Hot Chocolate at Francois Payard Bakery, New York City, USA

Resize of IMG_4568

There is no shortage of good hot chocolates in New York City. There is no shortage of anything really in New York City. This city attracts some of the best from around the world and luckily for the locals, some of the best pastry chefs. Francois Payard is one of those pastry chefs. His CV says it all, pastry chef in Paris at La Tour d’Argent, at Lucas Carton, at Le Bernardin, all set him up to be named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. And this is just the tip of the iceberg really.

Resize of IMG_4559Resize of IMG_4565

IMG_8053

So as we walked towards his West Houston St. location between Soho and Greenwich Villiage, expectations were high. It was 8 am but there was already a steady trickle of locals coming in for their morning bread/coffee/pastry fix before starting their day. The space was much smaller and cosier than I expected. Around the entrance there were shelves covered in little boxes of multi-coloured macaroons, beautiful chocolates coated with colourful designs, copies of Francois Payard’s multiple cookbooks. On one side of the door there was an old waffle machine and Kitchenaid Mixer, neither I suspect have worked for a long time, but were a lot of fun in that environment. The counter was, as you would expect, jam packed with all sorts of deliciousness; éclairs, tarte au citron, crème caramel, mousse au chocolate, whatever you had a craving for, sugar wise, it was here and looked perfect. Along the walls there were large towers of macaroons, examples of the kinds of fancy cakes you could order for a special occasion.

IMG_8047Resize of IMG_4558

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.13.07

There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t like about this little spot, things that would be so easy to fix. The staff this early Sunday morning had chosen rap and hip hop with a lot of swearing as background music for the day and it was really far too loud, so loud in fact it felt more like a night club than a Sunday morning. On top of that, and this is a big thing for me, all the drinks were presented in paper cups, regardless of whether you stayed in or took out. Hot Chocolates in paper cups to me taste like paper cups rather than like hot chocolate, and for a business that is all about quality chocolate, it was a tough one to swallow.

The hot chocolate, even with of these things fighting against it, was beautiful. It was rich and creamy yet still light and airy. It was not a thick hot chocolate as I had expected, but rather a perfectly light option to start any day with. It has a slight malty taste, not too sweet, not too chocolaty, very subtle and satisfying. Mine was made with water but the woman at the counter did mention that if I preferred it could be made with milk. I ordered a small (which in a large paper cup was enough to satisfy probably 3 people).

IMG_8051

Verdict: A very nice hot chocolate but bring your earplugs…and your favourite mug to make it perfect.  Francois Payard Bakery, 116 West Houston St., New York City, USA

Hot Chocolate at Urban Pantry, Canberra, Australia

IMG_4364

We only had two hours to explore Canberra on our drive back from Sydney towards Melbourne. Over the years I had heard many stories about the capital city, not very many of them complimentary. I remember reading a travel book where one author wrote that when he arrived in Canberra for the first time and couldn’t find anything exciting happening or anything interesting to see, he ended up going to the nearest pub and got drunk. So my expectations were not particularly high.

IMG_7495

 

IMG_7490But he was wrong, Canberra was a very pretty city and at least today, everything was buzzing. It isn’t at all dynamic, at least at first view, as Melbourne or Sydney. Instead it just has this little town feel, quiet and clean, with everything right where it is supposed to be. I wondered if that meant it would have good hot chocolates or dull hot chocolates, so I did a bit of research and the name Urban Pantry kept coming up as the place to go.

IMG_4357

IMG_4359

And we weren’t the only ones. Urban Pantry was full today for lunch and everyone looked, like everything else in the city, very clean and serious and put together nicely. Most people were wearing suits and one by one as they went to the cash to pay they each had accents form different parts of the world; an American, then a Danish man, then a woman from Singapore. This spot is not far from the area which is filled with large embassy houses, each designed to look vaguely like a traditional house from that particular land.

IMG_4361

IMG_4356

The inside was welcoming and takes its design cues from the neighbourhood’s leafy streets and heritage listed buildings. They had a wall covered in baskets full of freshly baked bread and lots of delicious looking sweets and a menu full of locally produced ingredients. Staff were friendly, although they seemed to be having more fun talking to each other than serving, which was from our table quite entertaining to watch.

IMG_4360

The menu lists not one but a whole list of hot chocolates; milk, dark, white or even chocolate overdose, all Belgian chocolate. You also had the option of having it in a cup or a mug, both with different price tags. We both ordered the dark chocolate in a mug. Now, many rave about this hot chocolate and I can see why, but today it just didn’t work with us. The mug that came was filled with hot milk which didn’t taste at all like chocolate. After a few sips we realized that they put actual chocolate at the bottom of the glass and that we had to mix it ourselves. Ordinarily I would love something like that, but in this case it was tricky because there just wasn’t any room in the mug to mix the chocolate properly. The chocolate used, which I ended up eating directly, tasted more like a milk chocolate than a dark chocolate…something in between the two. When we asked what kind of chocolate it was we were told it was Cadbury chocolate pieces (not so Belgian really).

So I will keep mixed memories of Canberra. It was a beautiful little city and Urban Pantry is definitely a fantastic spot with a very popular hot chocolate.

IMG_7485

Verdict: Urban Pantry looks and feels great. Their hot chocolate is also good, great idea, just tricky to enjoy properly. Maybe a bigger mug, or even serve the milk in a separate little container to make it easier to mix? Urban Pantry, 5 Bougainville St, Canberra, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Tricycle, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

IMG_4381

Hobart is such a fantastic city. I think I’d be happy to stay here for a while, maybe even move here. It is just such a beautiful spot; the gorgeous little old houses on Battery point, eating fish and chips along the water, the renovated warehouses and the heaps of great spots to eat and drink. I love Hobart.

IMG_7631

IMG_7636

IMG_7643

This time I purposely planned our trip to coincide with a Saturday morning so that we would visit the famous Salamanca market. Over 300 stallholders sell fresh and gourmet produce, arts, crafts and handiwork from all over Tasmania. Dozens of street performers, most either singing or playing instruments are dotted throughout the stalls. And it was packed, jam packed.  We bought gorgeous apples picked just that morning, which were the best apples I have ever had, ever.  I guess Tasmania is known as the Apple Isle for a reason …

In between visiting stalls and listening to street performers, we grabbed a table outside at Tricycle Café, part of the Salamanca Arts Centre.  They have a spot inside the Arts Centre, filled with natural light from a large skylight. The walls and floors are covered with little old tricycles. We got a seat outside right next to the market so we could watch everything that was happening.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 20.49.21

IMG_7644

The problem with sitting outside is that you don’t get much service. My hot chocolate was also just ok. It looked rich and inviting but just didn’t taste like much, more like a glass of hot milk with a very slight chocolately taste. But it gave us a chance to sit and watch everyone walk by and because of this hot chocolate we discovered an absolutely fantastic cheese shop inside Salamanca Arts Centre which is a definite must stop.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 20.49.01

IMG_7649

Verdict: The food sounds great but you will be lucky to find a table here. Great spot to watch Salamanca Market come to life. Tricycle Café, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Tricycle Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Jo & Willy’s Depot, Sydney, Australia

IMG_7474

Just around the corner and up the street from Bondi beach you will find Jo & Willy’s. It is hard to miss really. It is the spot that almost always has a long line of people waiting outside for a table. This is where the locals hang out, and for 3 days we too were locals and this is where we spent most of our down time.

IMG_7473

IMG_7476

There are lots of things I loved about Jo & Willy’s. Inside it is so welcoming and fun with wildflowers on the tables. The walls, furniture and decorations are every shade of blue, all reflecting the nearby ocean which you can see if you sit at the tables outside or near one of the windows. The staff were fantastic, they all seemed like they were part of one big happy family and it seemed that the mangers, or owners were hanging around a lot of the time, greeting the locals by name and giving smiles all around.

IMG_7470

Jo & Willy's

The first time we stopped by was after a stunning walk from Bondi beach to Bronte beach and back along the coast (highly recommended). We sat inside and ordered from their full day breakfast menu. My favourite was green eggs and ham . Rich ordered the Spanish breakfast. Both were amazingingly delicious.

And yes the hot chocolate was very nice. I kept forgetting to order it in a mug, so I kept getting little glasses of hot chocolate, but it was nice and easy to drink.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 20.28.14

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 20.27.29

Verdict: If I lived in Sydney, and happened to live near Bondi beach, or even if I lived anywhere remotely close to Bondi Beach, this would probably become my local for an early morning green eggs and ham and hot chocolate.  Jo & Willy’s Depot, 286 Campbell Parade, Sydney, Australia

Jo & Willys Depot on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Bouchon Bakery, New York City, USA

IMG_8086

As I have mentioned in blogs before, NYC is the playground of world famous chefs and pastry chefs, many of whom open little bakeries that tempt us and make us crave delicious French pastries all the time. If you are in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Center, start at Bouchon Bakery first before mixing and mingling with the tourists.

Bouchon Bakery was created by superstar chef Thomas Keller and executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, both with impressive CVs. They have a handful of these bakeries around the country in the cities where Chef Keller’s restaurants are.

IMG_8076

IMG_8079

Since our hotel was conveniently close by, over the course of 4 visits we tasted many of their stunning desserts. All tasted just like the best versions of the real deal straight from Paris (but with a slightly more NYC price tag). The lemon tart with meringue was to die for, the éclairs were perfect to grab and eat on the go. They also made these little brownies in the shapes of corks and called them, as you can guess, bouchons (French for corks). Each was individually packaged and I lost count of how many of those I ate. I also tried the almond chocolate croissant which was so good I ate the whole thing before I even took a sip of my hot chocolate. They even have treats for dogs including a dog bone/pastry made with foie gras. Ah those pampered New York City dogs…

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 20.45.57

IMG_8087

This morning was Mother’s Day, and from our seats inside of the bakery we had a view of an outside studio that had been set up for the Today show. They were filming about 10 mothers getting pedicures and massages live to air. The public were waving signs wishing their mom’s happy birthday and hoping that the cameras would see them and transmit their message across the US.

My hot chocolate came in a paper cup….this seems to be a theme in bakeries in NYC, even with famous owners. I think it might be because of how everyone seemed be consuming their drinks here; on the go. I found this hot chocolate was very nice, light and easy to drink. Although I will note that each time I had it it tasted a little different, sometimes a bit too watered down, so the quality was inconsistent. But it was a nice hot chocolate and I will be back again…

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 20.45.36

IMG_8091

Verdict: They have a beautiful terrace outside surrounded by bushes that block the view of the traffic but still give you a view and feel for the area. Definitely grab a chocolate brouwnie bouchon (or 2…or 4) and a hot chocolate. Bouchon Bakery, One Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, USA

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Corowa Whisky and Chocolate, Corowa, Australia

IMG_7537

Australians are lucky, well we are all lucky, that Australia has such stunning wine regions. Of these, Rutherglen is a small one, but a good one.

One of the great things about the wine regions in Australia is that they always seem to support a whole range of fantastic business that have nothing to do with wine, but which give you a break between multiple tastings. Corowa Whisky and Chocolate is one of these places, a unique place really since I have yet to hear of another spot that specializes in Whisky and Chocolate, especially one which is situated inside an old flour mill.

IMG_7524

IMG_7527

IMG_7532

This place has a great story. The old flour mill that it’s in was sold to the current owners by the city of Corowa for one dollar. The condition was that it needed to be protected as it was a historic building. So in 2009 the owners started renovating this mill which had been abandoned since 1970. At the moment a small part of the building is being used to make and sell a whole range of chocolates made using organic Belgian chocolate. There is even a small room where children can create their own chocolates covered in multi-coloured spinkles (the Aussies call these Freckles). They have a very large café which serves food and, as would be expected, a hot chocolate.

The hot chocolate was made using their own blended chocolates, and was presented in a tall glass with a very large spoon. They lined the sides of the glass with chocolate and then fill it with hot milk. I found it a little sweet but a lot of fun.

IMG_7541 Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 10.59.12

IMG_7547

After the hot chocolate we were hoping to move onto the Whisky but we will have to wait a bit longer unfortunately. They are still working on creating Australia’s first organic whisky, and once set up, will be serving and selling a very wide range of local and imported whiskies so stay tunned for more. They also plan to have Whisky and chocolate tours and on the weekends already have live music from 11am to 3pm.

We followed our hot chocolate stop with some award winning pies from nearby Parker Pies in Rutherglen and a visit to a few vineyards, which made for a pretty  good day if you ask me!

IMG_7548

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 10.59.05

IMG_7549

Verdict: Maybe soon they will offer a whisky hot chocolate for the adults visiting. I will definetly be back for that! Corowa Whisky and Chocolate, 20-24 Steel St Corowa, Australia

 

Hot Chocolate at Tilba Teapot Café, Central Tilba, Australia

IMG_7249   It was raining again this morning. It hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived in Australia a week ago. Apparently they haven’t had much rain at all around here either, that is, until we arrived. Perhaps we should get a thank you letter from the people of Australia. We brought the rain …..

In return, Australia has given me some nice hot chocolates to warm me up after being damp constantly. This morning’s hot chocolate was found in the beautiful town of Tilba.

IMG_7247

IMG_7240

IMG_7238

Tilba is a little bit like a dream, the kind of town you see in movies but don’t imagine actually exsists. To get to Tilba you take a windy road up and down over gorgeous rolling hills and rocky cliffs, past fields of happy looking sheep and cows. Central Tilba has a population of 80 and Tilba Tilba (right next door) a population of 30. All this is in the shadow of Mount Dromedary (806m), considered sacred by the indigenous Yuin tribe that originally inhabited the area and then named by Captain Cook because he thought it looked like a camel. The little village of Central Tilba has a historic character which has been preserved and the National Trust classified the entire township in 1974. As you walk through the streets you will discover a two cheese shops, jewelers, leather craftsmen, and of course a healthy selection of cafes to host the constant stream of tourists.

IMG_7254

IMG_7252

IMG_7239

Even in the rain we managed to walk by all the cafes before choosing one. I was in the mood for a good hot chocolate so we took the time to pick the café where we thought we would have the best chance. We chose Tilba Teapot because it was incredible cute and had a gorgeous balcony with a nice comfy sofa. From here we had a stunning view of lush green gardens. Rich even went in ahead of time to ask what kind of hot chocolate they had. “Cadbury” the man in charge of hot chocolates here said “ but I make it really well”.

IMG_7244

I have never been a fan of Cadbury hot chocolate as those of you who read my blog regularly will have no doubt noticed. It is incredibly popular, but I find it too sweet. That is, until today. I now realise that maybe it had never been prepared properly. The man was so proud of his creation and rightly so. I don’t know what he did. Maybe the milk was better, or perhaps the amount of powder he used, or maybe it was the rain! Either way, it was a very enjoyable hot chocolate.

IMG_7235

IMG_7251

Verdict: Definitely worth the short detour off the main hiway to stop in Tilba. Make sure you grab a spot on that sofa on the balcony.  Tilba Teapot Café, 17 Bate St., Tilba, Australia

 

Hot Chocolate at Big Sister Horsie, Helensburgh, Australia

IMG_4317

On the drive along the coast from Melbourne to Sydney, as you get close to Sydney you may start seeing signs for Helensburgh on the side of the road and will probably not even think twice about stopping. I’d think again. Not only are the views along the coast from here absolutely stunning but there is another yummier reason to stop; Big Sister Horsie.

 

IMG_4309

Come again? Yes, Big Sister Horsie is a hidden gem and when I say hidden I mean hidden. The café is a small aluminum building surrounded by gorgeous gum trees with spots to sit both inside and outside. It is tucked on a side road in a light industrial area. It is amazing that anyone can find it, but in fact everyone has found it. This was the place to be this morning in Helensburgh and I suspect every morning, afternoon and evening (and now that they are open on Sundays as too).

IMG_4310 IMG_4312

When I first heard that the name of this tiny café was Big Sister Horsie I stopped and mulled it over. It makes no sense the first 10 times you say it. And then all of a sudden it becomes catchy and sinks in. There is of course a story behind this name. The owner, a young Italian man, let his young daughter Luna choose the name of the café. She suggested Big Sister Horsie. Luna was in the store today, helping her father out (in spirit) and eating gelato. And she wasn’t the only one, every kid from the neighborhood was here this morning, and most of them were eating the ridiculously good freshly made gelato. The parents were all enjoying the delicious breakfasts offered here. The bacon and egg sandwich….hmmm…my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

IMG_4322

The service was slow, but really who was in a rush anyway – it was all worth the wait. My hot chocolate was beautifully presented in a small glass on a black saucer sprinkled with chocolate powder. It tasted a lot less chocolatey than it looked, it was more of a large warm glass of hot milk with a very slight tinge of chocolate. But I enjoyed it and would have it again.

IMG_7440

IMG_4308

Verdict: Great spot, just needs a beautiful thick Italian hot chocolate and it would give me a reason to visit Helensburgh again and again! Big Sister Horsie, 17 Cemetery Rd, Helensburgh, Australia