"There are pockets of cuteness dotted all over Melbourne in little villages," says my best school friend, Emily Watters, whose husband, Scott, a legendary football player, has been given the keys to the city as coach of AFL team St Kilda.
She has taken me to Acland St in St Kilda, famous for its many cake shops. Taking a walking tour of them not only provides sweet treats, but also a village history lesson. Making up a foodie tour for yourself is a great way to head to parts of the city you may not ordinarily get to, and we discovered little shops and sights along the way.
Europa Cake Shop 81 Acland St, St Kilda. The first stop on our walking tour is a Polish cake shop that's been here for around 30 years, a relative newcomer. The interior isn't particularly inspiring, but the deliciousness of the Polish doughnuts makes up for what it lacks in ambience. Take a look, but be sure to leave room for the more interesting cake shops further along the road.
Le Bon 93 Acland St, St Kilda. Continental bakery Le Bon has been on this street for 40 years, with cakes made on site. My four-year-old daughter, Georgina, chooses a pink-iced love heart biscuit, of course, covered in tiny heart sprinkles and a little flower. When bitten it reveals two types of crumbly cookie, cream and jam, and it's quite possibly the best biscuit I have ever eaten the leftovers of. There's also a huge glass jar filled with marshmallows, the thickest slices of pavlova covered in fruit, and Le Bon's famous French vanilla slice, which the manager says they sell "dozens and dozens" of every day.
Acland Continental Cakes 97 Acland St, St Kilda. Opened in 1973, this shop has a top shelf stocked with huge candyfloss-coloured meringues covered in hundreds and thousands to entice you into the shop, as well as favourites such as French gateaux. It's the first day back at school for the term and nearby many mums are toasting themselves with glasses of champagne. A couple of cafe customers show us their trio of pet birds, which includes a well-spoken cockatoo that they've brought with them for coffee and a chat.
Monarch Cake Shop 103 Acland St, St Kilda. If there's one cake shop to visit in Acland St, this is it. Monarch is the street's original cake shop, dating from 1934, and staff still bake some of its original recipes, such as the 100-year-old Polish baked cheesecake. The old-style ambience is charming and shelves are stuffed full of old copies of magazines such as Vogue and House & Garden from the 80s, framed ink drawings on serviettes and photographs of celebrity customers, such as St Kilda Football Club's famous supporter, actor Eric Bana.
The colourful, melt-in-your-mouth, meringue-based sweets known as macarons have become hugely popular in recent years. In Melbourne, a foodie mecca, there are more than enough ways to satisfy your craving. We head into the city to taste some of the best.
The Little Royal Centre Kiosk, Royal Arcade, 335 Bourke St Mall. The quaintest little kiosk in the mall has been selling its macarons for almost three years, including limited-edition recipes and super-sized desserts created for special occasions such as Valentine's Day. They're made with natural ingredients - raspberries and pistachios, for instance - and all are gluten-free. Nearby is a Russian doll shop called Babushka's, and Suga, where you can design your own sweets.
Le Petit Gateau 458 Little Collins St. If you choose just one macaron to taste in Melbourne, make sure it's made by Le Petit Gateau. Every day, on the renowned chef Pierrick Boyer's whim, a different set of macarons is made. On the day we visit, I'm treated to the black sesame and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit like a lemon) variety, as well as lychee and raspberry. Flavours burst in your mouth, from sweet to delicate to creamy. Quite simply, these are the best macarons you will ever taste, and you also get the chance to spy on the chefs through thick glass, working in their kitchen. Le Petit Gateau's location and ambience is not as pretty as the other macaron shops we visited, but, for the best taste in town, it's not to be missed.
La Belle Miette 30 Hardware Lane. For French macarons presented in beautiful boxes alongside Mariage Freres gourmet tea from Paris and Hansi Limonade from Alsace, head to La Belle Miette, meaning "beautiful small thing" or, more literally, "beautiful crumb". Salted caramel is the top seller, with raspberry in second place.
There are macarons in every flavour, including lavender, as well as bastille kir royale, made with Moet et Chandon and cassis. The macarons' centres are made of French and Belgian white chocolate and cream using a traditional French method that's less sweet than some on offer in the city.
More sweet treats If all this sugar fails to make you sweet enough, visit Fitzroy's tiny Cafe Rosamond (191A Smith St) on a Thursday night for a dessert-only dinner menu by acclaimed pastry chef Pierre Francois Roelofs. Choose one, two or three courses.
Where to stay
There's no place like the Melbourne Langham, where you'll wake to sweet views of city skyscrapers, the rowers on the Yarra River, the trains at Flinders Station and the hot air balloons showcasing the romance of the city. It's a beautiful hotel, but the thing that makes it the most special is the care the staff take in making sure they go the extra mile, even with the youngest hotel customers.
Fly there with Air New Zealand Book now.
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