Review: Ladurée, Rue Royale, Paris

I remember when Laduree first opened in Sydney a few years ago. The excitement from Sydney food bloggers and locals alike was truly palpable – a Paris dessert institution opening in Sydney, with their signature macarons flown in from Paris every week? It was what many Francophiles had been dreaming of for years.

For my part, I wasn’t quite as excited as others. While it was true that Laduree opening in Paris was exciting, I didn’t like the idea of the macarons not being made fresh in Australia – that week’s delay between baking in Paris and consumption in Sydney was unacceptable in my mind.

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Unsurprisingly then, the first place we went to almost immediately after arriving in Paris was the original Laduree shop and restaurant on Rue Royale for a late afternoon tea. I was determined to have, for the first time in my life, fresh Laduree macarons. It was quite late by the time we arrived, and so had no issues simply walking in and requesting a table at their tea salon upstairs.

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The tea salon harks back to another era. Wooden panelling, gold gilt-edged mirrors, plush carpet, tiny marble-topped tables, wooden chairs with spindly legs and plush couches make up the room, and you can almost imagine that you’re back in 1862, in the year they first opened.

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Their signature light blue and decorative gold colour scheme evokes a sense of high-style glamour, not unlike the blue of Tiffany’s & Co. Luckily for my husband’s bank account though, my greedy guts would much prefer a gift box from Laduree than Tiffany’s!

Marie-Antoinette tea ($7.40 EU)
Marie-Antoinette tea ($7.40 EU)

Knowing that I would be ordering quite sweet delicacies for our afternoon tea, I decided a simple tea to help cleanse the palate in between sweet treats – a signature Laduree Marie-Antoinette tea. It’s described on the menu as a “delicious marriage of Chinese and Indian black teas combined with rose petals, citrus fruit and honey. A bucolic walk at the Petit Trianon.” I was hesitant to order it initially as I’m not a big fan of fruity teas, but I found this one surprisingly subtle, with the citrus helping to enhance the crispness and fullness of the black tea, without subduing it under an overly fruity flavour. A fantastic little palate-cleansing black tea – no sugar or milk needed!

Chocolat chaud Laduree ($7.30 EU)
Chocolat chaud Laduree ($7.30 EU)

Ordering the Chocolat Chaud Laduree was a must – I’d gotten the taste for hot chocolates after our time in Belgium, and I was determined to enjoy a good hot chocolate in Paris, a dessert capital of the world. The Laduree hot chocolate was intensely thick and rich, especially as I’d asked for a dark hot chocolate. The richness of the full-bodied dark cocoa was heavenly, creamy on the palate and surprisingly not too sweet despite its richness. K found it a bit intense after a couple of sips, but I was happy to finish it off!

Assortiment de 4 mini macarons au choix ($10.30 EU)
Assortiment de 4 mini macarons au choix ($10.30 EU)

Of course, it’s impossible to go to Laduree and not order some of their signature macarons. Interestingly, they do “macarons” and “mini macarons”. The ones that we get in Australia are actually what they term mini-macarons, with the full-size ones being much larger! I have to say I prefer the mini-macarons as the bite-sized treats mean that you get to try many more flavours.

We ordered 4 mini-macarons of your choice, opting for Pistachio, Chocolate, Orange Blossom and Salted Caramel. I’ve never quite tasted a pistachio macaron with that intensity of fresh pistachio flavour before – you could tell that they had used fresh nuts, rather than old dried-out nuts. Even though chocolate and salted caramel are some of my favourite dessert flavours, I have to say that the orange blossom macaron was actually my pick here as it was a lot more delicate on the tongue, with a longer-lasting flavour that you could really savour.

Saint-Honore Rose Framboise ($9.90 EU)
Saint-Honore Rose Framboise ($9.90 EU)

We topped off our indulgent afternoon tea with a ‘Laduree Emblematic Pastry’, the Saint-Honore Rose Framboise. It’s described on the menu as “Puff pastry, cream puff pastry, light rose petal custard cream, raspberry compote, rose-flavoured Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant, raspberries”. I was fascinated to see how this dessert would turn out, because in my experience, many patisseries tend to have a heavy hand whenever they use rose flavouring which can quite spoil a dessert.

This definitely wasn’t the case here – the pastry of the Saint-Honore was delectably light and fluffy and the whipped cream and custard neatly dissolved on the tongue, leaving behind the slightest hint of floral rose syrup. With the strong tang of the fresh juicy raspberries, the Saint-Honore was definitely a dessert to be relished slowly with each bite bringing joy to your palate.

An afternoon tea at Laduree is not for those on a tight budget – indeed, we definitely broke our own budget when dining there. However if you want to enjoy their treats without spending too much, you can go into their shop next to the restaurant. Buy a half dozen macarons, take them down to the Tuileries Gardens which are a mere five minutes’ walk away, and sit down and savour them. The best sweets, in a beautiful Parisian destination. Heaven.

Laduree is located at 16 Rue Royale, Paris.

Review: La Mint Restaurant and Bar, Darlinghurst

“We’re back from our Vietnam holiday! Must tell you all about it, especially about how we met Luke Nguyen in Hoi An! Are you free for a catchup?”

K and I always enjoy catching up with my ex-colleague Sarojini and her husband Neale, so I eagerly book in a catchup as soon as I received her SMS. While we originally wanted to go to Sadhana Kitchen and try their Friday night degustation, they were booked out for the night that we were planning on going out. A new plan was needed, and I picked out La Mint in Darlinghurst, a French-Vietnamese restaurant that I hoped would evoke memories of our friends’ recent trip, and our holiday to Vietnam back in 2012!

Oriental Pearl cocktail (fresh mint & lychee muddled with absolut vokda & mao tai liqueur), $17 and Sparkling Strawberry mocktail, $6
Oriental Pearl cocktail (fresh mint & lychee muddled with absolut vokda & mao tai liqueur), $17 and Sparkling Strawberry mocktail, $6

We started with a drink each. The boys got beers, Sarojini opted for a Oriental Pearl cocktail, and I chose a mocktail – the Sparkling Strawberry which was lived up to its name, with a soft and subtle fruitiness that made it very drinkable.

Vegetarian Vietnamese Rolls (Soft rice paper rolls wrapped with Vietnamese herbs), $12
Vegetarian Vietnamese Rolls (Soft rice paper rolls wrapped with Vietnamese herbs), $12

We get some Vietnamese Rolls to share as a starter. Normally, La Mint’s rice paper rolls come with prawn but we asked for the tofu version as Sarojini is vegetarian. It did take a little bit of explaining to our waiter though as his English wasn’t the best, so be prepared to spend some time describing your food preferences if you have a particular allergy and need to avoid certain foods! The highlight here was probably the sweet and peanutty dipping sauce – the rolls themselves were a little bit bland.

Vine beef (Seasoned tenderloin wrapped in chargrilled vine leaves and topped with crushed peanuts), $18
Vine beef (Seasoned tenderloin wrapped in chargrilled vine leaves and topped with crushed peanuts), $18

The Vine Beef, shared between K, Neale and myself was much better than the rice paper rolls, so I felt sorry that Sarojini missed out on a nice entree! The beef was really well marinated and lightly spiced, so combined with the crispy vine leaf wrapping and crunchy peanuts on top, it was a real delight. The freshness of the mini lettuce leaf cups also helped to freshen what could otherwise have been a heavy morsel.

Crazy Mojito (does what it says on the tin... fresh lime & mint muddled with sugar & Bacardi), $18 and Perfect 10 martini (Tanqueray no.10 with the zest from fresh pink grapefruit), $22
Crazy Mojito (does what it says on the tin… fresh lime & mint muddled with sugar & Bacardi), $18 and Perfect 10 martini (Tanqueray no.10 with the zest from fresh pink grapefruit), $22

Unsurprisingly considering how warm that day was, the boys quickly finish their beers and order a cocktail each. K orders a Crazy Mojito, and Neale orders a Perfect 10 Martini.

“I had a martini (or two, or three) every day when I was in Vietnam,” he announces. “It was just so cheap to have a good cocktail there, but this Perfect 10 Martini definitely lives up to its name!”

Banana blossom salad (Banana blossom, roasted peanuts and herbs in lemon dressing), $22
Banana blossom salad (Banana blossom, roasted peanuts and herbs in lemon dressing), $22

Our mains arrive quickly after we finish our entrees. Sarojini’s Banana Blossom Salad is beautiful, though not quite as substantial as she was expecting. It normally comes with chicken, but as she asked for it to be made vegetarian, the chicken was omitted from the salad. That was expected – however, you would perhaps expect for another protein to be substituted into the salad (e.g. tofu), but it was left as a mix of herbs and vegetables. It’s a little disappointing, especially as the dish was still charged at the regular $22 price though it was considerably less substantial.

Coco Curry at La Mint (Corn fed Cajun chicken with La Mint's curry paste and baked in a whole young coconut), $32
Coco Curry at La Mint (Corn fed Cajun chicken with La Mint’s curry paste and baked in a whole young coconut), $32

Neale just couldn’t go past the Coco Curry as soon as he saw it on the menu. How can you go past something as stunning as a creamy chicken curry in a coconut (hey, alliteration!)? This came with a serve of coconut rice on the side, which just went perfectly, especially with the little strips of tender flesh that Neale scraped off the inside of the coconut when he finished the curry.

Duck Confit (Slow cooked on low heat creating a crispy skin, tender duck accompagnée French cherry glaze), $35
Duck Confit (Slow cooked on low heat creating a crispy skin, tender duck accompagnée French cherry glaze), $35

K opts for a dish that leans more towards French influence than Vietnamese influence. His Duck Confit with its delicious super crispy and strong tender meat is an absolute delight with the sweet cherry glaze. It comes attractively displayed in a fried web basket as well, which slowly absorbs the sweet glaze as an added bonus after you finish the duck.

Seared salmon, approx $35
Seared salmon, approx $35

My Seared Salmon came with a thick hoisin-esque sauce on top with plenty of chopped shallots. The salmon was cooked perhaps a bit longer than I would normally do myself, but at least the salmon skin remained crispy and yummy. Vegetables were scarce on the plate with just three stalks of young asparagus.

Sparkling Mint mocktail, $6
Sparkling Mint mocktail, $6

Halfway through my meal, I finished my Sparkling Strawberry mocktail and choose the second mocktail on the list – a Sparkling Mint. Unfortunately, this tastes more of fake candy mint leaves than it does of fresh mint. I’d recommend the Sparkling Strawberry over the Sparkling Mint.

Flambe ice-cream (Fried ice cream flambèe with grand marnier on your table), $18
Flambe ice-cream (Fried ice cream flambèe with grand marnier on your table), $18

Onto dessert, and Neale is the only one who opts out, claiming that his Coco Curry left him much too full to contemplate sweets. I never have the same issue – who doesn’t have room for dessert?!

My Flambe Ice-Cream is by far the most flamboyant and theatrical dessert on the menu. It comes out as a cute little battered cube of ice-cream, the waiter comes with a beaker of alcohol, drenches the ice-cream, then casually sets it alight. It’s definitely a sight to behold – and delicious to boot as I think they added a touch of cinnamon to the batter!

Caramelised sweet potatoes (Sweet potatoes crisps served with ice cream & cinnamon syrup), $13
Caramelised sweet potatoes (Sweet potatoes crisps served with ice cream & cinnamon syrup), $13

Sarojini’s Caramelised Sweet Potatoes was more disappointing in comparison, with a massive pile of sweet potato chips piled upon a scoop of plain vanilla ice-cream. She found herself wishing instead that she had ordered another dessert off the menu that she had been eyeing.

Banana fritter (Sesame banana fritters served with ice cream & coconut sago), $13
Banana fritter (Sesame banana fritters served with ice cream & coconut sago), $13

K was happy with his Banana Fritter, served interestingly with black sesame ice-cream in a pool of coconut sago. It’s the first time that I’ve ever seen banana fritters served this way, and somehow it works. The sesame seeds in the fritter batter work well with the black sesame ice-cream, and the creamy sweet banana works well with the coconut sago. A winner all around.

La Mint Restaurant and Bar is a bit hit and miss – some dishes were absolutely fantastic, while others didn’t quite hit the mark. They struggle a little bit with food intolerances as well, so be prepared to do quite a bit of instruction if you have any allergies. I probably won’t be back any time soon, especially without the 25% off voucher that I used from my Entertainment Book. It was nice food and a good experience…just not a standout.

La Mint on Urbanspoon

Review: Bistro Molines, Mt View, Hunter Valley

K and I are currently at that stage of life where everyone around us is having milestones. From 30th birthdays, to engagements, weddings and babies, it feels like we have a celebration every second weekend. And let’s be honest, it all starts to add up and you really have to start counting your pennies in order to have enough money to go along to every celebration you’re invited to.

For some friends though, money doesn’t even come into the equation – you spend whatever you need to spend, in order to celebrate with them. And hey, if that means that you spend a weekend away in the Hunter Valley with eight awesome people for a 30th birthday, what could be better?

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We went up to the Hunter Valley for a weekend in September to celebrate one of K’s closest friends birthdays. On our first night, we were stuck for ideas of what to do about dinner – nothing had been booked and we were at a loose end.

Quickly jumping onto Yelp, another weekender R said, “This place looks alright. It’s got a pretty good rating and the reviews seem decent. It’s a $40 main kind of place, is that within everyone’s budget?”

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Not knowing anything more about the restaurant, we all agreed, called to make sure they had a table for eight, and showed up at Bistro Molines only to realise we were all severely under-dressed for a regularly Chef Hatted restaurant. Luckily it was a relatively quiet night, otherwise we could have had other better-dressed guests frowning down their nose at us!

Crusty Sourdough, $1 per  person
Crusty Sourdough, $1 per person

Our waitress was very friendly, and explained the menu to us in great detail, taking extra care to point out some of the day’s specials. Once we decided on our choices (just one course each, and a few different bottles of wine for most of the table), she brought out with some crusty sourdough for the table, which comes with a great creamy light-as-air butter.

Chef's appetisers - deep fried cauliflower with aioli
Chef’s appetisers – deep fried cauliflower with aioli

I particularly liked the little chef’s appetisers that came out to whet our appetite for our mains. Most of us had these super crispy lightly battered cauliflower florets with a tangy aioli, and I sneakily managed to get a second floret because it was just that more-ish. The one gluten-free person on the table was served a little canape of (if I recall correctly) dressed salmon. Bistro Molines is very accommodating with any dietary requirements that you may have!

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Of course, given that we’re in wine country, more than a few bottles were ordered and shared amongst a few on the table. I abstained as I (still!) haven’t been drinking since February, but everyone else enjoyed their tipples!

As each main came out, there was much ooh-ing and aah-ing from around the table. Each main was quite beautifully presented in a classic French style.

Beef filet mignon with caramelised onion, potato rosti and wilted spinach, red wine jus, bearnaise, $41
Beef filet mignon with caramelised onion, potato rosti and wilted spinach, red wine jus, bearnaise, $41

The cooked-to-medium-rare filet mignon was by far the most traditional dish ordered on the night, with a heavy and sweet red wine jus and a superbly crispy potato rosti.

Whole roasted French style "Poussin" spatchcock with buttered pencil leeks, light peppercorn cream, $41
Whole roasted French style “Poussin” spatchcock with buttered pencil leeks, light peppercorn cream, $41

K’s chosen spatchcock dish was very dainty, but with a creamy buttery sauce that left you moaning with pleasure after every mouthful.

'Cote de Bouef a la Moelle' - Prime rib of beef with marrow sauce bordelaise, baby vegetables and wilted spinach, $40
‘Cote de Bouef a la Moelle’ – Prime rib of beef with marrow sauce bordelaise, baby vegetables and wilted spinach, $40

The prime rib came with a serve of the most beautiful baby vegetables, lightly sauteed and still crisp and fresh.

Cannelloni (entree size)
Cannelloni (entree size), $22

One more health-conscious friend chose an entree sized dish as her main, of a cannelloni special. Topped with a few different cheeses, it was a surprisingly filling and left my friend satiated without being over-full.

Loin of pork filled with apricots with Toulouse sausage, parsnip pie, baby turnips, muscat jus, $41
Loin of pork filled with apricots with Toulouse sausage, parsnip pie, baby turnips, muscat jus, $41

This was the dish that had everything exclaiming when it came out though. The pork loin was beautifully presented with tiny little baby turnips and carrots, and a slice of parsnip pie. With the muscat jus and fresh herbs scattered around the plate, it almost looked like a country garden.

Aromatic goat tagine with fennel, tumeric and chilli, cracked burghul, dried cranberries and roasted eggplant, $40
Aromatic goat tagine with fennel, tumeric and chilli, cracked burghul, dried cranberries and roasted eggplant, $40

And my daily special of the goat tagine was simply to die for. Served with a side of cracked burghul (that unfortunately came out later than the rest of the dish, so that I was already quarter of the way through the dish before it arrived), the rich spices of the tagine evoked thoughts of French Morocco. Goat can be a difficult meat to prepare well, but this was done superbly – the meat was extremely tender and had really soaked up the spices and flavours.

Vanilla pannacotta with blood orange gel, meringue mixed berry sorbet, $17
Vanilla pannacotta with blood orange gel, meringue mixed berry sorbet, $17

While we were all quite full from our appetisers and mains alone, we knew we simply couldn’t go by some of the desserts on offer. A few people ordered the vanilla pannacotta – beautiful presented as a summer bouquet with a great mix of textures, colours, and flavours. The soft creaminess of the pannacotta was really set off by the intensity of the blood orange gel.

Crusted chocolate fondant with honeycomb, caramel ice cream, $17
Crusted chocolate fondant with honeycomb, caramel ice cream, $17

The molten insides of the chocolate fondant oozed out as soon as soon as K dug his spoon in. Mixed with the sweet caramel ice-cream, this was one intense sugar hit that nearly made my teeth go numb.

Quince tarte tatin with muscat gel, blueberries, roasted macadamias, vanilla bean ice cream, $17
Quince tarte tatin with muscat gel, blueberries, roasted macadamias, vanilla bean ice cream, $17

One friend ordered the quince tarte tatin – while I think it was a really enjoyable dish, I think she was hoping for something a little more visually spectacular like the pannacotta.

Ille Flottante 'Floating Island' on Vanilla Creme Anglaise, berries and langue du chat, $17
Ille Flottante ‘Floating Island’ on Vanilla Creme Anglaise, berries and langue du chat, $17

Or perhaps like my floating island? This was a wonderful mix of light fluffy meringue, palate-cleansing cream, and the sweetest fresh berries. Visually spectacular, and the type of dessert that I would hope to reproduce at home one day!

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By the time we left Bistro Molines, most of the restaurant had cleared out. We went from being last minute customers, to the last customers.

Bistro Molines was a lovely dining experience, especially with a larger group. The service is top notch, the food is hearty, the desserts beautifully presented, and the wine list impressive. I would love to return for another meal the next time I’m in the Hunter Valley – perhaps for lunch next time so that I can enjoy the amazing views over the hills which is largely lost when you’re dining at night!

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