Archive for the ‘Store reviews’ Category

It’s Sydney International Food Festival time, and you know what that means – Sugar Hit time! After hitting the noodle markets for some very tasty okonomiyaki, I sauntered around the corner with my friends Ros and Ryan to the awesomely named restaurant Monkey Magic for a post-noodle sugar hit.

After reminiscing about the show Monkey Magic on the way there, we were pleased to find that the restaurant of the same name lived up to our nostalgia-driven expectations. It’s dark, chocolatey-coloured and has clouds on the walls.

We rocked up at about 7.30 and were told that the Sugar Hit was usually served from 9pm, but it didn’t matter. Excellent. We had a choice of a glass of Brown Brothers “Patricia” Reisling, cognac or Japanese plum wine. Ros and I opted for the plum wine and

Ryan went for the cognac simply to break the trend. The plum wine was great – very balanced. Sweet, but not sickly so, and the plum flavour was pretty subtle.

The dessert was a black sesame creme caramel with toffee syrup, served with red wine-poached pear and coconut ice-cream. A sweet, crunchy bread stick was also served with it, which I quite liked. Actually I started eating it before I remembered to take a photo, which I had warned my friends I was likely to do. Luckily they weren’t quite as eager as me, so I took a photo of Ros’s plate instead.

The ice-cream had a kind of red spice sprinkled on top that I couldn’t identify, but was a little peppery. The creme caramel was quite rich – creamy and sweet. It tasted great but we struggled to finish it. Ros said that she didn’t usually like pears, but the red wine-poached pears were delicious. Ryan said with a name like Monkey Magic, how could you possibly go wrong? I can’t argue with logic like that!

After this experience, I’d love to go back to Monkey Magic to try stuff on their regular menu, and I think all three of us have an urge to watch some episodes of that 80′s Japanese TV show now. Luckily I have the full box set.

Try it yourself, at:
Monkey Magic
410 Crown St
Surry Hills NSW

Sugar Hit is available nightly during the month of October from 9pm.

I admit it – Adriano Zumbo is my new pastry hero. The man is a flavour genius. This is no chocolate-on-chocolate-and-what-goes-with-chocolate-oh-I-know-more-chocolate type of chef. This guy understands BALANCE. Sweets aren’t all about the sweetness. There’s sourness, tartness, even saltiness and all sorts of other things that are involved in making sweet things. And all of these have to be in the right balance, otherwise one flavour overpowers the others and you don’t get that beautiful complex flavour that you can savour.

So I was feeling pretty glum about not having won the famous Zumbo chocolate mousse cake lottery for the second time in a row, and certain friends were meant to visit me this weekend and revel in the sweet Zumboness of this patisserie with me and they didn’t show, so I made the pilgrimage to Zumbo Patisserie all by myself for consolation cake. Last time I went there they were completely sold out, so I got there a bit earlier this time.

It was packed. And when the people got in there, their eyes widened and they were just staring and drooling and LUSTING after the cakes. There were several people taking photos. This isn’t a big store – it’s like a corridor with a cake display case on one side. So I managed to get all the way to the end of the cake display stand where the good stuff is. I wanted ALL of it. The lady next to me was lost in a similar bewildered state of cakelust as we struggled to decide what to buy. But I managed to narrow it down to a few choices, before moving on to the macaroon section.


Then the most amazing thing happened. One of the macaroons broke. It was a salt and vinegar macaroon and the shop assistant said to me, “this one broke so I can’t sell it. Would you like to eat it?”

Free macaroon?

For me?

For ME????

So she started describing the other macaroon flavours to me, but I had already taken a bite of the free macaroon and I was far away on a distant planet called Planet of the Free Macaroon, a glorious place where salt, vinegar, sugar and macaroonness live in perfect harmony and dance and sing together. You should go there sometime, it’s awesome. So she had to repeat all the flavours to me again and I ended up getting two rice pudding macaroons because that’s all I could remember her saying.

Amazingly I left the store with only four items. I don’t know how I managed to resist all of these temptations.


I bought four things to try. Here they are, clockwise from top left :

  • “Amanda Made The Cut” (4 layers of chocolate mousse, passionfruit marshmallow, coconut crunch and chocolate brownie, partially covered in lime creme),
  • “Escape From A Columbian Rainforest” (if I remember correctly – chocolate mousse with a tangy rasberry filling covered in fizzy pink sugar with chocolate on top),
  • citron tart (a lemon tart) and
  • “Lukas Rides The Tube” (Macadamia praline mousse, macadamia docquoise, vanilla chantilly, pear tartin pallette, macadamia feuilletine).

zumbocakesboxMy favourite was “Amanda Made The Cut”, which was an unusual combination but really well balanced in flavour – with the lightness of the marshmallow, the zest of the lime creme and the sweetness of the chocolate brownie and mousse – and also in texture – with the crunch of the coconut, the softness of the marshmallow and mousse, the chewiness of the brownie and the gooiness of the lime creme.

The “Escape from a Columbian Rainforest” was extremely rich, but the richness was tempered somewhat by the tangy jelly in the middle. Lukas Rides the Tube was very rich as well, kind of like an upper class vanilla slice. I liked the flavours but found the chantilly cream too overpowering in richness.

I didn’t try the citron tart – I left all of that to my husband, connoisseur of all things lemon. The result was surprising – he usually says when it comes to citrus tarts, the stronger the better. However this time he said it was a very good tart – one of the best he’s had – despite not being overly sour and lemony in flavour. High praise indeed from this man.

So there it is, my new favourite Sydney patisserie. Next time I must try the cafe. Frustratingly, it is always full whenever I go there. However, fear not – I will find a way.

Zumbo Patisserie, Balmain, Sydney.

It’s Sydney International Food Festival this month (previously called Good Food Month, which frankly was a lot easier to say), and one of my favourite events this month is the Sugar Hit. A Sugar Hit is a dessert created by an excellent restaurant, served with a glass of dessert wine (or something similar) – all for $20.

So last night I went to Azuma Kushiyaki for their Sugar Hit, which is an East-meets-West dessert platter. Unfortunately, when it arrived it looked so delicious that I ate it before realizing that I forgot to take a photograph. So I photographed the remains for a post-meal blog analysis. Here it is:

azuma sugar hit

  1. Cheesecake. This was a light and creamy vanilla cheesecake with vanilla ice-cream in the middle and a sponge cake base. The texture was so light, it was heaven. It was served with three raspberry halves and a blueberry arranged in a delicate pattern.
  2. Chocolate mousse cake. There was a very rich chocolate mousse cake here, cut into a square and served with half a sliced strawberry fanned on top. It filled me up so much that I was unable to finish eating the cheesecake.
  3. Nori biscuits. There were two wafer-thin vanilla biscuits with flecks of nori (seaweed) baked into them. It sounds strange, but it was actually really delicious. And not in an “acquired gourmet taste” way, just in a normal “wow that’s really delicious” way.
  4. Green tea roll. You can probably tell by the remains that I didn’t like this one so much. It was like a regular sponge roll, but with green tea powder integrated throughout. The cream was very rich and the sponge tasted like green tea powder.
  5. Syrup. This was a small glass of syrup to pour over the rice cake shot, so that you could adjust the syrup amount depending on how sweet you liked the dessert. A nice touch.
  6. Rice cake shot. This was a shot glass with vanilla bean ice-cream (partially molten), seedless grapes and small rice cakes – the sticky paste Japanese kind. Husband found the flavourless rice cakes a bit strange. I really liked it – I liked the texture of the rice cakes and the sweetness of the ice-cream and syrup. The fresh grapes balanced it really nicely.
  7. Dessert wine. This was a Brown Brothers Orange, Muscat and Flora. I’ve had it before and it’s a really nice dessert wine with a pleasing aftertaste. There was an option to have cognac instead of dessert wine.

Overall, I loved the presentation and the tasting platter idea. It was a fun meal to eat, exploring the different desserts. On top of that, it was very delicious and filled me up even though I hadn’t had a proper dinner. Great value for $20.

For more information on Sugar Hits at Azuma Kushiyaki, go to the Sydney International Food Festival website.

victoriaroomhighteaMy husband and I are what you may call High Tea connoisseurs. To be more accurate, we have been spoiled by the exceptional standard of High Tea at the Stamford Plaza in Brisbane, and every High Tea experience we have is measured against it. To date, we have not found an experience to meet that standard in Sydney.

So bearing that in mind, it may come as no surprise to you that High Tea at The Victoria Room in Sydney was disappointing. There were positives – the décor was lovely, the setting was comfortable and the service was excellent. The selection of sweets were delicious and the tea refills were free (which is something other high tea venues in Sydney don’t often offer).

However, for the $38pp we paid, there was not a lot of food. On offer were eight finger sandwiches, eight sweet treats and only two scones to share between the two of us. Usually high tea is a decadent experience that leaves the stomach fit to burst, so we were hungry by the time we arrived, and we scoffed most of it within 20 minutes. High tea is generally about tea and scones, and the lack of scones was almost as disappointing as the quality of the scones. There was only one choice of jam, and it was runny.

The paper tablecloth was irritating, as it kept getting in the way as it hung off the edge of the table. And paper tablecloths at high tea? The Queen would not dine here.

I think this would be an excellent venue for a girls’ afternoon tea party, for those who would enjoy the novelty of a “posh” tea experience. To their credit, it is a beautiful venue and I think that cocktails and supper would be absolutely delightful there. But of all the High Teas we have tried in Sydney to date, this is not among the best.


It’s an interesting mathematical fact that when cakes are smaller, more are eaten. I know from baking experience that 2 mini cupcakes = 1 regular cupcake, and 2 regular cupcakes = 1 jumbo cupcake. Yet, when people are presented with mini cupcakes, they tend to eat significantly more than when they are presented with regular or jumbo sized cupcakes. I reckon this is because of the theory of “it’s little, so I can have more of them, and I won’t get as fat”. But then you go and eat twice as many and it’s even worse.

So, BabyCakes – a clever business strategy or a cunning obesity conspiracy?  Are the cakes really made from babies? I’m going to go with no, because I’ve eaten quite a lot of these cakes and it would freak me out if they were made from actual babies. I assume there is some kind of artificial baby flavouring involved instead.

Anyway, I should be talking about cake deliciousness. The flavours are pretty typical of most specialist cupcake stores, although they are done well. My favourites are the cherry bomb and the peanut slide, which manage to cram a lot of flavour and texture into a tiny morsel.

The packaging is a bit disappointing, consisting of a cardboard tray in a paper bag. However it serves as an adequate cupcake transportation unit as long as you keep it the right way up. The Summer Hill store has some chairs and coffee available, but isn’t quite a cafe, so you’re best taking the cakes home where you can devour them greedily behind closed doors.

Go here for:

Take-home mini cakes. I reckon these cakes would go great as petit fours for a high tea, or as a cute addition to a chocolate platter dessert at a dinner party. Otherwise, they’re a nice little sugar hit to have while you’re shopping, that you won’t feel so bad about because you’re only eating half a regular sized cupcake.

Oh, OR….you could make a big cake at home, and use these smaller BabyCakes as decorations for your bigger cake. Possibly even make some kind of mini cupcake pyramid to sit atop your big cake. Put some flowers or strawberries in amongst the cupcakes in the tower and how cool would that look? Send me a picture if you try it!


I love cupcakes.

For this reason, when it comes to critiquing cupcakes, I set the bar very high. I’ve eaten a lot of them. I’ve made a lot of them. My wedding cake was made almost entirely of cupcakes.

So when I say that Sparkle Cupcakery is one of the best cupcake stores I have been to, you should all be suitably impressed. Go on, give a little gasp or something.

First of all, they use top quality ingredients in their cakes, and it shows. You can see the little black telltale specks of real vanilla beans and you can taste the difference. Secondly, the flavours of the cakes are not limited to the decorations on the top. And what flavours! My favourite has to be the sweet and fragrant Lavender and Honey flavour, but the rest are delicious as well.

Presentation is always a big part of cakes, especially cupcakes, and one may argue that Sparkle cupcakes are a little on the plain side. However, they have their whole minimalist look going on, and I respect that. When you see several cake flavours assembled in one of their signature black boxes with silver writing, you have to admit that they look very classy indeed.

Best of all, Sparkle holds a high tea, featuring champagne, strawberries with melted chocolate, biscuits and of course cupcakes. That’s what I like to see, grown up cupcakes – no kid’s patty cakes here.

My only criticism is that on occasion when I have had the cakes, they have seemed a bit dry. I guess this might be due to a different baker on that day, or a different recipe, or bad luck….who knows? However most of the time they have been fantastic. The staff are always very friendly and the service is excellent.

Go to Sparkle Cupcakery for classy cakes, gourmet cakes or gift cakes.

An endless stream of cakes
The French House, Waterloo

The French House, Waterloo

More cakes here!

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