Monday, March 28, 2005

Deli Bertoni

The latest autumn edition of the Australian edition of Vogue Entertaining and Travel had a small box mentioning Bertoni Deli (281 Darling St, Balmain). I initially bought this magazine because of the sumptuous picture of crème caramel (my favourite dessert) on the cover. This articlet, for it was only a sentence long, also had two pictures; of the proprietor-Boys with their Mama and a long shot of their barista station. The art in constructing this piece - home-y boys, Mama's recipes, fake warmth - was almost vomit-inducing in retrospect.

L was keen to try this place because their "Casalinga-style food has become a new favourite with locals" according to VE&T. We should have looked up what "Casalinga" meant - a brief search using an internet translator reveals it to mean "housewife".

Needless to say we were disappointed. Although the menu was well conceived, balanced, hearty, wholesome and comprehensive (pizza, pasta al forno, foccacia, etc.); this was not really anything special. This being a deli, everything was re-heat and go. Nothing wrong with that but we were hoping for a little more attentive detail towards the food.

We both could do just as good ourselves at home, so elected to leave. A nutella doughnut caught my eye just as we went for the door. I love nutella and the combination with deep fried sugared bread was quite appealing. Whilst queueing to pay, the proprietor idly chatted with a customer and his barista, "How are the kids; that hat suits you; you can't even tell I'm bald; there's already sugar in that; I'm so full of shit; I don't care that this guy is waiting to buy his doughnut; etc." I thought the whole interchange extremely rude. It felt so cliquey and exclusive - I felt like I was trespassing onto Their Place.

This place was so mediocre that L was annoyed that it was even written up at all. I rationalised to us that VE&T probably had 8 square cms of space in this issue that needed to be filled. A sub-sub-sub-sub editor probably lived close by and when the call came out, pulled out the one-sentence articlet and grabbed a couple of photos. Later when we were driving home, we noticed a big fat BMW SUV parked outside this place in the disabled zone. The number plate had a little VOGUE sign next to it. L was in full bitch-flight now, "Now we know why this got a mention. The editor is disabled so parks here because it's convenient. She's also so fat and unfit that she can't wheel herself up the hill. Or the motor on her chair can't cope with her weight. That's why she visits this place and can write about it."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Max Brenner Chocolates

Max Brenner Chocolates is "creating a new chocolate culture". It certainly has - Cadbury Dairy Milk just doesn't cut it for me any more. It's got to be 70% cocoa solids or nothing, baby.

Max Brenner Chocolate Bars are located in Oxford St, Paddington as well as, quirkily enough, the Manly ferry terminal. This I only discovered by accident when I took my visiting mother to see The Other Side of Sydney. It was uncomfortably windy and cold and with half an hour to kill before our ferry left we resorted to investigating the sheltered ferry terminal as a last resort for some interesting shops. Our huddled windswept selves browsed amongst the overpriced made-in-china koalas and I avoided looking at the grease-pit chicken kebab onna sticks. But lo and behold this chocolate oasis appeared in my view.

My first experience with Max Brenner was serendipitous as well. I found the Oxford St store, usually jam-packed with young Asian females, stylish shopping ladies and young couples on dates, during a shopping expedition in Sydney. It is a small location and usually has a queue of people waiting for their delicious hot chocolate and other dessert treats on cold days. I was doing my usual Paddington shopping-crawl, it was a hot summer's day and I was feeling a little exhausted from the incessant fashion value analysis. A glass pane and a white plate on an old window-seat table caught my eye. I looked closely and discovered a perfectly formed strawberry, some sort of heart-shaped chocolate and some other kinds of small desserts. The woman partaking of this plate of luxury was eating it with a knife and fork. The ultimate in gastronomic indulgence - dessert eaten with two implements.

I resolved to check out this place. I went into the narrow shop, avoiding the shelves of display chocolates overflowing their tins - ample granules of dark, milk and white beans spread out with so much abandon.

The shop has a front café section and a back retail part. The back has handmade Israeli chocolates for sale in gift boxes as well as all the implements for their signature hot drink - the suckao. My first taste of Max Brenner magic was their dark chocolate espresso frappe. A chilled blend of ice, dark chocolate and espresso. Just the thing to perk one up on a hot summer's day.

At Manly, Max Brenner has obviously anticipated its demand and created ample and roomy seating. My mother and friend ordered a milk chocolate suckao.
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The large ovoid vessels contain a metal insert that is heated with a tea light. To commence hot chocolate imbibation one pours milk from the milk jugs into the heated insert then gently spoons in the chocolate granules; you can see these lazily spread out on their little platters. The metal spoon doubles as a straw as the long stem is hollow. So one can spoon in chocolate, sip the velvety smooth drink and eat the melted chocolate, in whatever order one wishes - this is surely the only way to partake of hot chocolate.

I ordered a hazelnut hug mug: hot chocolate prepared for me by the expert chocolatiers and whipped to a light froth. Incorporating air into chocolate beverages enhances the flavour I was told.
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We couldn't resist their dessert menu and also ordered a sunken chocolate souffle cake.
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For balance we included the strawberry Belgian waffle. We all need some fruit you know.
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My mother was so impressed with her chocolate experience that she wanted to take away a memento. We bought her a suckao gift set and a tin of chocolate beans so she could enjoy the experience at home.

I love indulging in my mother (and my father) when I can. They've scrimped and saved all their lives to raise my sister and myself and it's only now, close to their retirement and the kids supporting themselves, that they are allowing themselves to enjoy life's little luxuries.

Later that week whilst checking into their flight home I had a horrible thought: those metal suckao straws were very knitting needle-like; and we all know that those crafty weapons of personal destruction are definitely not allowed on carry-on luggage. There was a mad rush at check-in to remove the straws and quickly insert them into their check-in luggage. Phew.