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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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Hot Chocolate at Bouchon Bakery, New York City, USA

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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 Café Vue Heidi, Melbourne, Australia

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A few weeks ago we combined all sorts of anniversaries, birthdays and other reasons to celebrate into one, and decided to celebrate them all at one time at Vue de Monde, arguably the best restaurant in Melbourne, maybe even Australia. The food and experience were exceptional and we enjoyed every single minute of it, the stunning views of Melbourne from the top of the Rialto tower, our view of the chefs busy preparing our meals in the open kitchen, the tea sommelier who prepared a selection of teas for me to drink that paired perfectly with some of the 10 different courses we had for dinner. The food had all of these fascinating nods to things Australian, from wallaby and kangaroo, to eucalyptus sorbet. As we were the last to finish our meal that evening, we even got a tour of the kitchens where they use over 50 innovative cooking techniques , and use homegrown and small-farm organic produce wherever possible. The whole evening was made even better when we were given a little bag full of goodies to have for breakfast the next morning including muesli, tea, honey and some hot cross buns.

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First opened when was he only 24 years old, chef Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde restaurant has now expanded to include a couple of other side concepts, including a handful of cafes. So after a fantastic night at Vue de Monde we thought we would follow up with a hot chocolate at Café Vue at Heidi. Heidi is a Museum of Modern Art and is spread over 15 acres of land covered in beautiful towering gumtrees. The core of the collection in the main building was assembled over five decades by the Museum’s founders, John and Sunday Reed and has since expanded through many individual gifts and donations. My favorite part of the Museum though is the outside gallery, a large park attached to the museum with a range of beautiful sculptures and art work as well as a garden where the café grows a lot of the herbs and vegetables that they serve. At the moment the garden had lavender, oregano, mint and thyme.

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We chose to go just around Easter, on a beautiful sunny Melbourne day. A giant Easter bunny was walking around the grounds of the Heidi accompanied by a blond haired girl in a long blue dress who looked like Alice in Wonderland. The two of them were giving out chocolate Easter eggs in exchange for smiles. We sat outside on the terrace next to the rotisserie oven that was filled with juicy chickens roasting. There is also an inside area which looks a bit more classy. On weekends they have a Dessert Buffet from 2.30pm to 4pm which was already set up and torturing visitors. The Buffet itself also looked like it fit into my imagined Alice in Wonderful theme.

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I would have been really surprised if Café Vue didn’t have a good hot chocolate. Considering how much I loved my experience at the restaurant I’m not sure I would have been able to handle that. Luckily, and not surprisingly, the hot chocolate was beautiful. It came in a ceramic mug covered in reflective silver (another nod to Alice?) The talented team behind the counter, mostly French speaking, created an incredible design with chocolate on the top in the shape of an Easter bunny, of course. It was creamy and light, decadent while still being wonderfully light and airy.

After having the hot chocolate we ended up returning three mornings in a row to have them again, and enjoy a walk around the garden. Each time it was equally delicious.

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Verdict: Loved it…everything about it. Café Vue Heidi, 7 Templestowe Road, Buleen, Melbourne, Australia

Hot Chocolate at San Churros, Melbourne, Australia

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In 1500, Hernan Cortes, a great Spanish explorer driven by a pioneering penchant and a lust for wealth and power, arrived in Mexico. There he was mistaken by the local inhabitants to be the descendant of the Quetzalcoatle, the patron god of cocoa crops. To honour the deity, the Aztec Emperor offered the weary Cortes a golden goblet of xocolatl – a bitter, thick drink made from ground cocoa beans and infused with spices and chili. Cortes returned to Spain and took with him a ship full of cocoa beans and the secret receipt for preparing this cocoa drink of the Azetecs. The Spanish court fell so in love with the drink (not surprisingly) that the King decreed it be only for the enjoyment of the nobility. Spanish monks were entrusted with the secret and sweetened the recipe to better suit the Spanish tastes.  100 years later the Queen of Spain fell ill  and everyone thought she was about to die. One of the monks caring for her brought her a drink of hot chocolate and mysteriously she was reinvigorated and brought back to life. The monk declared chocolate to be a gift from God. The monk’s name was San Churro.

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Owners Kelly and Giro got the idea of Chocolateria San Churro while sitting eating churros and sipping hot chocolate in Madrid. When they returned home to Melbourne they opened the first Chocolateria San Churro on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy in March 2006 where I have been many times. There are now over 38 stores across Australia, and today we tested out out their location in the CBD right next to the State Library.

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The table where we sat had the quote “Forget love I’d rather fall in chocolate” painted along the top. Ah, to fall in hot chocolate (not too hot though). Sounds like a beautiful spa experience. But today I was more in the mood to drink  one, if only I could make my choice. Chocolateria San Churro is really all about hot chocolate and there are dozens of them to choose from. I had a thick, unsweetened Spanish hot chocolate, but could have chosen a Mexican Azteca hot chocolate flavored with chili and cinnamon, a dark coverture hot chocolate, a dulce de leche hot chocolate, maybe even accompanied by a plate of freshly made churros. I enjoyed my hot chocolate. It wasn’t as thick as the original Spanish hot chocolate that I imagine the owners had first tasted in Spain, but it was easy to drink while still being decadent. Good way to get some energy to spend the day walking around the beautiful Melbourne CBD.

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Verdict: Every hot chocolate you can imagine for any mood you might be in and locations across Oz for all those lucky Australians. hmmm San Churros, Melbourne, Australia

Hot Chocolate at MONA, Hobart, Australia

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The world is full of really interesting places. One of my favourite interesting places is in Hobart, Tasmania and is called the Museum of Old and New Art. Opened in 2011 it is the largest privately funded museum in Australia, created by David Walsh.

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I love so much about the MONA and to fully understand what I mean you’ll just have to visit. For those of you who can’t, firstly, it is in a fantastic location with stunning views of the city and the hills surrounding it. You can even arrive by boat to get a great view of the whole museum from the water. Second the building itself is incredible. The building is cut into a sandstone cliff jutting out into Hobart’s Derwent River. It has only one story above ground, but goes three stories deep. When you enter you take the elevator all the way down to the bottom floor and start from there and make your way up. The space has no windows but is big and airy and has a whole series of wonky looking staircases that makes it feel a little bit like a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Third, as the name suggests, the space is filled with a mix of old pieces, (mummies, tablets with cuneiform writing), and new pieces. All the pieces are interesting, invite discussion, and engage you in some way or another. One large room had dozens of old chairs facing an equal number of old TV sets playing old interviews of individuals from all around the world. Another is a library where every single book has a white cover and filled with blank pieces of paper. Perhaps the best thing about the MONA is the O, a little tablet you are given at the entrance, which has all sorts of interesting information about all the pieces you see in the museum. It has not just the basic information, date, artist, materials used, but more about the motivation behind the work of art and even the story behind how the MONA bought the piece in the first place. And at the end of your tour you can save the information about the pieces you liked the most and access it over the internet when you get home. After all that, if that isn’t enough, the MONA also has a brewery, a café, a restaurant and a vineyard on the property that offers tastings. Then there are accommodations, tours and even art festivals. There is plenty happening here.

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There are a few places around the MONA where you can have a hot chocolate. Today we chose a space deep in the rock called The Void. On one side is a large sandstone wall with swirls of yellows, beiges and browns. The wall is so bright it almost feels like you are near a window with natural light even though you are three stories down in the basement. Along the opposite wall they had a series of fancy chairs, most covered in red velvet, and a piano asking to be played but sadly today was sitting there quietly. From here we had a great view of a few different works of art, in particular a light bulb display by an artist from Montreal Canada.

The hot chocolate was very nice. It was presented in a rounded glass which usually I am against, but here it seemed to make sense. It fit in very nicely with the MONA’s old and new approach: it was a nice classic hot chocolate, presented in a very clean, modern rounded glass.

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Verdict: The Mona is a fantastic spot with a very nice hot chocolate. MONA, 655 Main Road, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Degraves Espresso, Melbourne, Australia

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Last week I found a little brochure in a drawer at my in-law’s house in Melbourne, that I’d left behind after our last visit. It was produced by the City of Melbourne and was a 1.5 hour, 2.5 kilometer self guided tour of the laneways and arcades of the central business district (CBD) of Melbourne. Melbourne’s little laneways began life in the 1800’s as rear access to properties facing big streets, but many were later roofed as ‘arcades’ to provide refuge from the weather and crowds. Today many have been reborn and lined with interesting shops and cafes.

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We hopped on the train to the city from Clifton Hill, and started our little tour at Federation Square. First up we passed the stunning Flinders Street Station, and headed across the street to our first laneway, Degraves Street where William Degraves’ steam flourmill used to pump away in 1850. This was as far as we got before our first hot chocolate stop of the day at Degraves Espresso.

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The laneways are famous for having some of the best espressos you can find almost anywhere, and this is considered one of the must tries. Rich would agree wholeheartedly. He sipped his espresso with eyes closed and a smile on his face. We sat outside under a row of dark umbrellas at a series of old metal tables, apparently recycled cinema seats and benches from a former magistrates court. There was a constant buzz of people talking around us, the place was busy, but you could still hear a street musician somewhere close by playing the guitar.

Of course, I had no interest in espresso at all, so ordered a hot chocolate.  It came in a glass on top of a bright, aqua blue saucer, was smooth, chocolately and very easy to drink.  Given my low expectations of hot chocolates from Rich’s favourite espresso bars, it was a surprisingly perfect beginning to a great little discovery walk around the laneways of the CBD.

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Verdict: The hot chocolate was surprisingly nice and the service was incredibly quick too! Degraves Espresso, Degraves Street, Melbourne, Australia.

 

 
Degraves Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

Hot Chocolate at Nielson Park Cafe & Restaurant, Sydney, Australia

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Located on the foreshore of the beautiful Sydney Harbour and surrounded by parklands, Nielson Park Cafe & Restaurant has a pretty ideal location. This heritage listed property sits right in the middle of a very popular beach and is surrounded by stunning trees that have grown to form a leafy archway across the pathway to the beach.

It was raining again today. It just hasn’t stopped raining for the past week, which I’m told is good since there hasn’t been a lot of rain this past summer. The good thing about the rain is that it meant that this spot which is usually jam packed with sunbathers and beachbums on a Sunday afternoon was empty and peaceful. It also meant that we managed to walk in and get a table for four inside the restaurant.

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The restaurants is a light and airy space with colourful stained glass windows and wild flowers on all the tables. Several tables next to us had been reserved by a large group of women, all beautiful and well dressed, throwing a baby shower for one of their friends. This spot is often used for weddings and it isn’t hard to see why. It is both fancy while still having that laid back cool feel that Sydney does so well.

We ordered our hot chocolates before lunch to help us dry off from the horizontal rain outside. Our friend Bradley was smart – being the local he knew to ask for a hot chocolate in a mug. I had completely forgotten that around here if you ask for a hot chocolate they almost always bring it to you in a water glass, which as I have mentioned many times before, makes no sense to me. So his arrived in a nice big red mug while mine came in a small sad looking water glass. But despite this it was a nice hot chocolate which I thoroughly enjoyed. Nothing overly fancy but good quality, dark chocolate.

The food, as very often is the case in Australia, was beautiful. I had baked Portuguese style fish of the day in a cast iron pot which I highly recommend. The bowl of yam chips with rosemary salt and lemon yoghurt dip looked fantastic as well.

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Verdict: Great spot on a rainy Sunday afternoon…great spot anyday really. And then there is that view of the harbor… Nielsen Park, Greycliffe avenue, Sydney, Australia

Hot Chocolate at Sonido, Melbourne, Australia

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There was a steady stream of people coming through this tiny little restaurant on trendy Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. I’m guessing all of them were there for good arepas and good coffee. We were there for good arepas and a promise of excellent hot chocolate.

Arepas are a traditional dish of Columbia and Venezuela. The base is a corn arepa, sort of like a thick pancake, and covered with all sorts of toppings. We had one with chorizo which was beautiful, Rich had the arepa with black pudding (‘bloody delicious’). All this washed down with fresh Guava juice, one of their many juice options.

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Sonido, as you may guess from its name (it means sound in Spanish), is also all about music. Despite its small size they still managed to set aside a corner for a record player and a large selection of old Columbian records which are played throughout the day, and especially at night. In between cooking Arepas and making coffee, the owners Santiago and Carolina take turns changing the records when they finish playing. The décor is colourful and vibrant and everyone and everything just seems happier in here. Understandably, how could you not be happy here, especially when you can follow up all those delicious arepas with a traditional Columbian hot chocolate corona.photo 2-3  Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 10.44.24 PM

The hot chocolate is served in a traditional olleta (jug) and molinillo (stirring stick) and you have the choice of an olletica (small jug for one) for $4.50, or an olletota (big jug for two) for $8.50. We got the Olletota of course which had a good four cups worth of hot chocolate in it and I had mine con queso (with cheese), like the Columbians do. The cheese was placed in the base of the mug and the hot chocolate poured over it. After a few minutes the cheese soaked up some of the rich chocolate taste and became gooey and stringy. I had never really thought of pairing hot chocolate with cheese but really it makes a lot of sense. I love cheese, I love hot chocolate. Cheese with hot chocolate? Delicious.

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Verdict: Sonido is so much fun. If it is this much fun at lunch, I can’t imagine how much fun it is at night when the music is turned up. They have an excellent hot chocolate. Sonido, 69 Gertrude Street, Fitroy, Melbourne, Australia