Saturday, July 31, 2010
Have you got macaron fatigue yet? Nevermind, as MakMak is here to respark your interest. While the business is off to a small-scale start (making cameos in some inner-city cafes, offering limited online orders), its current range is assured and impressive – these flavours are no warm-up act.
My favourite is the Raisin Toast macaron, with its spiced-fruit warmth, raisin-studded sweetness and creamy ganache. I love it. In a perfect (nutrition-irrelevant) world, this is what I would have for breakfast everyday.
The Peppermint and Chocolate has a good minty punch and choc-slick centre, while the Black Sesame is full of fighting flavour - it's something you'd like to see on an Asian dessert plate, or gracing more contemporary yum cha trolleys.
Being a bit of a wimp, I was worried the Sea Salt Caramel would be too much, but it's levelled just right – the ganache has a full-strength nutty chew, with the thick biscuit cushioning out any overpowering sugar-salted tones. The same is true of the Mocha, with its coffee jolt – just sweet and bitter enough to satisfy.
The only flavour I didn't entirely love was the Quince and Grape, but that's just a personal quirk – I think grape-anything was ruined for me by some type of oven-baked fruit muesli bar that parents must've been guilted into packing into kids' lunchboxes when I was growing up. I think my tastebuds have had a grudge with that oversweet baked-grape flavour ever since.
I really like what MakMak is doing and am excited to know that one of its upcoming flavours will be Raspberry & Cardamom-scented White Chocolate 'Rice Pudding'. (I think that one needs no full-hearted pitch – it already sells itself on title alone.) Given that the company is still young and small-scope, its hope is to slowly add and change the range seasonally (giving us yet another reason to yearn for spring).
One of the creative forces behind MakMak is Carlos Heng, who used to be a chef (alongside Dan Hong) but now is in another area of the food industry (where the work hours are less deranged). He converted to macaron-making after Gourmet Traveller gave the sweet front-cover-status for its French issue last year.
Since then, he's had bake-offs, sold at markets, and begun selling his multi-flavoured confections at Sydney cafes such as Cafe Lounge and Room 9 in Surry Hills and Baffi and Mo in Redfern. (In fact, macaron orders for the latter cafe have quickly bumped up six-fold.) He's about to head to New York for more research - via Paris, where the meringue-and-ganache treat has queue-attracting pull, particularly in the salons of Laduree and Pierre Hermé (who was famously dubbed the "Picasso of pastry" by Vogue).
MakMak is based in Redfern and can organise inner-city orders ($25 for a dozen) – that's how I picked up my mixed dozen box. Email the business directly for more information. Otherwise, try Lounge, Room 9 and Baffi and Mo cafes, and keep an eye on the Facebook page for developments (and the debut of the delectable-sounding Raspberry & Cardamom-scented White Chocolate 'Rice Pudding'). You can also follow MakMak on Twitter.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Sometimes "good intentions" (a.k.a. the often hopeless battle against slackerdom) can take a while to accomplish. I'd wanted to visit the White Rabbit gallery since it opened late last year, when it drew a lot of noise and applause for its hypervivid collection of contemporary Chinese art. So far, those plans had come to a lazy zilch.
Thank goodness for the wonderful Megan Morton, then. Her high-charged enthusiasm for the gallery, as outlined in a recent post on her blog, inspired me to finally drag myself (and a few other troops) to White Rabbit. Her endorsement of the on-site teahouse (which I hadn't even known about) fast-tracked my visit plans even more.
As much as I'm a cheerleader for contemporary art, I know it can vary from visual spellbinders – where you're left dizzy and amazed (asking yourself, "how the hell did they do that?") – to alienating letdowns that freeze your enthusiasm, often when jargon and theory get used to prop up some lifeless ideas.
White Rabbit, though, is pretty much a resounding 'case closed' to contemporary art skeptics. All of us, as we wandered from room to room, were stunned by how impressive most of the work was. The current show, The Tao of Now, includes many highlights, including a life-sized inflatable van, a motorbike meticulously 'woven' from blue stainless steel, animal portraits that let out the cry of the corresponding animal when you walk in front of the picture, a colourful karaoke cart, a room where paintings of furniture, food and books cleverly act as stand-ins for the real thing, and an 11-metre illustration of a ponytail. There's a great mix of the technically dazzling, whimsical, poignant and political.
I also really loved Cong Lingqi's installation, where 210 tiny parts (miniature tools, a broom, paint-roller and other everyday items) are suspended like dust motes in front of a spotlight.
The current exhibition, which is drawn from the collection of gallery owners Kerr and Judith Neilson, is only on display for another fortnight before White Rabbit closes to install the next show, so I recommend you see it if you haven't already.
Another endorsement is the teahouse, where there's an exotic selection of brews, each served with a plate of colourful snacks (you can ask for a savoury or sweet plate; better still, team your order with a friend's and you can get one of each).
Chris and I had the Lychee ($7.50), while Will decided on a pot of Silver Needle ($9.50). My brew had pleasant fruit notes, with a bit of black-tea punch. Nice as it was, I wish I'd scanned the menu more properly before ordering – as I would've loved to have tried the theatrical-sounding flower tea, where the blossoms unfurl when steeped in hot water. Also, as a green tea tragic, there were quite a few listed that I'd want to select next time.
I am also curious about the brew that has 'hair' in it (funnily enough, it's unrelated to the ‘Old Man’s Eyebrows’ tea that Megan mentioned on her blog). And, unlike places that give you a stingy teabag and expect that to be enough, White Rabbit staff regularly top up your pot with hot water, letting you get many cups' worth out of your loose-leaf infusions.
The snacks are good, too - I especially liked the mini coconut biscuits, smoked almonds and sweet, leathery flecks of dried cranberries. There was also a cheese biscuit that seemed off-script and un-Chinese, but was tasty, nonetheless, and gone in a few quick, defensive nibbles.
If I haven't already sounded fannish enough, White Rabbit's teahouse and gallery is now automatically in the top 5 of places I'd take friends who are visiting Sydney. Also, it makes a convincing case for being nosey about what's in your own town – it's another spot to the add to the list of why you're happy to stick around in this city.
White Rabbit, 30 Balfour Street Chippendale NSW (02) 8399 2867, www.whiterabbitcollection.org. Contact the gallery for opening hours, as it's only open for part of the week and will soon close for a while for the next exhibition's installation. Even though it's a private gallery, admission is generously free.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
It's true, we're all primed to try new things. There's something about the never-seen-before that queue-jumps other claims for our attention. So I noticed that Kakawa had these new chocolate squares – in dark and milk versions – pressed with deep berry specks and rugged kernels and seeds. One of my favourite things about fruit-and-nut chocolate is you can trick yourself into thinking you're doing yourself a big nutritional favour by choosing it (when really, you just want a shame-free excuse for getting a full-jolt cocoa fix). These squares come with confetti-hits of flavour (the sour citrus peel rebalances the punchy-sweet milk choc, while the freeze-dried raspberry adds a fruity crackle to the raw nuts).
The downside of the new, though, is that it edges out the old. As David at Kakawa pointed out – what do you get rid of to make room for upcoming products? Some things naturally are phased out (when ingredients, such as figs, go out of season), but how do you decide what to cut out of the line-up?
If you're a customer who is overprotective about your favourites, you can feel a bit betrayed when your most-loved flavour is the one that gets knocked out when a new range comes in. This reminds me of Gelato Messina, and its fascinating back-and-forth between experimenting with unpredictable, new tastes and having to bring back out-of-commission ones, because people keep requesting what's no longer available.
Even though the abundance of one-of-a-kind flavours (such as Peanut Butter & Gingerbread or Blueberry Jelly & Yogurt) is what makes Gelato Messina and Kakawa worth the detouring, sometimes having a generous selection can make things confusing.
For instance, there's that famous study by Professor Sheena Iyengar about how choice magnifies our interest yet bamboozles us, making it harder for us to decide. (In her research, 60 per cent of people stopped by a display with 24 jams on sale, while only 40 per cent paused to browse at a table with six jam flavours. Yet, despite most people being attracted to the display with more jams – only three percent actually bought any at the spot with greater variety. The stall with only six jams attracted ten times as many purchases.)
On an extreme level, this also reminds me of a story on NPR recently on the rainbow deluge of Kitkat types available in Japan, a country where you can buy the iconic choc-wafer bar in Soy Sauce, Corn, Apple Vinegar, Deep-Fried Sweet Potato and (Blue) Lemonade varieties. As much as I love the invention and crackpot originality of these ideas, the reason behind it is kinda depressing (the faddish obsession with cranking out new Kitkat versions has to do with competition for shelf-space in Japanese grocery stores, luring in kids needing quick study sustenance and a hyperspeed fixation with creating new Kitkat tastes to keep people interested for a nanosecond until the next one comes out). This endless flavour-chase for products that are destined to have such a short half-life – it feels a little wasteful that all that creativity is sacrified for something so fleeting.
On the flipside, the default vanilla option could not bore me more. I'd prefer getting flustered by choice. And choice is what makes smaller, independent places like Kakawa so attractive. I guess we're always negotiating to have it all, even if it's entirely unrealistic – and the shelf space isn't there to make it possible. A constant overflow of new things to fall in love with, and a permanent place for long-time favourites – yes, it's high on the dream-on factor, but where's the fun in scaling down your hopes?
Shop 5, 147 William St (a few blocks from the Darlinghurst Rd end), Darlinghurst, (02) 9331 8818, www.kakawachocolates.com.au.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I enjoy watching the year change according to, not the calendar, but the blackboard menu at the Luxe Bakery in Newtown. In summer, you could order oxheart-tomatoes, basil and bocconcini, fanned out on sourdough; as the temperature dropped, that disappeared and was replaced with garlicky, roasted-through mushrooms served on a thick, crusty bread-slice, and later, a pouchy sack of burrata flopped out on sourdough – creamy cheese ready to spill out at the cut of a knife. That's had its moment, too.
One thing that's always stuck around, no matter what the calendar says, is the excellent Hash Brown ($3), which is my most-ordered dish this year. All cross-hatched and crisp on the outside and all fluffed-out soft as you slice in, my one complaint is that it isn't a bigger serving. My second-most-ordered is the Mushrooms ($3), which morphed from sourdough team-mate to simple side dish. These are the best mushrooms I've ever had in a Sydney cafe. Both these things make me extra glad when the calendar reveals that the working week is over – I can sleep in, then sneak off to Luxe for another inappropriately late breakfast.
Luxe Bakery, 195 Missenden Rd Newtown NSW (02) 4677 3739