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WE were told that the best croissants in Australia, and possibly the world, can be found in Melbourne. So we hot-footed it to Lune Croissanterie, where ex-engineer turned cult baker Kate Reid has created a flaky movement with her signature pastries.
The minimalist, industrial bakery in Fitzroy is all glass and cement, with the only colour coming from the glistening trays of golden baked treats cooling their heels before they're swiftly snapped up by hungry customers. The shop is the pride and joy of Ms Reid, who returned from Paris after a one month stint in a baking school in 2011 and decided to specialise in croissants after being disappointed by the dismal quality available at the time.
Ms Reid's recipe is her own creation, literally. "In Paris I learned maybe 10 to 15 percent of what's needed to make croissants so rather than go back to train I thought I could just fill in the gaps." The trained aerospace engineer quit her job as an aerodynamicist with the Williams Formula 1 to put her technical skills to work. It took her three to four months to develop a croissant that fit her personal taste. "I like my croissants to be in the border of sweet and savoury, very light and airy, with a prominent flavour of the butter. I like a really light, flaky crust so when you bite into them you hear the crunch."
She's not kidding. One bite of her classic croissants creates a shattering of crisp layers that fly everywhere while the inside offers a nice chewy pull when you bite into it. For a more extravagant treat, get your hands on the twice-baked pandan and coconut croissant which is a symphony of crunch, intense coconut and pandan flavour from fresh leaves from Vietnam and rich, dense texture. While "best" is subjective, we dare you to step out of the shop feeling anything but pastry-driven ecstasy.
Maybe the only thing we wish would be if we could have the croissants with some really good hot chocolate. Not that Lune doesn't have decent hot chocolate, but we're swayed by the many combinations offered at Mörk Chocolate Brew House in North Melbourne - the chocoholic's version of a coffee bar.
While Melbourne's coffee culture is among the most sophisticated, Swedish chocolatier Josefin Zernell "saw this need for a good drinking chocolate" in cafes to cater to customers who want to drink something other than coffee but not tea. Together with her Australian partner, she sent up Mörk - which is Swedish for 'dark' - in a charming conservation building. Using ethically sourced cacao and other ingredients from local farmers as well as those around the world, Mörk serves up some memorable chocolate creations such as Campfire Hot Chocolate - where a carafe of hot chocolate is served with an upturned glass filled with beech smoke. Turn the glass right side up and see the smoke released while you pour the hot chocolate into the glass to capture the smokey flavour. A toasted home-made marshmallow adds to the campfire analogy.
While you're there, stock up on the different kinds of drinking chocolate powder and other sweet souvenirs. Smoke, however, is not included.
On the dining front, if you're looking for promising restaurants, there is the accessible fine dining eatery Ôter on Flinders Lane, just around the corner from the Grand Hyatt. While not new, the recently installed Canadian chef Jordan Clay is doing some impressive things with the amazing produce he sources from around the country.
While the name seems to imply French fine dining, it's very much product-driven modern Australian, with a just a few nods to Gallic cuisine. Spring Bay mussels from Tasmania, for example, are succulent and pristine, served with fried leek strings and clam juice thickened with oil and vinegar. Raw alfonsino is turned into a ceviche but with rounded flavours, not full-on tartness, thanks to a tangy buttermilk dressing. Chef Clay likes layering on different elements in a dish, but he excels at retaining the distinctive flavours, so you taste everything on your plate - not a culinary blur. He serves the best kangaroo fillet we've ever had, cooked rare and paired with fruity raspberry ketchup and braised daikon. It's one thing to be good at picking produce but Chef Clay's almost instinctive way with them makes Ôter a place we would keep on our dining list.
Of course, what is Melbourne without Attica - where scoring a table is a lottery-like game of chance. Even without the accolades from the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, Ben Shewry has stayed at the top with his evolving, pure approach to cuisine that's a lot more plant-based these days thanks to the produce from his own farm. His restaurant has recently undergone a complete makeover - it's thankfully not fussy, just like its low-key owner, so the dining room is simple but elegant, with the food taking centrestage as it should.
Make sure you wash your hands before you eat because the meal begins without cutlery. Assorted leaves are scoops for home-made sour cream with balsamic vinegar, while a slice of aged melon is incredibly sweet and dense in texture, enhanced with a light sprinkling of sour plum powder.
You're made to do your own foraging through a plate of twigs and leaves just to find two perfect examples of baby tomatoes at the peak of flavour. And a dehydrated cracker with avocado - sliced to display some super show-off knife skills - again requires no cutlery. All the better to pick up our favourite dish of the evening - three little warm tarts with delicate crisp pastry and assorted fillings from black pudding to chicken in aspic. Before long, you do get some cutlery, as the 'real' meal begins.
There's a bit of a show-and-tell element at the end when you're invited to tour the kitchen garden to see a cluster of carrots being slow roasted over embers, one of which was served to your earlier. Same with a a beautiful array of tulips, whose petals were used to sandwich a mixture of lamb neck and apples with verjuice spooned over.
A meal at Attica is one part nourishment and another part wonderment. One thing's for sure - Ben Shewry has lost neither his humble demeanour nor his magic touch.
74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, VIC 3185. Tel: +61 (3) 9530-0111
119 Rose Street, Fitzroy, VIC 3065. Tel: +61 (3) 9419-2320
137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000. Tel: +61 (3) 9639-7073
Mörk Chocolate Brew House
150 Errol Street, North Melbourne VIC 3051. Tel: +61 (3) 9328-1386