I would never identify myself as a ‘sweet tooth’ or a ‘chocoholic’ if asked, usually because the sweeter side of the menu has tended to lack variety and texture at many places. The generic ice-cream sundae, banana fritter, chocolate brownie etc, has me asking for the bill and heading for the door. Of course, good restaurants and top-end bakeries have long been turning that tide.
Darren Purchese’s Sweet Studio in South Yarra has been serving up inventive and playful cakes (and cake tubes) for a while now. They’re my ‘go to’ for birthday, or other special occasion, cakes.
Now they’re beginning to experiment with ‘plating up’ desserts at their Sweet Studio Sessions inside the Chapel St store with a series of three evenings. 4 dessert courses, matching wines, amuse, coffee and petit fours.
On a chilly Melbourne night the warm and friendly welcome was the perfect foil to the icy wind outside. Being the first group to book we found ourselves at our own table under the Inspiration Wall (hundreds of jars filled with all kinds of sweet and savoury ingredients) and with a perfect view of the kitchen.
First up, was the amuse. A ‘nitro’ gin and tonic, arriving at the table with nitrogen vapours whisping around (which a camera could never do justice to). The gin and tonic flavour came through, balanced by a green tea sorbet and the crispy shell adding a delicate texture.
The first full course was Rose, Apple and Beetroot Crumble. This was my favourite dish of the evening, a great balance of taste and texture: crumb, beetroot sponge, rose cream and jelly, crystallised rose petal. The sweetness was kept in check by the acidity coming from the pickled apple, fizzy apple sorbet and yoghurt elements. I can’t wait for the cake version to show up in the retail cabinet.
Followed by the Passionfruit Cloud, a play on the crisp yet chewy meringue clouds available at the shop. This was a celebration of passionfruit, is tangy acidic nature explored through technique and texture. Crispy passionfruit shell, creamy mousse-like centre, with ‘caviar’ and jelly beneath.
Next was the most creative dish of the night: Avocado, Pear, Cucumber, Eucalypt and White Chocolate. The Eucalypt was used with a light touch and never overpowered the other flavours, working well with the pear. A highlight was the lime jelly, and hint of lime in the white chocolate mousse which brought the dish to life. While not that common in many Western countries, the avocado works well as a sweet ingredient.
The final course was a classic for those who have ever visited Burch and Purchese before. Usually served as a glossy cake, this was a deconstructed Chocolate, Mandarin and Salted Caramel. It’s been called the Year of Salted Caramel, and it’s easy to see why. While the other dishes walked a tightrope of sweetness, this final plate was luxurious and decadent. The centerpiece was a sphere of delicate dark chocolate which broke open to reveal a rich chocolate and mandarin ganache and salted caramel. For me the component that made the whole dish come alive was the fantastic mandarin sorbet, its clarity brought the palate alive. The caramelised cocoa nibs added their wonderful crunch and cocoa hit.
Ending the night, with tea or coffee, was a selection of petit fours. A miniature bar of their caramelised white chocolate, mint white chocolate aero, ginger and chocolate tart (perfect!) and a chocolate cream nibble.
Overall, it was a decadent night of playful desserts showing off the techniques that the chefs out into each component. The experience was made even better by the warm generosity of the staff, including the chefs who were happy to answer questions about the dishes and preparation. Keeping with the trend of breaking down the barriers between the kitchen and the guest, the atmosphere made the experience even better.
Burch and Purchese Sweet Studio