the melted cheese inside that oozes out the gaps, over your fingers, and into your mouth. Croissant perfection. We enjoyed it so much, we bought a plain croissant ($3 takeaway) to have with our afternoon tea later.

Choukette may be more expensive than your average bakery, but in this case, you are paying for quality - fresh, delectable quality made by an actual French baker. No "French bakery ... run by some guy from Keilor who's never been to France but saw the French rugby team play the Wallabies once in the nineties" bullshit. It's the real deal. Get down there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Parisian Patisserie Boulangerie, Essendon

Where: 19 Keilor Road, Essendon, Victoria

When: 02.05.12; once in 2011.

Rating: 4.75/5

This little French bakery first caught our eyes as we went by on the route 59 tram, and it's easy to see why. It's hard not to be enticed by the fresh white tables and chairs on the footpath, the old-style bicycle complete with a baguette in its basket, and most importantly, the luscious array of cakes on display in the window. Our first visit here in 2011 was flying, but I got to sample their famous almond croissant, which lives up to its well-deserved hype. It was buttery and sweet with just a little crunch on the outside, and incredibly fresh. I don't usually rave about sweets, but this is an exception. Anyway, I digress. We came here more recently for a sit-in afternoon snack, and it certainly delivered. Unfortunately, the Patisserie doesn't appear to have a website, so I'm not sure of the prices, but it was certainly reasonable for the quality of our food!

Strawberry tart
I'm always a sucker for fruit tarts, but they can so often be flawed - too much pastry and sickly custard are the main culprits. Thankfully, there was none of that in sight here. The pastry case was just right - thick enough to be substantial but thin enough not to overpower the filling. The custard was wonderful, delicate and sweet with vanilla, and not at all sickly. The strawberries on top were fresh and perfectly arranged. Another bonus point was that the top of the tart wasn't covered in the awful jelly-like glaze that commercial cake companies seem to be so fond of. The presentation was perfect, I could hardly fault it.

I had my usual mocha, which was perfectly good but nothing mindblowing. It was somewhat overshadowed by Ax's hot chocolate, which I shall come to soon...

Jam doughnut
Ax had the jam doughnut, and he polished it off so quickly that I barely had time for a bite, which I think is an endorsement in itself! I managed a quick nibble though, and found it was an exceptional doughnut. The dough was just perfect - slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and so fresh. The jam was of high quality too, not like the hyper-processed stuff you sometimes find in commercial doughnuts.

Hot chocolate
This hot chocolate was the star of the show! I've never seen anything quite like this. It came out on a silver tray in an enormous mug, with a small bowl of chocolate melts on the side. The drink was lovely and rich even without the addition of the chocolate melts, but stirring them in transformed the drink into something truly decadent. Unfortunately, Ax had to drink it very quickly due to being late for an appointment, but I don't think his enjoyment was too marred by this. The way I see it, it's an opportunity to come back as soon as possible!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Union Hotel Brunswick, funnily enough in Brunswick

Where: 109 Union Street, Brunswick

When: 23 April 2012.

Website: (menu page is unfortunately blank at time of writing)

Rating: 4.5/5

Charlotte's delicious steak sandwich and mountain of chips.
The Union Hotel Brunswick - or UHB - has recently become our local.  Normally we head over to the Northcote Social Club on Mondays for their free live music, but this particular Monday had been hijacked by Pond to play an extra (not free) concert after their Sunday night show sold out, so we figured it would be a good opportunity to go and check out the UHB. We were very glad that we did. Outside, it doesn't appear particularly spectacular, but inside it's a smart casual sort of bar, friendly and homely. The beer garden looked great, but unfortunately it was a cold night with showers forecast, so we stayed inside. Even though we went over a bit late (not long before the kitchen closed), the place was still pretty full - we got the second-last table. You may want to book ahead, especially if you've got a large group. We weren't drinking much this particular evening, but the beer selection was good.


Saganaki ($12): A bit pricey but our group of four wanted a saganaki fix before our dinner. There were some other appetising entrée options, including a sausage roll that sounded nice, but we decided to just go with the saganaki. It came out before the mains (unlike some pubs that love to just throw everything at you at once); two healthily large slices of saganaki that divided easily in half so that we each got a satisfying amount of saganaki. It was matched with a generous bowl of olives, which shouldn't have been a problem - but it was. You see, it turned out that I was the only one of us four who actually eats olives. I love them. But there were just a few too many for me to knock off alone without total olive overload; I didn't anticipate so many. Perhaps next time we'll ask for another slice of saganaki instead of the side olives!


Thanks to the lack of an online menu and my own poor memory, I can't recall the price of a couple of the mains. They were around the $15-20 vicinity, though. Usual pub prices.

A parma that tastes much better than it looks - highly recommended!
Chicken parmigiana ($18): There is more to this parma than meets the eye. Luckily, a couple of reviews had prepared me for this, so I wasn't put off by the arrival of a parma with a fair bit of nude schnitzel and not exactly a generous amount of cheese. I assure you: you just don't notice. The chicken is absolutely top quality, crumbed beautifully, and cooked to a delectable tenderness. It is impossible to fault. The ham is very tasty too, some of the best ham I've had on a parma. The napoli sauce could be more and better, but it does the job, and the Swiss cheese punches above its weight, delivering a good taste. As for the sides? The salad ticked all the boxes and the serve of chips was larger than usual. They were a bit hidden under the gigantic parma, which is something I don't tend to like, but they didn't lose any crispiness. I went home very full and very content.

Cape Grim steak sandwich ($20): Charlotte got this on the basis of its name alone. The decision paid off. By the sounds of enjoyment coming from her side of the table, the steak was ideally cooked just like my chicken, the caramelised onion was outstanding, the aioli was on a similar level, and the bun was of good quality. The UHB certainly doesn't skimp on size either: she wasn't sure if she would be able to finish it, but it was too good to go to waste. Of course, this meant some of the chips unfortunately stayed on the plate. I suspect next time we go to the UHB, we might share a main - they are certainly big enough to be a satisfying meal for two - and indulge in another one of the entrées.

Definitely a satisfying serve of fish and chips.
Fish and chips: It's become something of a running joke that a particular friend of ours, whenever he dines with us, orders anything on the meal that I can't eat. So no samples for me! He seemed pretty pleased though, and again, the serving size was quite considerable.

Bangers and mash: I forget what it was actually called on the menu, but that's basically what it was - sausages piled atop mashed potato, with steamed vegetables on the side. Not just any mashed potato either; it contained basil and bacon pieces. The sausages were nice, but the friend who ordered this dish was just in love with the mash. Naturally, we all had to sample it. I'm a fussy bastard when it comes to mashed potato, but yeah, it delivers.

The sausages looking pretty phallic.
I had baked a cake for our group to share for dessert when we returned home, but we were much too full and very content after our meal. So alas, the cake had to wait for another day to be eaten. We didn't mind. The UHB is a place I'm very happy to call my local.