March is festival month in Melbourne. Fashion, family fun and motor sport are all covered by the Melbourne Fashion Festival, Moomba and the Australian Grand Prix. And food and wine lovers are treated to the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, a two-week extravaganza of food, food and more food (and wine)! According to the festival guide, Melbourne's is the biggest food and wine festival in the world.
Events on offer include the Original MasterClass, a weekend with some of the world's master chefs and winemakers, the cellardoor at Southgate, the world's longest lunch, events in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, progressive dinners, cheese forums, wine dinners, champagne experiences, chocolate events, and SlowFood events.
I'm pleased that the express lunch is now running for the duration of the festival, rather than just five days as in past years. For $30 you get two courses and a glass of wine at a number of Melbourne's finest restaurants.Given that a sandwich and drink from most CBD cafes won't give you change from $10, it's great value for money and offers you the chance to eat at some places that might normally be out of your budget.
My only quibble with this year's program is that many of the events are quite expensive, particularly the dinners. Many are more than $100 a person, so you need to choose carefully (unless you have an unlimited budget). And, while the Chateau Petrus 10x10 dinner at Vue du Monde would be divine, with 10 vintages of Chateau Petrus (heralded as the world's greatest wine) matched to 10 courses especially designed by Shannon Bennett, it is $10,000 per person. How do you quantify such a meal? It would be a wonderful experience but how would you know whether you actually had got your money's worth?
I'm also disappointed that my favourite event, the Hawkers' Market at the Queen Victoria Market, is no longer on offer. You got four tickets to exchange for snacks from some of Melbourne's best Asian and Indian restaurants. It was great fun wandering up and down 'L' shed trying to decide what you wanted and to balance your choices so you got to taste what you wanted. You could buy a glass of wine from several different stands and there was entertainment, culminating in the Chinese dragon coming through the whole shed. This event was always hugely popular and I don't know why it no longer runs, but it's a sad loss.
But enough of the quibbles and on with the festival!
CACAO CHOCOLATE DECADENCE
Chocolate and decadence are two words that are made to go together. When I saw "Cacao Chocolate Decadence", billed as "the chocolate lover's ultimate chocolate afternoon" in this year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival guide, I knew this was one event I couldn't miss!
Established in Fitzroy St, St Kilda in 2003, Cacao Fine Chocolates and Patisserie is a small piece of Paris in Melbourne. While known for its wide and delicious range of chocolates, it also boasts a breakfast menu, featuring such French classics as croque monsieur, toasted baguettes, and warm croissants, and a lunch menu of filled pies, pastries and baguettes.
We've no interest in the rest of the food this visit, though, as our Chocolate Decadence experience offers us a hot chocolate, a chocolate petit gateaux, three individual chocolates from the Cacao range and a bar of chocolate to take home.
There are about a dozen choices of petit gateaux in the glass cabinet. It's so hard to choose and eventually I ask the waiter if he has any favourites to recommend. Without hesitation, he points me towards trebon, which the little card says consists of "biscuit hazelnut dacquoise, crème brulee, vanilla infusion and chocolate mousse". He tells me it's to die for and that's all the convincing I need. Adam chooses sacher framboise, a combination of chocolate mousse and raspberry jam.
The full-length glass windows running down one side of the seating area fills the shop with light. This light and airy feel is complemented by the cream-coloured leather couches and pale chairs. Easter promotions are in full swing, with a blackboard offering personalised Easter eggs and Easter offerings wrapped in cellophane lining the walls. To celebrate the Year of the Pig, you can also buy praline-filled chocolate pigs.
Our hot chocolates arrive with the petit gateaux. The hot chocolate is smooth and rich but not cloying; the sweetness of the chocolate is cut by the milk. Adam's sacher framboise is a round dome of smooth dark chocolate glaze, elegantly topped by a blackberry, raspberry and a small square of white chocolate. It looks too good to eat but boys don't let beauty stop them from digging in! He breaks the glaze, exposing the chocolate mousse inside, and offers me a mouthful. The creamy texture of the mousse is tinged with raspberry jam and finished with the crispy crunch of the chocolate biscuit base. It's an exquisite cake.
I turn my attention to the trebon. It's covered in chocolate ganache, topped with a milk chocolate curl and a little twist of white chocolate, and the base is artfully studded with squares of milk chocolate around the edge. The creamy texture of the chocolate mousse melts on my tongue, sweetened by the crème brulee. In the centre of the cake is a surprise: a delicious vanilla-infused custard. It is so rich and delicious that I eat it slowly, savouring every mouthful. The waiter looks surprised to see my spoon next to the half-eaten cake when he walks past and asks, in some consternation, "Don't you like it?" He's reassured when I tell him that I'm enjoying every slow mouthful.
By the time we finish our cakes and hot chocolate, we feel thoroughly sated. There's no chance we could possibly eat any more chocolate, but we spend an enjoyable five minutes drooling over the individual chocolates on offer. I eventually settle on Aztec, a chocolate and chill mixture, a caramel and a blackcurrant chocolate. Adam chooses pistachio, cafe latte and Ceyland, a green tea-flavoured chocolate. The waitress tells us that we're not the only ones participating in the Chocolate Decadence who are taking their chocolates home with them. To finish off, we each select a bar of dark chocolate, which is wrapped in foil and packaged in a neat little cardboard box.
While the Chocolate Decadence event is only running during the festival, you can have your own chocolate experience at Cacao any day of the week. It's open every day from 7am-7pm and is highly recommended. I dare you to leave without taking a little something home for later!
Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patisserie
52 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Ph: 8598 9555