Trench coats, falling autumn leaves, aromatic coffee, french air kisses, Sydney is slowly turning into a romantic city. But there is also one man who is bringing the real Paris to your doorstep, and that person is Adriano Zumbo. Need no introduction, Zumbo has become a household name among all food bloggers, and reached celebrity status within a year. All well deserved through his wonderful, amazing work of art in patisserie.
This winter, Zumbo is back with a whole new collection, named "40 Days and 40 Nights in Paris". Is it going to be a "Wow" or a "Oww"? GrabYourFork, ChocolateSuze, Raging Yoghurt and I are at Adriano Zumbo cafe in Balmain for the first hand taste test.
The Zumbo patisserie is a tiny 2 meter wide (it feels that way) shop squeezed in the main strip of Balmain that can be easily missed if you walk two paces too fast. If you don't ask, you won't even know there is actually another Zumbo Cafe five doors down hidden from the public.
When we arrived at the shop, some of the dessert from the new collection are already sold out. Helen (GrabYourFork) and I make no haze and grab one of each dessert that is left on the shelves, a total of seven. Most of the desserts still have no names, only with temporary alphahet placeholder names. I asked Charles, one of the friendly staffs behind counter, whether there will be another dessert named after him; he laughs and doesn't have high hope this time.
The macarons are more popular with the girls. Zumbo is going to flirt with the girls' tastebuds with the new season flavour of Blackcurrant, Rice pudding, Rhubarb crumble, Salted butter caramel, Mandarin & tonka bean, Baklava, Chestnut and passionfruit, Toffee apple, Salted butter popcorn, Pine nut and gianduja, Quince, Tasmanian honey and walnut.
A table for six proven to be quite a challenge at the tiny Zumbo cafe. After much shuffling and pushing, we eventually tightly squeezed into a little corner outside with two tables, dodging from the rain; slowly indulge ourselves into a sugar high frenzy.
The first one that I try is the '!' - smoked rice orange brulee, violet curd, pate sable with mandarin & ruby grapefruit segments. It is also my favorite, praises go to both flavour and presentation. I am usually not a rice pudding person, and fortunately this is nothing like it. The brulee is light and creamy but with very little of the smoked rice flavour, perhaps the sweetness from the citrus is overpowering it. The violet curd is a nice combination with the citrus and gives you a tingling sensation.
"He is a genius! Look, it wobbles inside the can when outside is still hard", Charles the friendly staff happily jiggles on of the 'coke cans' to show us the ingenuity in the "Escape from a Columbia Rainforest" - a gateaux shaped of a Coke can made of flourless chocolate sponge and chocolate sabayon mousse; with a dark chocolate fizzy disc to hold the cherry cola jelly and cherry cola syrup inside.
The cherry cola syrup oozes out as we slice the coke can in half. The chocolate sponge soaked up the syrup while sabayon mousse flowing down along with the syrup; it all blends into one sweet and sour sensation with the occasional fizzy soury zing of citric acid on the tongue. (Yas, I am looking at you!)
The Pom reckons this is inspired by the London Millenium Dome, "Oh wait, it is Paris collection, not London." This dome-shaped 'P' gateaux consists of mandarin mousse, tonka bean brulee, pain d'epice, almond ginger crunch disc, sour cream jelly. My initial thought that cinnamon is heavily used in this dessert, but only now I know that the tonka bean is the key ingredient of this dessert that has strong flavour and aroma that infused the whole cake with sweet vanilla and cinnamon spice flavour.
"What's that? Looks like croutons stuck to a scoop of mash potato and some spaghetti sticking out", Big D had a quick glimpse of my screen while I am writing this post. Everyone has their own interpretation I guess...
Our "Z" millefeuille unfortunately came in half - the top deck of vanilla candied Kalamata olives, lemon & olive oil creme, vanilla lemon creme legere, has slid off from the bottom of olive oil biscuit, oilve oil ganache due to the extremely slippery "jumbo gumbo" jelly center.
"Funky!!!" That's how Raging Yoghurt described it. This 'Z' dessert is indeed insanely funky. A rather peculiar taste of sour and salty combinations on first bite. In fact, it is a blood rush of saltiness that makes hair stood on end. Then it slowly mellows down to a strong flavour of olives. I found the whole dessert strange, like eating a whole block of olive oil emulsion, it gets greasier and greasier in the mouth.
The wheelie theme carries on (wheely wildy wendy from last season) with this season. This time, the '......' is composed of hazelnut meringue, anzac moisture, mint chocolate disc, vanilla apple tatin chantilly then sandwiched with two apple tatin compote, isomalt caramel discs on each side.
The girls were pre-warned not to touch the toffee after chewing it which seems like forever. "Yummm......" the girls won't listen and Helen put a whole big shard of the isomalt toffee in her mouth, only realised we were not kidding and found her jaws were locked tight. Apart from the inedible luscious red isomalt toffee, the cake itself has a great refreshing minty flavour. The cake is playful, naughty, wintery minty, if for me to put a name on this cake, I would name it The Cat in the Hat for the obvious reasons. Don't you agree?
This 'X' millefeuille seems to be the most popular among the group. The silky smooth dark chocolate creme is sandwiched between two thick layers of pine nut guanduja mousse, then sealed with pate feulletage caramelise, sacher sponge. The caramelised pastry is puffy and flaky, and the center is rich and velvety with a great flavour of pine nut. Easily a crowd pleaser.
Lastly, a cake for the Balmain Tiger fans! I am still intrigued what is the story behind the name of this dessert. The Just 2 fingers Tiger! is a big shout out to the Balmain Tigers rugby team; with 2 puffy eclairs filled with chocolate custard, yuzu creme on one and corn, saffron & vanilla custard, vanilla brulee on the other. Both sits neatly on top of a square of crispy sable crunch terrain. Perhaps this is the sweet version of two hot dogs you will grab while watching the rugby, and decided to give them two fingers?! "GO TIGERS!"
We have only sampled seven varieties from this new collection, so far I have mixed feelings. Some are inventive, some are simply delicious, but some I still can't quite put my finger on it and having trouble to take it seriously. Perhaps that's the point, Zumbo's creations are not meant to be taken seriously but he always take a step on the wild side.
The newly revamped website has relaunched in conjunction with the new winter collection. The photos and the site don't do the dessert justice, so I urge you to go there and try the new collection for yourself!
Is this one man's wildest dreams has taken too far? I'll let you be the judge.
Adriano Zumbo Patisserie 296 Darling Street, Balmain, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9810 7318
Monday to Saturday 8am-6pm
The winter collection, "40 Days and 40 Nights in Paris",
was launched Saturday 23 May 2009.