When on holiday I like to explore what I consider the important characteristics of my destination town or city - which basically means that Mr Cake is dragged into every chocolate shop I see and that I arrive home with a huge pile of goodies, ensuring waistband expansion continues beyond the holiday itself. Melbourne is a foodie dream and I knew there'd be chocolate everywhere so I did some research to determine the must-visit places.
The first chocolatey place we went was Max Brenner. We had spent the morning "shopping" - that is to say, visiting shops then leaving once we looked at the prices and did the exchange rate calculation. Did I mention the Kiwi dollar was at an 18-year low against the Aussie while we were there? Ugh! Anyway, not buying things apparently works up quite an appetite, so we stopped at Max Brenner for some refuelling.
I ordered a hot chocolate with crunchy waffle balls in it, as well as waffles with strawberries (waffle overkill!). Mr Cake ordered a babka, a brioche-type bread. My waffles were good - crunchy with fluffy centres, and the chocolate was very good chocolate - the strawberries helped balance it out a bit (especially since I went overboard and ordered a hot chocolate as well!). The drink was pretty good as well - not the most amazing hot chocolate (I think Duke Carvell's still wins that award for me) but still very good. The crunchy little balls of waffle were nice, though very sweet, and I probably wouldn't bother with those next time - they have a fairly varied hot chocolate menu so there are lots of other variants to try instead!
Mr Cake enjoyed his babka - again, very rich, but that is surely what you're after when dining in a chocolate shop.
They do have chocolates available for purchase as well but we'd reached saturation point and I couldn't contemplate choosing any (normally I have no problem imagining what would be good later even when my belly is completely full, this was a real chocolate overload).
A couple of days later we were wandering through St Kilda when I spied a Chocolateria San Churro shop. Once again, we were about due for a sit-down and I love anything donutty so churros are right up my street. We ordered a serving of churros each - mine with milk chocolate sauce, Mr Cake's with caramel - and I also got a box of their chocolates, one of each flavour (there were only nine so this didn't seem too unreasonable!).
The churros were yummy - hot and fresh and crunchy, with the requisite coating of cinnamon sugar, though the chocolate sauce was a bit sugary. The caramel sauce was extremely sweet and I thought only tolerable in combination with the chocolate - definitely comfort food, though, and really one serving would have been enough to share (not that we didn't finish them, ahem).
The chocolates were a bit of a let-down, unfortunately. The chocolate itself wasn't particularly nice, and had an unpleasant mouth-coating aftertaste, and the fillings were all very artificially flavoured and overly sweet. I probably shouldn't be surprised, given the look of them - but I live in hope. I would go back for the churros but wouldn't go near the chocolate cabinet.
On our last day there I made it my mission to make it to another few chocolate stores - the previous evening when I was checking locations and seeing how many we could cram in to our limited time Mr Cake asked me what I was doing. When I told him he looked in horror at my list so I pared it back a little - by about half. The things we do for love! ;-)
First stop was Chokolait, hidden away in one of the arcades off Little Collins Street. Actually, all three of the last-day stores we visited were in arcades, which was quite fun - since I'd figured out there were chocolate treasures to be found we went through lots of little lanes of shops we might otherwise have missed. Never underestimate the value of having crazy missions on your holidays - there are often unforeseen benefits!
Chokolait had lots of flavours, which made choosing very hard. I did eventually manage to select some, though I'm sure the saleslady was fed up with my dithering by the time I figured it out. ;-)
These were pretty good, although despite trying to avoid liqueur flavours some of these were still a bit boozy for me. I did enjoy them though - they vanished pretty quickly! The white chocolate ones were very good, which as a white chocolate fan pleased me greatly.
Next stop was Koko Black, which I had longingly gazed upon in Victoria Market earlier in the week - but I knew the chocolates would never have made it home if I had bought them at the beginning of our break, and it is nice to be able to stretch out the holiday treats a bit.
These were by far the best chocolates we had - every single one was delicious, with some great flavours. They were well balanced, with the flavours coming through distinctly without letting you forget you're eating chocolate. Of particular note were the Tikal chilli chocolate, which was absolutely fantastic, gently hot, perfect, and the Leatherwood honey, smooth, sweet and gooooood.
The downside of buying chocolates on holiday to eat when you get home is that you can't go back and stock up on the ones you like. Or perhaps that's a good thing...
The last stop was Haigh's, which was a surprisingly large store, with all sorts of gorgeous gift boxes as well as the standard counter fare. The service was friendly and I was particularly impressed when our box of precious meltables was put inside an insulated bag to protect it from the heat. Since I was already toting another couple of boxes I transferred those into the insulated bag as well, which enabled all my goodies to tolerate a pretty warm Melbourne day exceptionally well (last time we were in Aussie I bought fancy Easter treats for my family, but they got very melty before I managed to get them home - they were still gobbled up but it does detract a bit!). So nice one, Haigh's - other chocolate shops take note!
The chocolates were pretty good, not quite as fantastic as the Koko Black ones but they had some very interesting flavours, and the chocolate itself was very good. We found the nougat ones especially good, though the cream-filled ones were mostly pretty underwhelming. The big bar was a chai bar - Mr Cake's choice - which was really nice, sort of fudgey filling but very true to the chai flavour. My favourite was the wattleseed one, which had a dark (but not too dark) coffee-like flavour to it. A little bit different.
They also had lots of lovely ideas for gifts, and though I was looking for my greedy self I would have been tempted by the teddy bears or purse shaped boxes if I was in a giving mood. ;-)
So in summary - Melbourne = chocoholic's dream destination. It certainly passed my test of a good destination. What slightly offbeat things are your must-do holiday activities?
Max Brenner, Chocolateria San Churro, Chokolait, Koko Black and Haigh's are in various locations around Melbourne - see the websites for details.