Archive for Chocolatiers

Gânache Chocolate is the New Black

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Restaurants in Melbourne with tags , , on May 24, 2008 by thepseudoepicurean

Everyone, I’m pleased to announce that the new Old Koko Black is back. Walking past the Gânache Chocolate‘s brightly-lit signboard on the bustling Toorak Road, one could easily mistake this shop for another one of those try-too-hard mass-market chocolatiers who promise the world but leave you with pittance. The signboard is too modern for something as sexy and French as chocolate, in my humble opinion. “Meh.“, I tell the Jman. But after reading about it over at Syrup & Tang’s, I realise that this new kid on the block is no small player. (Ah, classic case of never to judge a book by its cover!)

Arno Backes, one of the founding chocolatiers of Koko Black, is the mastermind behind all this. For those who remember Koko Black in its heydays before it went mass-market (and sadly downhill as with any establishment that branches out), when it was still confined within its tiny four walls on Bourke Street Arcade, Koko Black was the chocolate shop of the moment (Monsieur Truffe aside). I remember the hot chocolate back then – wonderfully rich, with the fruitiness of the cocoa dancing in your mouth with each sip that you take. It was divine, it was the best hot chocolate I’d tasted. Sadly, when I returned a few years later, Koko Black’s hot chocolate had been reduced to nothing more than chocolate syrup in over-frothed, overheated milk. It was flat, it had a horrid aftertaste. Worst of all, unsuspecting customers still went back for more, validating its worst-ever recipe for success.

The truffles, too, were no longer carried out of the chocolate room on trays; they are now taken out of boxes from the chiller underneath the counter, a sign that these little gems are no longer made on the premises. They are, shock-horror, mass produced. While they are still miles better when pitted against the plebian Cadbury bar (although I have to qualify I am a sucker for Cadbury chocolates too, albeit on a different plane), and are enough to satisfy my chocolate cravings, it no longer possesses the element freshness I once remembered it had. It was that element that differentiated it from every other chocolatier in Melbourne. As Syrup & Tang puts it very succinctly, it is heading down the slippery slope of becoming the Starbucks of chocolate.

And so last night, the Jman and I paid homage to Gânache Chocolate to decide for ourselves if we were going to like this new kid on the block. Stepping through the interiors of the shop, one would immediately pick up a few striking similarities to Koko Black (sorry that I keep comparing, but I can’t help but notice the similarities) – the dark-wooded panels, display shelves, high ceilings and the hoity-toityness that comes along with anything French. I liked how the tables were tucked behind the shop, giving its patrons that little bit of privacy, but the deafening silence of the place made me feel like a giant rampaging through the corridor as my heels click-clocked their way to the table.

We placed our orders with Arno who, I must say, had the most impeccable manners to match up to the aura of the place. I spied the cake display and picked the most chocolatey one available, a chocolate brownie (which really was more like a chocolate truffle cake). We also had the hot chocolate that would have been unforgiveable not to order. I was surprised at how long our orders took to arrive, seeing how the shop had no more than 10 customers, but they finally came anyway. Perhaps all of us 10 customers came at the same time, because the table next to ours that came later received their orders fairly quickly.

I sipped the hot chocolate first. It was good. It was as good as what Koko Black used to serve. Inside my mind I was secretly applauding profusely as I heaved a sigh of relief that FINALLY, Melbourne has regained a decent hot chocolate. It was smooth, rich and chocolatey, yet not cloyingly sweet to sicken me. The cake, however, was slightly under my expectations. It was good, or at least decent, but perhaps not as intense as I would have liked it to be. Given that this was the only chocolate cake available (the others being fruity ones or chocolate mousses), I thought that this would be the one to steal the show, but it didn’t. It didn’t have the lingering chocolate sensation that most kickass chocolate cakes would give you the satisfaction of, the same feeling that I got out of Grossi Florentino’s chocolate marquis (which sadly, they no longer make) or the chocolate truffle cake at The Westin, Melbourne. Even the Gateaux Chocolat and Le Royale at Canelé Pâtisserie in Singapore did it better for me.

That said, I believe that Gânache Chocolate has a lot of potential. As long as they focus on doing what they do best, polish up on the rough edges and avoid going down the slippery slope of expansion, they can still sit at the helm of being the best commercial chocolatier in Melbourne (as long as we consider Monsieur Truffe to be in a league of its own, that is) now that Koko Black has relinquished the top spot with its numerous outlets (ouch that hurts) mushrooming up all over the city. That, my friends, has always been the recipe for disaster.

Truth be told, I am cynical that Gânache Chocolate will ever be better than what Koko Black used to be; it can only be as good as, unless fresh blood is pumped in. But for what it’s worth, Arno’s a winner in my eyes because his chocolates are freshly made on premises, and because his hot chocolate is pretty darn good. I just hope it stays that way because I’m not sure if my weak chocolate heart could bear the heartbreak of another disappointment.

Welcome back, Arno. You were sorely missed.

Gânache Chocolate
250 Toorak Road
South Yarra 3141
(03) 9804 7485